Who ya gonna call?

It’s birthday week again at spalanz.com, as my blog turns two on Thursday – aww! To celebrate, I’m having another theme-week, though not quite as expansive as last year’s Indiana Jones week unfortunately. But it’s still amazing, as we once again return to a beloved franchise from the 1980s – it’s Ghostbusters!

I’ve got a couple of blogs coming later in the week that will be waxing lyrical on the movies and such, so you can definitely look forward to those, but it’s Tuesday, so it’s time for a game day blog – and one that I’ve been really looking forward to sharing with you guys: it’s the new board game from Cryptozoic!

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Well, it was new back last November, but anyway. This was a kickstarter game that was funded in March 2015, and eventually found its way to me later that year. It’s a relatively straightforward game, where you play one of the iconic four Ghostbusters – Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, or Winston Zeddemore:

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

(Other Ghostbusters are available…)

During the game, you get the opportunity to level up your character by busting ghosts, which gives your character additional skills – it’s a simplified RPG-style system, and one that I am pretty impressed by!

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Ghosts come in different classes, which roughly denotes how difficult they are to deal with, and feature the mechanics used to both move and trap them (more on this shortly). The ghost miniatures are all this clear-blue plastic, with the exception of Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (white, obviously) and Slimer (in green). Something I think is really cool is that whenever a ghost moves into another ghost, they become a bigger threat, turning into a ghost of the next class up! Wonderful!

The game is played according to different scenarios, outlined on their own cards:

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

These cards show how to set up the map tiles, where to place ghost miniatures, etc, and feature the win conditions.

So let’s talk gameplay.

The game round is split between the Ghostbusters’ movement, any “end of round” effects, then the Event die is rolled. On a Ghostbuster’s turn, you have two actions to choose from, such as moving, aiding others, and combat. The main focus is of course combat, as you try to rid the streets of New York of all the paranormal manifestations!

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Importantly, to hit a ghost, you must have line of sight to it – so any terrain features outlined on the map can potentially block you. You also need to be no more than 3 spaces away from it. Each ghost has a to hit and to trap value on its card – when you’re fighting it, you roll a d6 and try to equal or exceed the hit value. If you’re successful, you’ll get to put a proton stream marker underneath that ghost (as shown above, Egon has hit the Boogaloo Manifestation once, so he gets to put one stream token under it). Class 1 ghosts only require one stream token to trap them, so if you hit them, you get to remove them from the board and place them on your character sheet; otherwise, the ghosts will continue to move around with that stream token under them until they are trapped – hit enough times to have stream tokens under them equal to their to trap value. When this happens, the Ghostbuster who put the final stream token on the ghost gets it, but anyone else who had stream tokens under the ghost gets 1XP. Ghostbusters also have some abilities to gain additional XP from their abilities.

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Once each Ghostbuster has had their allotted two actions, if the scenario card shows any end-of-round actions, they’ll happen, then the event die is rolled. This is a custom d6 with the Zener Card symbols (from Venkman’s test at the beginning of the movie?) – the scenario card tells you how many gates there are open on the map, represented by cardboard tokens as seen in the above photo. These gates also have the symbols on them, and if the symbol rolled matches an open gate, a new ghost will come out of it.

The way these ghosts come out is pretty nice, as well – there is another cardboard tile that represents a PKE meter, with numbers 1-8 around a central square. You roll a d8 to determine which square the ghost will emerge onto, imagining the gate tile as being the central square. The event die also has an eight-pointed Chaos star (if you’re familiar with Warhammer, you’ll know this one). This represents Chaos and each ghost on the map will move according to its reference card.

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

This is a really fun game, I like it a lot! The rulebook isn’t particularly great, which made my very first game a bit confusing as I tried to make sense of what I was doing in terms of the round structure or whatever, but once I got past that, I think it went pretty smoothly and I quickly got into it – after which, I quickly discovered that I really loved it!

The basic game that you can get at retail has a lot of fun, but the kickstarter version has got a whole ton of extras, and it would be remiss of me to not mention this. To be blunt, the kickstarter campaign was a bit of a mess. Almost all of the classic movie stuff was kickstarter exclusive, including the librarian, Gozer and the dogs, etc, which was something of a bizarre move from such an established game company. As of the time of this writing, there is a second game up on kickstarter, which has a lot of this kickstarter loot available in add-ons, and anyone who picked up this game at retail should definitely look into that. It’s not all of the content, unfortunately, but it’s a lot of it.

