X-Files, Season Two

Still would.

The X-Files re-viewing project continues, though it’s undergone some changes. Season two is done. This is the season where the Conspiracy arc takes off, and as a result, I’m hopping off board, at least of those episodes. I just can’t do it again. The X-Files mytharc is the dumbest, sloppiest, most inept waste of time and knowing that fact going in doesn’t help.

But I also stopped with watching all of the Monster of the Week episodes because let’s face it, a lot of them are not very good. I love the characters of Mulder and Scully, and I love the premise of the show, but too often the scripts were not kind to them. I know that someone out there loves “Aubrey” or whatever, but I’m pretty sure I can safely pass on a bunch of these.

Anyway, this is how Season Two shook out for me.

Little Green Men – We start out with an episode in which, after having been into a secret government lab and finding and handling what appears to be an alien fetus in the previous episode, Mulder trucks out to Puerto Rico because a radio telescope there may be receiving some kind of alien signal. This also features the scene where Mulder approaches the telescope and sees that the fence is padlocked shut. So he hikes around through the jungle to an opening, goes to the main building, and then pulls a bolt cutter out of his bag to get inside, where he finds a Mexican guy waiting. What I’m saying is that this episode is not very good.


The Host – Now THIS is more like it! Flukeman! The best part about this episode, other than that it’s so disgusting, is that it’s not like the usual ones. Everyone sees Flukeman, and knows this crazy thing is real. Skinner says they’re going to send it to some kind of psychiatric hospital! This is pretty much the gold standard for MOTW episodes.

Blood – I loved this episode when it first aired and I still love it. It was not only as good as I remembered, it was better, even though there’s probably one too many elements thrown into the mix. William Sanderson proves he’s a national treasure, as always, and there’s even a for-real porn actress in one part. This episode has Mulder and Scully doing very little investigating and more like just being around a bunch of weird shit as it happens until it stops, with never an explanation as to what was going on, and I’m all over that. I also like when they find out that exposure to an insecticide may make you paranoid and crazy, which means it has no effect on Mulder whatsoever. I think this is a first-rate episode.

Sleepless – A kind of eh episode, best known for introducing Alex Krycek, Mulder’s new partner. I would eventually come to dread seeing Nicholas Lea’s name in the opening credits, but he’s only going to be a minor character for me if I avoid the mytharc. (Unfortunately I’ll miss a lot of Skinner that way as well.)

A memorable scene from “Duane Barry”

Duane Barry/Ascension – The first two-parter and the reason I bailed on the Conspiracy this time around. Although I know I came to hate the overarching plot, I remember liking Duane Barry (the episode and the character). Turns out that’s because Duane Barry is a great stand-alone episode. You have a guy taking hostages who thinks he’s being abducted by aliens, but it might not be what it looks like. It’s a good story, and it’s solid…until the last two minutes. At that point Duane somehow escapes, somehow finds Scully, and somehow kidnaps her. And then you have Ascension, which is just miles of stupid, unraveling the nice plot leading up to all this. And it’s the perfect summation of the show, as a great stand-alone story gets shoved aside for a dumb wreck of a conspiracy episode. This was when I decided no, I wouldn’t be rewatching every episode. It’s also when, for a number of reasons, I also bailed on Kumail Nanjiani’s The X-Files Files podcast.

And now the joyous freedom of skipping episodes! I passed on all of the following:

One Breath
Red Museum
Excelsis Dei

It’s like I opened up a Christmas present and inside was six brand-new hours!

Irresistable – I like this episode because it has nothing supernatural in it. (Yeah, I know, the weird demon thing is presented from an omniscient point-of-view, not a character’s, but whatever.) Donnie Pfaster is just a straight up human monster and that’s it, and I think it works and should have happened more often.

Die Hand Die Verletz – Another classic episode, and also a nice change of pace in that sometimes women can also be freaky evil monsters. It’s also probably the first episode to approach its story in a more humorous way (despite some genuinely horrifying scenes). This one shows up on a lot of “best-of” lists, and there’s a good reason for it.

Fresh Bones
Colony/End Game
Fearful Symmetry
Død Kalm

Nope, skipped these.

She’s never been sexier than when she ate that cricket

Humbug – This is one of those X-Files where the “mystery” is somewhat beside the point. Everything works here. Mulder and Scully have great lines, the supporting characters are great, there are tons of memorable lines and scenes, and everyone is just having a blast. Darin Morgan lifts up the show and demonstrates a skill with the writing that few of the other regulars would be able to pull off. Imagine a season of episodes like this, instead of the leaden, clumsy stuff we so often got. Also: Scully eats a bug!

