This past Christmas, I participated in BoardGameGeek’s Secret Santa. It’s a pretty huge event, with over a thousand people signing up to send complete strangers brand-new board games. This was my first year giving it a go, and I could not have been happier with my experience. Not only did my Santa send me Forbidden Desert and Ghost Stories, two games that have been on my radar for a while, but they also sent the hard-to-find (at the time) Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. I’d heard about Fantôme when I read a preview of the new games premiering at Essen, and the theme alone sold me. Phantom of the Opera is kind of my guilty pleasure – I adore the musical, and even liked the Gerard Butler movie. My mom is a bigger fan than me, so I knew I had to get this game as soon as it came out. Thanks to my Secret Santa, though, I didn’t have to! If you’re reading this, Santa, you’re awesome. So what is this game all about? Did it live up to my expectations? Let’s find out.
Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
Publisher and Date: Hurrican, 2013
Designers: Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc
Ages: 9 and up
Length: 30 minutes BoardGameGeek Link: Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
You’ll like this if you like: Mr. Jack, Clue, or any strategic bluffing game
This is the first in a series of articles I will be posting about video and computer-gaming accessibility. Today’s post is by a guest blogger, and I’m very excited about her contribution. I’ve been watching her YouTube videos for a while, and they’re super interesting and helpful to disabled gamers. I hope you enjoy! Also, I’m always looking for more guest bloggers. If you have something to share, please contact me – you can find my e-mail on the About page, or just leave a comment. Now, on to introductions and the review!
My name is April, and I am a disabled gamer. After years of thinking outside the box to find strategies to get around roadblocks in video games, some friends convinced me to start a website to share my tips in hopes of helping others. I started Ability Powered in early 2013. Now, I post articles, guides, and tips on my website, and have guides and accessibility first-look videos on Youtube. You can check us out at www.abilitypowered.com, or on YouTube at www.youtube.com/abilitypowered.
World of Warcraft is Blizzard’s popular MMORPG. Players are challenged with the task of questing and defending the world of Azeroth from invasions of all kinds. With villians and injustice at every turn, you and your fellow gamers quickly become heroes! Sounds fantastic, right? But what about accessibility?
Mobility in Azeroth is, honestly, as good as it gets. There are multiple options allowing players to choose how they wish to move their character. You can move with traditional keyboard movement, which is fully remapable in the keybindings menu. You can also move with your mouse in multiple ways. By default, you can move by holding down both mouse buttons simultaneously. Want to only press one button? You can do that by enabling the Click to Walk option. Click to Walk allows you to right click a point for your character to automatically run to. Need to walk with your right mouse button, or need an on-screen jump button? That’s also an option! The addition of Move Pad made it possible for disabled gamers to click an on-screen menu to move their character with simple presses of a button. That’s four movement options available to meet players’ needs.
There’s a great little store in the local mall called Marbles – they sell various board games, card games, books, and toys, all to engage the different parts of your mind. It’s a chain, though I don’t think there are too many locations. Anyway, on my first trip there, I saw a tabletop game with an intriguing cover: a test tube bubbling over, amoeba-shaped art floating around it, and a bright, rainbowy color scheme. I asked the shop guy what it was about – he told me, “you basically destroy your opponent with science.” Without even glancing at the reviews on BoardGameGeek, I purchased it. I don’t usually buy a game without any inclination of how it plays, but I knew I needed to have this one. How did I end up liking it? Well, let’s find out.
Publish Date: 2011
Players: 3-7, though there is a two-player variant.
Ages: 10 and up
Length: 60 minutes
BGG Link: Strain
The object of Strain is to be the first player to score twelve victory points by completing the objectives pictured on your organism tiles. At the start of the game, the tiles are divided into three piles, differentiated by their categories: cytoplasms, organisms, and petri dishes. On each turn, the player must go through three phases, and perform the optional actions within these phases. The phases are: Awaken, Evolve, and Shed.