The scenarios are where the game shines of course, and there are plenty of them to keep you going through so much gaming, and they are a whole ton of fun.

Pick up a copy today!

Adventurous thoughts

Hey everybody!

Birthday week continues here at spalanz.com, and I wanted to talk a little bit about creative writing today. Well, like I said at the top of the week, I was thinking of presenting something of a microcosm of my first year within the week. Indiana Jones is a great theme for this, with the amount of stuff that it has spawned over the years.

A few years ago, I entertained some dreams of adding to that spawn myself!

As a child, I was utterly enraptured by the sense of adventure in the Indy films, and used to try to continue and recapture that adventure long after the credits had rolled. As life wore on, I thought about the possibility of making something of those adventures by writing essentially fan-fiction, an idea that eventually mutated into my own original story idea. Somewhere, I’ve got a lot of stuff written down for an adventure story set in the 1930s and featuring a globe-trotting academic. I’m not entirely sure where, though I am sure that if I found that stuff, I would be fairly unimpressed with it.

The basic kernel of my idea was for a character who wanted to be Indiana Jones, possibly a schoolfriend or somesuch. The idea that this guy who he sat next to in class was off fighting Nazis and unearthing religious artifacts really fired his imagination, so he got together with another guy and they set off to have their own adventure. While George Lucas has described Indy as a guy who’s always getting in over his head, my guy was just inept from the get-go. I think he was fluent in Ancient Greek and Arabic, as he was a scholar of the dark ages and early medieval period, but he wasn’t much good at anything else.

The guy along for the adventure with him was also a medievalist, and had something of a fascination with medieval weaponry. I suppose this was an answer to Indy having a whip – this chap used a flail at one point, and I think I wanted to show him train with tonfa and three-section staff (I don’t remember the actual Chinese name for this). There was also a lady along with them, who was fluent in several languages, and an elder-statesman-like chap who may or may not have been a college professor.

Yeah – a large part of the adventure took place in China.

The story had something to do with breaking into an international gemstone smuggling ring, and trying to prevent the theft of some kind of legendary stone. It might have been my inability to develop this effectively that proved the undoing of this endeavour. Part of the story took place in Africa – I think I originally wanted to involve Egypt, but then felt it was too hackneyed and wanted to move into Nubia or someplace. My intrepid band was foiled at this stage, but decided to forge ahead through India and Nepal and into China, where the final showdown would take place.

For the villain of the piece, I envisaged all sorts of crazy, though I think I eventually settled on a Dutch guy. Diamonds, you know? Anyway.

Along the way there would be boat chases along the Ganges (or similar), airplane chases over the Himalayas, car chases through Peking, and midnight excavations with traps and terrors at every turn. It was going to be awesome.

And yet, it remains unwritten. A loss the world will no doubt have to bear! I think what put me off was The Mummy 3, which I haven’t seen, but which sounded too much like my projected tale, with its oriental setting and whatnot.

However, there were also a number of challenges that I felt insurmountable at the time, foremost among them being how could I write something this close to an adventure classic and still keep it original? A fear of becoming derivative was a constant companion. Another major consideration was whether I was intelligent enough to write it. I mean, it’s a story about a group of highly intelligent academics, and I suppose my constant insecurity led me to believe I couldn’t pull it off convincingly when I wasn’t in that same stratum. The vast majority of my notes for this story were mainly educating myself on things like weaponry and toxicology, for instance, to say nothing of ancient history of Africa and Asia…

I began to think instead of something more fantastical, which I could control – my fantasy story that I talked about some last summer. If I’m making everything up, then it’s much easier to write than having to do all that research – no matter how interesting it was! My fantasy story originally began life in 2006, but soon overtook my adventurer story, though neither has made any real headway!

It’s a series of ideas that have refused to go away, however, and every so often I find myself fondly looking back and thinking I might actually make something of it. I suppose time will only tell on that score…

Anyhow! We’re getting close to the end of Birthday Week now, but I hope to have something faintly interesting for you to end the week with… stay tuned!