The Calusari – I didn’t know why this one stuck out for me as one to watch, but it wasn’t too bad, despite taking what seemed like forever to really get going. Once it does, though, you have a lot of creepy stuff happening. I want to see a whole series about the Calusari, just going from town to town, Calusaring.

F. Emasculata
Soft Light
Our Town

Skipped these. I was tempted by “Soft Light” since it has Tony Shalhoub in it, but I’m pretty sure that’s all it has going for it.

And that’s it for season two. A lot of chaff, but also some great, classic stand-alone episodes. If you think I passed up a good one, let me know, unless it’s “One Breath”.

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I Had That! #30: Mighty Men and Monster Maker

This toy was not an Atari 2600.

I don’t say that because it was a Christmas bait-and-switch or anything, just pointing out that it’s not an Atari 2600.

What it was was a kind of cool thing in which you had different heads, torsos, and legs for various superheroes and monsters, and you could mix-and-match them. They were plastic and raised, so you put a piece of paper above them, rubbed it with a sideways crayon, and the combination you picked became a drawing you could then color. You could even spruce it up with some “texture” plates that could give your monster (or hero, we’re open-minded here) scales or fur or pox.

I had little talent with it, but looking for picture of the toy I found some where folks had really jazzed up the designs. (Turns out the art was by Dave Stevens, later of “The Rocketeer”.)

This was the “boy” version of a toy for girls called “Fashion Plates” which was the same idea only with different clothes. Sadly, the plastic components were not compatible, so you couldn’t make a tentacled space alien in a paisley skirt. Fashion plates actually pre-dated the MMMM.

I only have one significant memory of this thing. When my friend Chris and I were bored, and trying to figure out what we wanted to do, this was often his number one pick. I had one and he didn’t, and he always wanted to play with it. It just didn’t appeal to me that much, so his suggestion was always frustrating to me. Especially since Chris had an Atari 2600, something I didn’t, and I always wanted to play that instead. It was the middle of the summer, his parents worked, we could have played on that thing for hours, but no, he wanted to color monsters. Because we were 11, the concept of some kind of compromise didn’t occur to either of us, so we stayed at an impasse here.

When did I get it? Not sure. It was released in 1979, so probably around then.

Do I still have it? Nope. Nor do I have — or ever had — an Atari 2600.

Posted in Toys | Tagged

This Delicious Week

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Dark Dungeons: Because Sometimes You Don’t Want to Be Elfstar Anymore, You Want to Be Debbie

Anyone who grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons in the 80s knew about “Dark Dungeons”, the anti-D&D Chick tract first published in 1984. Jack Chick is a phenomenally prolific creator of small comic books (tracts) that preach a conservative, evangelical gospel. He’s covered a variety of topics, though the ending is always the same: unless you accept Jesus as your savior, you’re going to hell. The tracts are enjoyed, ironically and otherwise, for their art, stories, and characters.

A while back a fellow named JR Ralls ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to turn Dark Dungeons into a movie. He’d actually secured the rights from Chick, and managed to raise over $25,000, double his goal, to make his dream a reality. My friend Jim was a backer, and loaned me the DVD and man, it is great.

The best decision made about it, and maybe this was a condition of the rights, was that it’s played more-or-less straight. The plot of the original tract is completely intact, though it’s been expanded on. Some folks would have been tempted to do an over-the-top satire to make sure the audience knew they weren’t taking it seriously, but Ralls holds back from that, and it’s far more effective. This isn’t to say that it’s humorless. There are some great jokes in it, including references to old gamer jokes (“attack the darkness”, “gazebo”, and “steam tunnels” all make an appearance, and I’m sure I missed more), and the subtitles add even more.

The actors do a great job, playing it just broad enough without, again, wrecking it by going too far. I don’t know that there are any Oscar winners here, but everyone is having a good time and really selling the oddball story.

It’s only 40 minutes long, but they do a lot with that time, and it’s clear that a lot of thought and work was put into it.

I don’t know how you can get a DVD of your own, but you can watch the movie online for $5 (or more if you choose) by going here. If you’re not convinced, you can watch the trailer or the first eight minutes of the movie. It’s a real hoot, and…it just might save your soul.

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The Boardgame World Sees It’s Falling Behind Videogames, Races to Catch Up

Previously on “Dave Ex Machina”:

In Last Light you get to go to a post-apocalyptic strip club and have a no-doubt strong and empowered female character give you a topless lap dance! Progress!