When I reviewed “The Loss” from Next Generation, I wrote about my general disappointment with the show. At that point, I’d only seen up to season four, and I felt it was bogged down by too many crew meetings and negotiations. Well, now that I’ve seen the series in its entirety, I have to say that I ended up loving it. Season five was an overall masterpiece, especially the episode “The Inner Light” – it changed my attitude toward the show, and the episodes continued to impress until the end of the series. The episode I’m reviewing now, “Ethics,” is the 16th installment from season five. I decided to review it because it’s sort of the opposite of “The Loss”; while there are a few misfires regarding disability, “Ethics” tends to get it right. I expected lots of cringe-worthy moments based on the synopsis and ableist trailer, but was pleasantly surprised by the points raised in the script. So let’s take a look at the episode, and see if you agree.
We open with Worf and La Forge investigating some chemical leak in cargo bay three. As they scan the area, they discuss a recent poker game. Thanks to his VISOR, Geordi can see through the cards, but he only admits to peeking after the hand is over. I liked this little banter between the two because it connects the reality of disability with everyday life. Some suggest that Geordi’s disability/VISOR are only used to make him “special” or “superhuman,” thus falling into a disability trope, but I disagree. His VISOR helps him navigate the world, just like my wheelchair helps me navigate the world. The fact that his VISOR can sometimes be helpful in a mission or, in this case, give him an advantage in a poker game, doesn’t take away from his fully-developed character; he has a backstory, love interests, hobbies, a personality, etc. TNG doesn’t focus on his disability – it is treated as part of who he is, but does not define who he is. What his VISOR can do is just a reality of the adaptive technology of that time period. My wheelchair can do some pretty nifty things as well, but that doesn’t make me “superhuman.” … Read more…
It’s been a while since I’ve read a Batman comic, and I’ve surprisingly never read The Killing Joke. This graphic novel is considered a classic, written by Alan Moore of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame, and hauntingly illustrated by Brian Bolland. I purchased the 2008 deluxe edition, which was recolored by Bolland; he uses a cooler palette than the original color artist, and makes the flashback scenes into black and white, with small touches of color to add emphasis on certain objects. I’ve seen the original 1988 comic (thanks, internet!), and I definitely think the new coloring transforms the comic into the darker, weightier story it was meant to be. You can see the difference here:
The original looks psychedelic, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t fit the dark theatrical nature of some of the scenes. The recoloring and illustrations are the best things about this comic. That isn’t to say that I didn’t think the story was well executed, but the art is so great here that it overshadows the other elements. I particularly liked the way the Joker was drawn – he looked sadistic and frightening, but you could still see the human behind it. The carnival scenes are effectively chaotic, highlighting the perverseness of the Joker’s thought process and actions.
Despite my praise for the artwork and plot execution, there are some very problematic things about this novel – namely the treatment of Barbara Gordon. So let’s just get right down to it so you can see what I mean. … Read more…
I’m a big fan of the card and storytelling game Gloom, where the object is to make your characters as miserable as possible before killing them off. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? I truly love dark humor. So when I heard Atlas Games had another macabre card game available, I had to snatch it up. It did not disappoint! Let’s take a closer look.
Murder of Crows
Players: 2 to 5
Ages: 13 and up, although I think it’s fine for slightly younger players.
Publish Date: 2012
BoardGameGeek Link: click here
According to the rules sheet, the objective of the game is to “reveal a complete murder story by playing all the letters in the word ‘M-U-R-D-E-R’.” Each card contains one of these letters, along with an accompanying image and a line of story text.
To start the game, players are dealt five cards, and the remaining cards are used as the draw pile. On your turn, you must draw one card and play one card. You can also choose to skip your turn and draw two cards. To play a card, you simply place it into your Murder, which is the table space in front of you. You eventually want to spell out MURDER; this seems easy, but each card allows you to perform an action once it is played associated with its designated letter. For example:
M‘s action is “misplace,” which allows you to take one card of your choice from an opponents murder and put it into your hand.