The further adventures of Dr Jones!

Hey folks!

I’m continuing the Birthday Week theme today, with a look at the further adventures of Indiana Jones! Yes guys, there’s more to this franchise than some movies! (And, I think, a Disney ride?)

I get really excited when I discovered there were books and comics for a series like this. Last year I discovered comics for Ghostbusters, and was in awe! I discovered Indy books five or six years ago now, and snapped up what were described to be the best – the quartet by Max McCoy.

Indiana Jones

There are a dozen or so novels from Bantam, published during the 90s in the aftermath of Last Crusade, and McCoy wrote the final four. Some of the earlier books are apparently goofy, but these last four are apparently much better.

Well.

I haven’t read any of the earlier ones, but these chaps can be really pretty weird!

A small confession, I’ve only actually read three of the four pictured above, having not made it to Secret of the Sphinx. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I can’t honestly say that they’re the best books I’ve ever read.

They do have a classic adventure feel to them, and they obviously have the characters that we know and love from the movies. But overall, they just don’t feel like Indiana Jones. There are a lot of moments where Indy is completely out of character, predominantly in terms of speech patterns, that make me wonder what on earth I’m actually reading. A lot of the movie tie-ins that I’ve read in the past have been successful because the characters feel like those from the source material, and speech is a big part of that.

Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone began really promising, with a jungle adventure that serves to explain the remark from Temple of Doom about Indy’s activities in British Honduras. I was enraptured! But it soon fell quite flat, though there was the one saving grace that these books are really easy to read – I’m a slow reader, but I read half of this novel in a day. This book also brings Mussolini’s Fascists to the Indyverse as enemies, and it works pretty well.

The stilted dialogue, often arising out of the apparent need of the author to educate us, has made me think that perhaps these novels are aimed at a much lower age range. Not that I’m a snob or anything, but I sometimes felt I was being talked down to during this book.

My biggest criticism, however, comes from a sort of side-McGuffin. Indy is in British Honduras to retrieve a crystal skull, which he doesn’t realise is cursed. Indy winds up believing said curse, which causes big problems for him throughout the three novels I’ve read. Seriously? What happened to his Raiders attitude, of a lot of hocus pocus and the boogieman? Hm.

Indiana Jones and the Dinosaur Eggs is a bizarre one. Derivative of Temple of Doom, we see Indy head to Outer Mongolia by way of Shanghai, which leads to some gratuitous cameo appearances, but also fails to hit the spot for me. Remember in the second movie, Wu Han dies reminiscing about the many adventures he and Indy have taken? It always felt like they’d been buddies for many years, not the barely two years this novel sets it at. Also, Wu Han is barely in the adventure. But anyway.

Another entirely superfluous cameo comes at the very beginning, where we see Rene Belloq seemingly meeting Indy for the first time also. Some Nazis appear, but the main villains of this piece are Mongolian bandits, which also fell a little flat for me – we have Indy in China around the time of the conflict with Japan, why not investigate that a little? There is a lot of history here that has remained largely ignored by the West, I feel – perhaps because we had a lot going on with the growing Nazi threat in Europe – but it would have been really good to see it explored.

Anyhow, this is followed up by Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth. I have to admit, while I’m a big history fan, I didn’t really get the reference here – fortunately, all these books have a historical afterword that explains some of the real-life references made, seemingly in keeping with the need to educate. Apparently, a lot of intellectuals thought the Earth was hollow, with substantial space ripe for colonisation under the surface. Hm. It’s a notion that was kind-of explored in my absolute favourite science fiction novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, though I hadn’t realised it had actually been given serious thought until reading this, so I suppose the novel succeeded on that front!

While the other two novels are a bit weird, this one is downright odd. To start with, I don’t feel like it flows very well. The Nazis are the villains of this book, but there is a substantial part in the first half of the novel that feels like it should be a separate adventure, which really damaged the pacing for me. The premise of the novel is that Indy has been given a stone that leading members of the Thule Society are looking for, but after an extended altercation with the Nazis, they disappear from the narrative while Indy goes off on a treasure hunt, to raise the funds to pay Belloq (in another gratuitous cameo) for information as to the whereabouts of the crystal skull from book one. The search for the skull brings about the end game, an Arctic expedition that brings the Nazis back, but by this point there feels like too much going on, and the two strands of Thule Stone and Crystal Skull stories don’t really fit properly.