Today I find out about this new boardgame release at Essen this year:

You can see more about it here, if you want.

Do I think there’s a way for strippers to be portrayed in a game in an empowering and dignified manner? Sure! Do I trust current videogame or boardgame companies to seek that route? Not particularly. Is this a topic I think most gamers can deal with in a mature and reasonable way? Oh hell no.

Maybe Artipia will prove me wrong. I mean, at least they recognize there are male strippers. But I’m not expecting much here.

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I Had That! #29: Depeche Mode “Live in Hamburg” Poster

Mentioning this item is probably overkill. The band Depeche Mode and the influence it had on me growing up has been well covered multiple times, so I don’t know what more I can say here that will add much.

Sure, I had posters of Star Wars, Star Trek, The New Teen Titans, and such, but I’m pretty sure this was the first (arguably) non-nerd poster I had. It was a grail to me. About the size of a duvet, I goggled at this thing for some time at uptown New Orleans record store The Metronome before finally splurging on it. From then on, it was my pride.

I had two other Depeche Mode posters before I was done. One was a picture of the band and one was a combination of the Broken Frame and Construction Time Again album covers. On that first album cower a woman is harvesting wheat with a sickle; on the second a man is breaking rocks with a hammer. I was worried that the band poster would help my mom assume I was gay, but it turned out the second one bothered her more because Communists wanted to destroy us and our way of life.

When I went to college in Lafayette for a couple semesters it came with me (I don’t remember it being in my room at UNO. Possibly I hadn’t bought it yet?) and hung over my bed. The combination of its size, mandated use of fun-tak for the dorm walls, and the lack of air conditioning meant that on more than one occasion I awoke in my bed to being smothered by Depeche Mode. The first time it happened it scared the bejeezus out of me.

This poster is actually advertising a videotape of a concert and I’m not sure I ever actually bought the actual thing. In 1986 I madly wanted to see them on the Black Celebration tour. I informed my parents I was going to go see them at their closest stop, in Texas, and talked about this as though it were a done deal. It wasn’t, of course, and a hurricane even popped up and headed towards Texas as if to underscore the point. Somehow I didn’t attempt to soothe this disappointment by instead grabbing this concert video. I wouldn’t see Depeche Mode live until the “101” tour. (Long time readers will know another reason why actually getting the tape wasn’t a priority. I could listen to a record in my own room, but a videotape meant watching in the family room.)

Not every band I liked got the poster treatment. In fact, the only other one that saw a lot of wall space was The Jesus and Mary Chain. There was the obligatory blue doorway Beatles poster. I also had an REM poster I had forgotten about until just now, which I don’t recall too much about, and not enough to find it in a Google search. I never had a Shriekback, Cure, or New Order poster.

When did I get it? The videotape was released in 1985. It’s possible I didn’t get the poster until early in 1987, though.

Do I still have it? I thought I did, but it’s not in the attic where it would be. That kind of makes me a little sad.

Posted in Music | Tagged ,

This Delicious Week

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Battle Merchants: War and Gold Pieces

Battle Merchants has dwarves, orcs, hobgoblins, and elves: four things I’d rather not see in games anymore. And yet I’m thrilled because they’re all fighting each other and you don’t care who wins, so long as they buy your weapons to kill one another. Do I want to play a game with an orc or a dwarf? No, unless that game is “Let’s You and Him Fight”. And that’s what Battle Merchants is.

In Battle Merchants, designed by Gil Hova and published by Minion Games, you are an arms dealer forging and selling various weapons to the warring races. Through the game you increase your craft level in each weapon, forge them, sell them, and gain bonuses to help you make more money during the process than your foes, rival arms dealers.

A very brief overview of the rules: Each season each player takes an action at a time. Actions are increasing craft level, forging weapons, selling a weapon, or taking a Kingdom Card. Craft level makes your weapons harder to defeat with other weapons and unlocks other bonuses: at craft level 5 you can make vorpal versions of your weapons, which defeat regular ones, and the first person to reach craft level 6 for a weapon gets a special Master Craftsman card that gives them a special advantage for that weapon. Forging is how you make weapons and costs money. Selling is how you make money back. You sell a weapon to an appropriate spot and get a reward of a base cost plus bonuses for each time you’ve sold a weapon to that race. Sell to the Elves a lot and you’ll make more money when you sell to Elves. When three new battles are outfitted with weapons (both sides have a weapon) the season ends an each battle is evaluated. Vorpal weapons beat non-vorpal, and higher craft level weapons beat lower craft level weapons of the same type. The winner gets the broken remain of the loser’s weapon as a trophy. Then each player gets two gold for each of their weapons still on the board. Repeat for the next season. At the end of Winter, the players who’ve defeated the most weapons get a bonus, some Kingdom Cards pay off, and most money wins. Kingdom Cards are one-shot quick boosts or permanent long-term aids in making money.