U is “uncover,” where your opponents reveal their hands, and you take a card of your choice.
R is “reap,” which is drawing an additional card from the draw pile.
D is “drain,” where you must choose one letter and your opponents discard one of that card from their Murder.
E is “expel,” where your opponents have to discard their entire hand and draw three new cards.
I am not a huge fan of The Next Generation, despite what my Pez dispenser and TNG comic collection might tell you. I haven’t seen every episode yet, but I’ve watched four seasons and I find it difficult to get through at times. I understand the appeal this show has for a lot of people, but many of the episodes are bogged down by meetings and negotiations. The Original Series, while also having meetings and plenty of talky moments, felt more balanced. This may have something to do with Kirk’s ability to challenge and oftentimes defy the Prime Directive, which leaves room for more action and conflict. Despite my somewhat negative outlook of the show, it is still great to analyze and discuss its plots and hit-or-miss attempts at social commentary. The episode I’m reviewing now, titled “The Loss,” is one that stuck out to me because of its weak attempt at disability discourse, and its ability to make my indifferent feelings about Troi switch to complete disgust in only 42 minutes.
The episode opens with Ensign Brooks in a counseling session with Troi. Brooks recently lost her husband, and seems to be in a state of denial. Troi reminds her that it would have been her husband’s 38th birthday, and shows her a music box she’s saved that belonged to him. Brooks breaks down and cries on Troi’s shoulder.
Cut to the bridge. Worf picks up something on the sensors that quickly disappears, and Data is unable to see anything with his equipment. As this is going on, Troi says goodbye to Brooks, and suddenly clutches her head in pain. She enters her room and passes out on the couch. And then…
SPACE! THE FINAL FRONTIER! You know the rest. The opening credits are the best (and least rage-inducing) part of this episode. That should tell you something about where I’m going with this review.
Picard orders Data to resume course to T’lli Beta because there is nothing showing up on the sensors. As soon as he says “Engage!”, the ship jolts and is unable to enter warp. They go to a full stop and yellow alert, but the Enterprise begins moving again – albeit very slowly. Some unknown force is pulling them along. After a failed attempt at breaking free, Data suggests immediate shutdown and Picard does his infamous “Make it so!” They continue to be pulled in the same direction and at the same speed.
Back in Troi’s room, we see her wake up and call Dr. Crusher. She says she feels dizzy, but isn’t sure what happened. After dealing with a few other crew injuries, Crusher arrives and wants to run an internuncial series on her in sick bay. She’s still clearly in distress, so medical scans are probably a good idea.
I credit my dear friend Sarah with getting me into board games; she would bring over something new to play every time she visited. Over the 15 years that we’ve been friends, she’s helped me discover some classics, such as Castle Panic, Forbidden Island, Puerto Rico, and this gem – Spy Alley. So when I saw it in the store, I had to pick it up for the nostalgia…and for the spies. There’s nothing I love more than deceiving people (in a game! I’m not a shady person, don’t worry), so this one is right up my alley. My spy alley, as it were.
Players: 2 to 6
Ages: 8 and up
Publish Date: 1992
BoardGameGeek link: click here
In Spy Alley, players choose a spy identification card that is kept hidden from everyone else. They are also given money which will be used to buy the items they need. On your turn, you roll the dice, and move to the appropriate space. The object of the game is to collect all of your spy items (password, disguise, code book, and key) for the country you represent without giving away who you are. Items can be purchased by landing on their space on the board; once your item is purchased, you mark it off on your scoreboard so everyone can keep track of what you own. When you collect all of your items, you must enter spy alley and land on your embassy – the first player to do this wins the game. Other players can guess who you are before this occurs, but if they’re wrong, they lose the game. If they guess correctly, you lose. There is a space on the board that allows you to take a free guess, but the person you are calling out must be in spy alley – so that can be a bit tricky. You can also win by default if everyone else has been eliminated. … Read more…