I suppose, of the three, I feel cheated the most by Hollow Earth, because it could have been so much better than it turned out to be, with the Thule Society references (remember my love of Tannhauser and alternative-history?)

Indiana Jones

But what about the comic-book adventures?

There are quite a few comics for the franchise, from Marvel’s adaptations of the films to Dark Horse’s endeavours of the 1990s. I’ve come quite late to Indy comics, picking up the omnibus when it came out in 2008, and have only actually read one of these stories, the adaptation of the Fate of Atlantis video game.

It’s another strange story, that sees Indy globetrotting in a whole host of contraptions, and while the initial setup looked like it could be going somewhere interesting, it ended up being just a bit weird and goofy again.

So this is something of a theme for the Indy literature out there, really, and leads right into Indy 4, too.

The Indiana Jones films have always taken some mystical object of religious significance, and spun a story around it of adventure and hijinks that has some sort of personal/moral level to it. These stories that I’ve been talking about here have taken a broader approach, by having the mystical object merely a historical artifact of some sort, and use it as an excuse to go on some random adventure almost for the sake of it. Which is partly the problem with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for me. The vital element of any sort of reason for the adventure has been taken away, and we’re left with something that’s just empty.

The stories are pretty good if you just want some escapist adventure to read, and they’re all pretty quick to get through, too. Unfortunately, however, they don’t really feel like Indiana Jones stories! But hey, that’s just my opinion – if you’ve read any, let me know what you think!!

Fortune and Glory!

Wordpress Anniversary

It’s birthday week here at spalanz.com! Who knew I’d still be posting junk twelve months on? Today is particularly special, as it marks the first day of my second year of blogging, so what better way to celebrate than with a game day post about a truly epic adventure board game? What better way, indeed!

Fortune & Glory

So today, I’m looking at Fortune & Glory, from Flying Frog Productions, the same folks who brought us A Touch of Evil, and Shadows of Brimstone! The eagle-eyed among you might be scratching your head, wondering about the week’s theme I mentioned yesterday – well, all will be abundantly clear in short order, trust me!

There is so much to this game that I don’t really know where to begin! But let’s try with the board:

Fortune & Glory

When your game board is a map of the world, you know you’re in for some truly awesome times! Unlike Eldritch Horror, the world is split up into spaces that cover general areas, some of which are countries – like Germany or Britain – and some are areas, like Congo Jungle and Yucatan. As is common with all FFP games, the production quality and theme is extremely strong, and even these area names are highly suggestive of adventure!

You play an intrepid adventurer in the game, seeking to amass enough Fortune to win the game. There are two distinct variants of gameplay out of the box: competetive and cooperative. In the former, you are competing against your fellow gamers to amass said Fortune, while in the latter you are competing against the game itself – in the form of Vile Organizations. A third variant is possible, which includes these villains in the competitive game. As a thematic gamer at heart, and also a solo gamer through circumstance, I heartily enjoy the cooperative game, and have had many hours of enjoyment from it as a truly immersive experience, so this will be the format that I’m going to use for this blog, anyway!

Fortune & Glory

Your hero sheet has all the usual info on it, the skills and abilities you have, as well as your home city. There is a variant that requires you to make it back home to win the game, but in a normal game you only return back once you’ve been knocked out. Like the heroes, the villains also have a record sheet, as well as a tactics chart to help automate them.

Fortune & Glory

The base game comes with both The Mob and The Nazis, and while I’ve played a few games with the former, the latter are really my go-to Vile Organization, simply because of the theme. I mean, above all else, they have a War Zeppelin that shoots around the board, dropping off soldiers! It’s really a no-brainer!

Heroes are competing against the villains to amass enough Fortune, which is achieved mainly by hunting down various artifacts and selling them off.

Fortune & Glory

Artifacts are generated dynamically each game through the two card types, artifacts (surprisingly!) and adventures. In the examples above, you can make The Mask of the Dead or The Mask of the Crimson Hand! There are four artifacts available to hunt down at any time during the game, with any that are found simply replaced at the end of the turn. Finally, the artifacts, once generated, are located in random Locations (using the Locations deck), and marked with a different-coloured skull token on the board. Should you happen to find an artifact in a Deep Jungle space (a palm tree icon in a red border, such as the Heart of Africa shown above), you gain +2 Fortune when you sell it.