The theme is well-represented. It’s a cynical game, and not only can you provide the weapons for both sides of a battle, it’s very often a good strategic move. The Kingdom Cards add a heavy dose of flavor to the proceedings with titles such as “Outsourcing”, “Bait and Switch”, and “Instigator”. There are also nice touches such as one of the players’ companies being “Hellyburton”.

The components are also great. The artwork is spot-on, with all kinds of great little details in it (I’m appreciative that the female characters are not drawn in the bosoms a-heaving style so common to fantasy themed games.) The board is well laid out, and the player boards have all the info you need on them. The cardboard money is really nice, with great designs for the different coins. Everything looks great. I only have a couple of minor complaints about design, which I’ll touch on in a bit.

I also really like the gameplay. It’s more thinky than it appears at first glance, and towards the beginning you will look at how vorpal weapons cost 15 gold to forge and wonder how it will ever be possible to create them. You’ll be looking at a sword you’ve forged and realize there’s nowhere to sell it and despair. You’ll be disgusted at selling your crappy axe to a battle where it’s destined to lose but dammit, you need the cash. That’s fine. It’s part of the arc of the game and believe me, by Autumn you’ll be right there throwing down vorpal weapons like it ain’t no thang. You will have to balance short-term benefits against long-term rewards. You’ll have to choose between specialization to make your few weapons better or being able to sell a larger variety of weaker weapons. You’ll get Kingdom Cards that give you specific bonuses and will want to leverage those bonuses as much as possible. And you’ll definitely need to keep an eye on what the other players are doing and how to screw them out of key sales and battle wins. There’s a lot going on, but it’s not overwhelming.

I can’t lie, I’m a hobgoblin man

I like that the design is driven towards the theme. Unlike many recent game releases, everything you do in the game is pointed towards making money selling weapons. There’s no set collection minigame or other stuff that is tacked on, so it’s easy to explain to new players how everything relates to their ultimate goal of having the most money.

The game plays 2-4. The board is double sided, with one side for 2/4 players and the other for 3. I’ve played with both 3 and 4 players and both games were equally tight and balanced. I haven’t tried the 2p game because first of all it involves a sort of robot player, which I’m never too crazy about, and second it seems like it’s fine for two players who already know the game but probably not so good for a learner, which is the 2p situation I was in. I’ll give it a try now that I have people around who already know the basics of the game.

I only have a couple of minor complaints. The first is that a lot of the Kingdom Cards are a bit vague and open to interpretation. There is a file on BGG that is a great guide to interpreting them, which was not included in the game. It really should have been. You’ll want to print this out. I also wish the vorpal weapons were a little bit easier to distinguish at a distance. Once you get used to them you can tell which ones they are, but they really should pop more. The most critical complaint I have is that tracking weapons strength is difficult. When trying to see how your level 5 mace will fare against your opponents’ hammers or axes you have to look across the table and see what their strength is by counting small icons on craft cards that don’t stack to display very well. It’s annoying, so I made a paper chart, added some extra cubes I had, and voila!

It’s a little fiddly, but it helps out a bunch. (It’s also available on BGG.) The tracker doesn’t help with the other issue on the craft cards, which is that some give you discounts on forging that type of weapon and it is super easy to forget them. (The cards are designed to fan right to see all the icons, but this takes up a lot of space and doesn’t work well with the ones printed on the player boards.) The final, very minor issue, is that for some people there’s a break of the theme in that a weapon’s strength isn’t determined when it’s forged, but when the battle resolves. I can sell a level 3 sword to the elves, then later that same turn increase my craft level to 5, and when the battle resolves it’s now a level 5 weapon. Some people may have an issue with that, especially given how well the theme works elsewhere, but I can handwave it away.

Battle Merchants was the delight of Gen Con for me. Most of the other games I got there were things that were already solidly on my radar. It came out of nowhere to be one of my favorites, and the only reason I didn’t buy it on the spot was that my luggage was already jam-packed. Instead I waited until I got home and then immediately ordered my own copy. It’s a great title that deserves some more attention.

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