Welcome again to We Have Always Lived in the Kraken, a pop culture blog transmitted directly to you from the belly of the beast. Here in the Notes we’ll show you this week’s posting schedule, but first, a little Seafood for Thought.
Board games have always been a bit weird, because they have figured out how to both be retro and innovative at the same time. The physical versions of games like Monopoly or Risk or Settlers of Catan have (with some cosmetic changes here and there) remained the same for years and years, and the experience of playing hasn’t changed at all. But board games have also been changing with the times by allowing people to play them in digital forms. This has especially become a bigger deal in recent years with the rise of tablets and smartphones. Now you can play games like Ticket to Ride, Ascension, or even the aforementioned Monopoly (if you just really hate yourself) whenever you want without the need for others to join in. This has led to a lot of very interesting game experiences as board games have sought to combine the physical and digital worlds, from apps that merely lend a hand with scoring, tracking, or randomizing (for games like 7 Wonders, Mage Knight, and Dominion), to crucial audio tracks that guide players through games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Space Alert. Now with Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition), Fantasy Flight has taken the idea of digitally-enhanced board games to a whole new level.
Mansions is another in a line of Lovecraft-based games like Arkham Horror and Elder Sign that allow you to experience the literary horror tradition in board game form (or maybe it is better to say that they allow you to play broken down and simplified versions of the tabletop roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu). The first edition of Mansions went about this by creating scenarios that allowed you to have the kind of potentially highly rewarding thematic storytelling experiences that were mostly lacking in other Lovecraft games (especially Arkham Horror, and still to some degree in the Arkham reboot, Eldritch Horror). The only problem with this is that, in fixing the narrative, the designers crafted a broken, almost unplayable game. So the creators went back and started again, and this time realized this is the perfect game for an app that integrates into the storytelling experience.
Gone is the cumbersome keeper role that never worked well with this system, because it forced one player to so totally be against the other players that every match was a grueling, bitter slog instead of, you know, fun. Now in the second edition, the app takes on the adversarial role against the cooperating players, and it also helps to set the mood and keep things moving. This highly effective application demonstrates how technology can be used to innovate the board game sphere, which has continued to figure out how to be new without losing what made it fun in the first place. Hopefully, this is a trend that will only continue, because the new Mansions of Madness is so much better than the old one, and a big part of that is how much the app has simplified what is happening to allow for a more pleasant playing experience. So many other games could also benefit from adding technology to the mix, because it opens up so many new avenues for both gameplay and storytelling. More importantly, as long as the board game world continues to fearlessly innovate, the medium will continue to survive and thrive long after the heyday of dice, cards and tokens has ended.
From the depths of the Kraken, here is what we are bringing you this week.
Monday: The Life in the Kraken podcast is back with an 80s-themed edition. In Episode 014, the gang discuss Netflix’s 80s-inspired sci-fi drama Stranger Things, as well as some 80s movies you may not have seen.
Tuesday: Nothing new today. The trick, Mr. Potter, is not minding that there’s nothing new.
Wednesday: No new content today. But why not try our archives? We offer guilt-free, low-cal, free-range organic posts. Not like those other sites that grow their posts in cages.
Thursday: Now, the odds are slim there’s new content today. So what you’ve gotta ask yourself is, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, punk? Do ya?
Friday: Content is but a plastic bag flowing with wind. Impossible to pin down, and oh look it got sucked up into a tornado.
- Baturdays continues with the next story in Batman #5, “Book of Enchantment,” which is probably about the only book in New Mexico.
- David returns with another edition of The Anticipated, swinging back to see Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups. You know never when we’ll get the next Malick movie, so hopefully this one will tide us over.
Catch of the Week:
Each and every week the residents here in the Kraken will offer one recommendation for the week that we think you all would enjoy. It might be a movie. It might be a book. Who knows? This is your… Catch of the Week.
David: Have you ever wanted a little more horror to go with your fairy tales? Something with even more teeth than Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which in their original form is already way darker than people think? Then you will love Beautiful Darkness. Another of the great works published by Drawn & Quarterly, Beautiful Darkness starts out traditionally then goes off the rails with a full page spread that sets the tone for the entire work. Written by Fabien Vehlmann and his work understands the types of stories it is deconstructing, and once it gets started, it revels in going as dark as it can while still being drawn as picturesque and dreamlike as possible. It’s a brutally effective juxtaposition of opposites that makes this story work on multiple levels. You want to look away from the grotesque story, but you can’t–it’s just so damn beautifully compelling.
Kyu: I finally caught with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture, the long-awaited prequel volume to one of the greatest comics of all time. Does it hold up? I think so, particularly when it comes to the art, which rivals some of the best in the original work, both in aesthetic beauty and in terms of the complexity of the panel structure–which sometimes changes form (concentric rings, disintegrating jagged edges, etc) and sometimes disappears entirely as Dream and his environment shifts and melts across the pages. The writing is typically complex, encompassing new elements of the world building that fit well alongside the old issues. The obligatory touchstone moments of any prequel, explaining Dream’s helm or the war or foreshadowing the schemes of his siblings or giving us a glimpse past the series’ conclusion, are all well and good. More fascinating is the way Gaiman does present an “overture” befitting his meta-minded epic, a six-issue arc all about beginnings (and endings, and the cycle between them)–the pain of birth, fear of what’s new, and the immense loss which accompanies the beginning of any story, that moment when the infinite potential of the blank page is narrowed down to a single story’s start. If nothing else, Overture deserves to be read and studied alongside the rest of Sandman. What secrets yet remain in that phenomenal work which this new volume may unlock?
Sam: This week I recommend the published novels of Japanese author Project Itoh. So far I’ve read Harmony and Genocidal Organ (but not Empire of the Corpses yet). Both are erudite and interesting novels that explore the nature of mind (and by extension humanity), while also being compelling works of science fiction. Harmony has been adapted into an anime feature film (which I unfortunately missed on its all-too-short tour of the States), as has Empire, with the third film supposedly on its way. It’s good to see the work of a creator who died so young (from a very long battle with cancer) continue to find new life.
That’s it for this week. Visitors to the Kraken should be aware: one of the guards in Corridor 7-B will always tell the truth, one will always lie, and one will always give away the answer to riddles and logic puzzles, thus spoiling it for the rest of us. Good luck avoiding him.