So how do you find these artifacts?

Fortune & Glory

Well, the game uses an Adventure deck of double-sided cards, which have an adventure on the front, and a cliffhanger on the back. In the above example, Jacques Moreau is going after The Mask of the Crimson Hand, which is located in the Heart of Africa. As this is in a Deep Jungle space, he must first roll a die: on the roll of 4, 5 or 6, he has found the artifact and can proceed to the adventure; on a 1, 2 or 3, he is lost in the jungle, and must end his turn. However, he does get to draw an Exploration token, which gives him an extra die to roll to find the artifact next time, increasing the chances of finding it (this continues, with more exploration tokens adding more dice, etc).

Once he has found it, he must overcome a series of Dangers, as denoted by the number on the red shield of the Adventure card – in this case, 4. His first card is Stone Guardians, which requires a Lore test, on which he must roll a 5+ twice – the crosses next to the test denote how many successes are needed (and as you can see, if he were on a desert space, he would need three successes to pass). If the test is passed, Jacques has one of two options: camp down, in which case he gains the Glory shown on the card (3), and his turn ends, or press on, in which case he draws a new adventure card. As the cards are double-sided, they are always shuffled before you draw, and you always draw from the bottom.

As shown above, Jacques scored one success, so he can roll again in order to try and gain that second success. Expansions have since added the mechanic of Deadly Tests, which need to be passed with just one roll. There aren’t many expansions for F&G just now, but I’ll get round to discussing them more at length in later blogs!

Fortune & Glory

Jacques’ next adventure is Underwater Diving, which requires a Cunning test with two successes of 5+. Jacques rolled his three dice, but did not achieve any successes! The test failed, the card is then flipped to the Cliffhanger side, all other adventure cards are discarded, and his turn ends. Next turn, he cannot move until he has attempted to defeat the cliffhanger. During a cliffhanger, the hero has the option of Exerting, which means he or she takes a wound to add an extra die to their pool (though you can’t exert if it would knock you out).

Once you have overcome the required number of dangers, you claim the artifact as your own, and it is replaced in the line-up with a new one. You must then make it to a City space in order to sell it. There are two types of cities, Major (with a gold border and individual artwork) and Minor (with a silver border). You can sell an artifact anywhere, but you gain an extra Fortune for selling in a Major city. However, before you do any of that, you must first encounter the city through the City deck. These are a mixture of good and bad cards, which can heal you or make you encounter villains and the like.

Fortune & Glory

As well as selling your artifacts, you can buy Gear and hire Allies, which can all help in your search for Fortune and Glory! The currency of the game is this glory, which you obtain from overcoming dangers at adventures. For five glory, you can get yourself some handy gear or the services of an ally or sidekick.

Fortune & Glory

Once your turn is over, it’s time for the villains to strike! In the base game, each Vile Organization comes with three Villains, who go out into the world and try to seek artifacts too. Each villain has a Search ability that dictates how many dice they roll (along with the usual combat and health, and special abilities). When a villain searches for an artifact, they throw dice equal to their search skill, and for every 4, 5 or 6 they place a danger marker on the artifact. There have been many times where I’ve seen artifacts disappear before my very eyes by very lucky villain rolls, let me tell you!

Fortune & Glory

There are also villain events, which trigger at the start of their turn, a Secret Base that can potentially spawn more each turn, and the dreaded War Zeppelin! Each villain phase, the Zeppelin moves towards a new random location by drawing a card and rolling a die. If it reaches that location, it drops off a Nazi Soldier before moving on. These enemy henchmen block movement for the heroes, making it that much more difficult to make it across the globe without a fight!

Fortune & Glory

However, heroes can both infiltrate the Zeppelin, destroying it for the turn, and sneak into the Secret Base, destroying it and stealing an artifact from under their very noses! I remember a particularly enjoyable game where Jake Zane kept infiltrating the secret bases to steal artifacts, rather than going after them himself… Wonderful times!

Fortune & Glory

In common with other FFP games, there’s also a Villain Track, which escalates from various effects, notably from villains recovering artifacts. If that track reaches 20 (in the solo/2 player game), the Villains win! However, if you can recover 15 Fortune first, you win! Of course, 15 Fortune isn’t really all that difficult to get if you’re particularly lucky, and in fact with the right cards (particularly Secret Delivery cards from the City deck), you can get to 15 Fortune with ease. Because of this, and the long set-up time due to the amount of components in this game, I tend to keep playing until I grow tired of sitting in the same place, then determine an event (such as destroying the Zeppelin, or defeating a particular villain in combat) to trigger the end game. I’ve had epic 2-hour games in this manner, rather than the half-hour “is that it?” sort of games that often result from stopping the clock as soon as you get 15 Fortune. (In one of those 2-hour extravaganzas, I think my heroes had a collective 43 Fortune, and the villain track was only on 6 or 7…)

Fortune & Glory

I mentioned before how there are many different variants for this game right out of the box, and alongside these are some Advanced elements, such as Temples. These are artifacts that are generated as normal, but are often worth significantly more. When they’re generated, a temple marker is also placed on the board, and a number of Fortune on the card. Each turn, you encounter the danger as usual, and if you’re successful, you place a danger marker plus take one Fortune from the temple. If the number of markers reaches the danger value of the temple, you replace them with a Collapse marker, and roll a die. If you roll a 2+, you’re fine and can press on as normal, but if you don’t, the temple collapses and you need to pass the escape test printed on its card or be knocked out. If you manage to make it out of the temple with all of the Fortune, you can also take the temple marker, which is itself worth 3 Fortune as an Artifact.

The above picture shows the sort of hilarious adventure chain you can go on when at a temple, due to the amount of Fortune there – after a Hidden Trap, a Car Chase ensued! Alexander Cartwright made it from his car to a plane, but was chased into the skies, whereupon he ejected into a boat, only to be followed downstream! He sought refuge in some Ice Caves, but was dismayed when the tunnel led to a Nightclub Rendezvous, which was no sooner passed than he came up against the dreaded Stone Guardians! What kind of crazy temple is this?!

Ah, pulp adventure at its best!

I can’t begin to tell you just how much I enjoy this game – especially with all the tweaks and options to customize it! To all but the totally blind, it also has the Indiana Jones theme to a tee, as you trot the globe, fighting Nazis and recovering precious relics of the past!

If you still don’t believe me over how awesome this game can be – just check this out:

(Though, y’know, pardon the goofs they made with the rules…)

Indiana Jones!

You love it!

Indiana Jones, for me, is one of the all-time awesome movie series. The adventure! Just awesome. I’m not about to launch into some hefty critique of these films, as there are plenty of such things knocking about online. Instead, I’m just going to put some random thoughts together for your general amusement on why I love these films – it’s my blog’s birthday, dammit!

I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw these films, though I do recall a dark period of only having Last Crusade on vhs (for you young kids, that’s physical tape in a plastic cassette, none of this dvd shiny!). Raiders of the Lost Ark was always the more serious film, I seem to remember – you couldn’t just watch it, it seemed to demand your attention, though obviously rewarded you for doing so. As a child, I didn’t really care all that much for Raiders. There was too much going on, plot-wise, and while I did enjoy the truck chase sequence, it didn’t really do it for me. I was also heavily interested in Mesoamerican/Pre-Columbian history, and felt cheated by the film’s opening not delivering on a jungle adventure, but that’s beside the point.

Harrison Ford Raiders of the Lost Ark

As an adult, I can now appreciate Raiders for the masterwork it is. It’s not just a great film, it’s a great experience. There’s a deep sense of history for these characters, and whenever I watch it, I find myself wanting to know more about them – let’s see how Indy and Sallah met! Let’s see more of Marcus!

The character of Marcus Brody is something of a disappointment for me, incidentally. Don’t get me wrong, I think Denholm Elliot is superb. It’s the character that disappoints me. In Raiders, he’s something of a father-figure for Indy, there at the beginning and the end of the adventure. He comes across as a really important figure in Indy’s life. Then in Last Crusade, when we get Indy’s actual father, he’s kinda sidelined into a buffoon. But there has to be more to him than this! What is he good at? We never see him shine the way we do the other characters, except those all-too-brief glimmers here and there in Raiders. I feel Marcus is a lot more than we see in these films, and could be a real force to be reckoned with when you’re on his turf.

René Belloq is another of these characters that I’d love to get to know more about. The darker side of Indy, I’d like to see him on his own escapades, rather than just stealing stuff from Indy, or acting just as a Nazi toady. Let’s see why he thinks he’s as good as Indy.

I’m one of these people who is secretly fascinated by Nazi occultism, and I’m a big fan of alternative histories such as that of Tannhauser or Hellboy (no doubt, future blogs will explore these!). As such, I really enjoyed the business of the Nazis searching for the Ark, and the historian in me has never seen anything wrong with Nazis in film. This period of history happened, after all, so I don’t see why we should shy away from it. But anyway!

Temple of Doom is my all-time favourite Indiana Jones movie, though it has taken this spot only very recently. I’m not sure how I can really get my thoughts across without sitting you down in front of the movie and pointing out everything that is just awesome about it, but let’s try.

The scope of this movie is truly epic. The Temple set is just frighteningly awesome in the very truest sense of the word – it inspires awe. The story has a genuine arc for the character of Indy, going from an almost-mercenary, contract treasure-hunter to someone who can see what happens when relics are blithely taken away from people. Willie Scott may be an annoying character, but she too deepens as the story moves along.

The story is also really quite dark for its genre, which helps to make it much more grown-up than the others. It’s still a great adventure film, but there is a very clear message coming through in this one of archaeological morality, which is a debate that rages to this day.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The cinematography of this film is absolutely incredible. Douglas Slocombe has been rightly praised for his work, but he really pulls off a tour de force with this one. The scene in the temple, where Indy is forced to drink the black blood and goes through that transformation, is quite possibly my favourite in the whole of cinema, just for the cinematography.

That sense of history from Raiders pervades this film, also. Just what adventures did Indy share with Wu Han? What happened in British Honduras? Inquiring minds need to know!

Of course, the film is not without its faults, not least of which is the blatant racist portrayal of the Indian subcontinent. The banquet scene takes the monkey-brains-metaphor to its extreme in what I assume was meant to be a joke, but instead just falls offensive. Depictions of the Thuggee, and incorrect portrayals of Kali all mount up to a fairly embarrassing film in this respect, and you can’t really brush it under the carpet in the same way you can with the Nazis.

For me, however, it doesn’t detract from what is still a fantastic film.

Last Crusade was, for many years, my favourite of the three. I can vaguely remember it being released, and it was a big deal in my childhood. Something that I particularly liked about the film was just how stylish the Nazis were in this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expressing admiration! But there is definitely more of the 1930s chic about this film than in the others. It was also interesting, for me, to have a more European flavour to the film, and seeing more of the history that I’m familiar with.

I do enjoy the early history of Christianity, and a film about the holy grail obviously allows us to explore this more. Heading off to the Middle East was both inspired and problematic, for me though. The sense of location has always been a strong point to these films, but long periods in the desert just made it feel like Raiders all over again. Also, that is NOT the Grail Temple, because it’s the Treasury at Petra. That was a big detractor for me, and irritates me whenever I watch the film nowadays.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

It’s not all irritating, of course. Sean Connery as Indy’s father is an inspired move. Lucas famously pitched the Indy story to Spielburg as “something better than James Bond”, so having the original Bond show up is nicely poetic. Connery is also a superb actor, and the chemistry between the two is formidable. Elsa is also a fantastic femme fatale, and it’s great to see Sallah and Marcus once more, even if they are reduced somewhat to comic relief. Even though this is still undoubtedly an Indy movie, there is much more of an ensemble feel to it because of having this strong cast around the lead.

When all’s said and done, however, it just feels too much like a Raiders rehash to me, and falls flat as a result. It’s still head-and-shoulders above a lot of other action movies, but not quite to the level of the first two films.

I suppose there’s also something perhaps a bit more personal to my love for the franchise. As a child, I was always very studious and bookish, and the character of Dr Jones showed, to me, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it actively encouraged me to be more academic at least twice in my early years. Of course, I’m not a globe-trotting professor-cum-treasure-hunter, but a mild-mannered civil servant. But Indiana Jones has made history cool and exciting, regardless of whether that history was accurate, or his methods strictly correct…

This post has so far ignored the fact that there is that turkey, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, also in existence. I’m not about to launch into any kind of critique on that, as I haven’t for the previous films, but I’d just like to say that the film is perhaps the victim of its older siblings’ successes. If you were to remove any reference to the character, and have this as one of the many adventurer-type films that Indy spawned, it’s not actually all that bad. There, I said it!

The internets seem to be awash with rumours lately of a Disney reboot, and I have to say, having had a fair few weeks now to digest this possibility, I don’t actually feel all that bad about this. So long as it’s an actual reboot that brings a completely new experience. I mean, I don’t want to see Chris Pratt (or whoever ends up in the role) rehashing Raiders, because that movie has been done, is awesome, and needs little-to-no work (just an expanded Marcus part, really). It would really need to be a brand new story, though I’m sure it’ll be good to have Nazis back for the ride as well. But I’m not going to speculate this far out, as it isn’t even confirmed this is happening yet…

Let’s just stick with the fact the Indiana Jones trilogy is awesome, with the fourth having the odd moment of goodness. If imitation is the best form of flattery, this franchise is very rich indeed.

Go watch them all today!

Birthday Week!

birthday week

Ta-daa!

Hey everybody, and welcome to day 365 of my blog! That’s right, this little corner of the internet has been overflowing with an abundance of awesome for one year – can you believe it? Well obviously you can – content this fabulous deserves to just keep on coming.

I’ve got a pretty special week lined up for you guys, anyway – there’s a theme week around one of the all-time classic movie franchises that will let me talk about board games, films, comics and novels, touching on virtually everything I’ve been doing on this blog over the last year. I’m also planning to have some more travel, but that’ll be at the end of the week. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure whether I’m going to be able to churn out any creative writing, which is a bit sad as it would really serve to highlight in the microcosm of a week what the last year has really been all about for me. You never know, however!

I have to admit, I honestly didn’t see myself in this position twelve months ago. I started this blog in a fairly bleak part of my life, where I had been feeling the need for a major change – career, location, whatever. It was partly done to provide a respite from this, something I could do to take myself away from trying to sort myself out, almost. I didn’t foresee it lasting very long, as I thought it would be just a transient thing while I was trying to make something of my life. Instead, I quickly learned that I really enjoyed just writing stuff here, though I still didn’t think I would last all that long – the novelty would wear off, and I’d go back to whatever it was that I used to do to pass the time (moving between facebook, twitter and email, mostly). The more I got into it, the more I enjoyed writing all this nonsense, and it became a fun thought, seeing how far I could potentially go with this thing. But I still didn’t think I’d be doing it very long.

Then I hit 100 posts within four months. Wow, didn’t see that one coming. I think that was the first time I really, seriously took stock of what I was doing here. It wasn’t just a half-assed thing I was doing to pass the time, but had developed a life of its own, with a structure (of sorts), and I’d somewhere along the line grown accustomed to generating new content – Tuesday Game Day being the biggest thing here, of course, but also weekend round-ups of game news, and the like.

I’d never really thought anyone would be interested in what I have to say, either, and the early days were a bit of a hazy, nebulous time where I didn’t really know who – if anyone – my audience was. I have some fairly wide-ranging interests, and seemed to only be generating interest when I made certain types of posts (food was the most popular, followed by travel – I know you’re interested…) But I was struggling to get into that ever-widening niche about which I am perhaps most passionate – tabletop gaming. By now, the board games category is my most-used, largely due to my weekly game blogs, but back then I often wondered why I was even bothering. But bother I did, and here I am today!

I am continually chuffed by the comments and likes I get – who’d’ve thought I have anything of interest to say?! But it’s an absolute delight to interact with the community here, and in so many ways makes the experience much more pleasant. So thank you to you all – I’m so glad you can derive some manner of satisfaction from what I’m doing here!

There doesn’t really remain much more to be said, beyond the fact that I’m looking forward to the future of spalanz.com – there are a few new things I’d like to explore with the space I have here, and if you’d like to see anything in particular here then please feel free to drop me a note to say so!

As to the theme for my Birthday Week – why, it’s Indiana Jones…