Top Ten “New to Me” Games early-2019

As in the past, I’d again like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently.

 

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my late-2017 list.
  • It’s been over a year since my last list, so I’m doing a top 10 this time instead of 5, and there are STILL great games that didn’t make the cut. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Argoat, Dark Moon, and Herbalism.

 

Special mention: Trickerion has been featured here before, but I played it for the first time with more than 2 players recently and really loved it in that manner as well, so wanted to give it another shout out.

 

 

10. Sentient

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Sentient perhaps looks a little more complicated than it is at first glance (and sadly any use of mathematical symbols immediately scares away some players). The mechanics are actually really straightforward and clever, with chosen cards changing the dice values on a player’s mat when played and the final values of the dice determining points scored based on the formulas on the cards. The balancing act gives rise to interesting choices in this unique, great little game.

Further thoughts here.

 

 

9. Gloomhaven

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Gloomhaven has massive setup and a million bits and pieces, but it all allows for a level of flexibility and depth that make it an extremely compelling dungeon crawler. It’s a bit cumbersome, but really well done and engrossing overall.

 

 

8. Unicornus Knights

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Unicornus Knights is a cooperative game with a wonderfully ridiculous premise. A “throw-caution-to-the-wind” princess wants to reclaim her lost kingdom, and the players are the various knights and retainers trying to keep her alive as she marches straight towards her goal. It’s hampered a bit by a rather poor rulebook and some odd graphic design choices made when bringing the game to the US, but once everything is sorted and settled this is a unique, highly engaging group game.

 

 

7. Spirit Island

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Spirit Island is a challenging co-op with a real sense of entropy and things getting out of hand as players take the role of spirits trying to protect/reclaim their island from colonists building towns and cities. The mechanics that govern the progression of what players are fighting against are ingenious, including an interesting, natural mechanic where the victory condition gets less stringent as the game goes on. This is something that really feels different among all the games I play, to great effect.

 

 

6. Raiders of the North Sea

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Raiders of the North Sea is a highly thematic game that captures a nice rhythm of building up in preparation for a specific action (in this case making raids of the surrounding area), executing, then doing it again, all without things ever feeling stagnant. I’ve only played with two players so far and there are aspects I think might be better with more players, but overall I really enjoyed this.

Further thoughts here.

 

 

5. Minerva

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I didn’t know anything about this before my friend brought it to the table, and it ended up being a wonderful surprise. It’s the first tile laying game in ages I’ve gotten excited about, with an interesting and unique activation mechanic that leads to meaningful choices with an eye towards balancing needing straight lines for optimal use of tile abilities with “blocks” for maximum scoring. This is a great game that made an excellent first impression and is something I anticipate adding to my collection in the future.

 

 

4. Shadows in Kyoto

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Shadows in Kyoto is a two player game of hidden information and strategic movement. The imaginative new take it brings to classic gameplay elements seen in games like Stratego and the depth arising from the hand management and asymmetric power aspects combine to something really fun and engaging. I loved this accessible, intriguing game immediately.

Full review.

 

 

3. Exit: Sinister Mansion, Dead Man on the Orient Express

 

It’s hard to know how to treat the Exit series in lists like this, as the new installments aren’t expansions or remakes but are generally similar enough to be treated as such. But I felt these two pushed new boundaries with the format and puzzle types and they are perhaps my two favorite of the entire series. So I’m featuring/recommending them both in this single entry.

More thoughts on the series.

 

 

2. Watson & Holmes

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Watson & Holmes is kind of a competitive, tighter version of things like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. The structure and gameplay elements are incredibly well integrated with the mystery solving aspect as players visit different location cards and take notes on the information they find trying to answer three key questions asked at the start of each case. The overall balance and way all the various elements come together is fantastic, and I loved the two games of this I’ve played thus far.

(Review to follow.)

 

1. Detective

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Simply incredible. Full review on the way once I get to finish up with the final case, but Detective is a wonderfully compelling cooperative campaign game that feels like doing actual detective work in a fun and captivating way. Each session/case does require a bit of time (~3 hrs each), but it doesn’t feel it at all. The way information is gathered is key, and between the decisions on what leads to follow, incorporation of a special website, and historical connotations this really knocks things out of the park in terms of creating an engrossing experience.

 

——-

That’s it for now. It continues to be a great time for gaming, and everything here is well worth at least giving a try.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

Yokohama Board Game Review (First Impressions)

Yokohama is a thematic worker placement game in which players are merchants in the Meiji period trying to thrive via fulfilling orders, expanding foreign ties, and building up their company and parts of the community around it.

 

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At first glance Yokohama is a bit overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of components and disparate elements. There are several things to keep track of and different ways to score points, but it all comes together really well and in a logical manner. The key to the accessibility of the game once play starts is that the actions taken each turn are straightforward themselves. The game’s depth comes from the fact that the implications of executing those actions become complex and far reaching.

Each turn a player will generally play workers to the modular board, then move their president to a particular tile and execute the related action. The workers help determine where the president can be moved and the power of the action performed, and the different tiles themselves determine whether the player will be collecting resources, placing workers on special scoring spaces, drawing cards, etc. But the core of a turn (including the way each tile is activated) is almost always mechanically the same. This allows the game to build complexity from those mechanics with varying scarcity of the different resources, various ways to gain points, technology cards that provide bonuses and/or special abilities, etc.

I found the path element, where a player’s president can only move along a series of tiles where that player has a worker, particularly interesting. It creates a nice balancing act of being spread out for mobility and concentrated for more powerful actions, and as such forces both preplanning and adaptability.

Yokohama the type of game that will take a few games to grasp best strategies and learn to properly weigh options, but is immediately engaging regardless.

 

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I first played a friend’s “deluxified” version (shown in the pictures in this review), which was limited to only Kickstarter and commanded high after market prices once the game came out, then purchased my own retail copy. Both have high production quality as far as there respective components went, but the retail version has considerably fewer “bells and whistles” and does pale a bit when compared side by side. Cardboard chits replaced the wooden resources, wooden cubes replaced the meeples, cardboard coins took the place of  metal ones, etc.

I do find TMG’s approach to limited KS versions frustrating in general. They pat themselves on the back for providing the upgrades at cost, but if priced more reasonably they could produce some extra copies and people who can’t commit during a specific one month window (or heaven forbid want a chance to play the game/read reviews before committing to purchase the more expensive version) would have opportunity to get the best version of the game without paying triple in aftermarket. However I will note in this case the deluxe version is being offered again, as part of the currently running Kickstarter for the 2 player only spin off Yokohama Duel (which also has a KS only “deluxified” version).

 

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The benefit of the component overload I talked about is the incredible amount of variation it lends to the game. The board is modular and the positions of the action tiles change from game to game. Beyond that the building spaces and bonuses on those action tiles are determined by cards and chits, which also changes the relative desirability of taking high powered actions on certain tiles. Technologies, orders, bonus goals, etc are also card based and variable. It all reminds me a little of  Ars Alchimia in the way certain aspects are implemented, and it’s really well done in both games.

 

I have now played this a few times with 2 players, and really enjoy it. But since I have yet to play with more players (and I imagine dynamic will change, especially considering the extra tiles involved), I can’t speak to that aspect and so am leaving this review marked “first impressions.” Regardless of that though I find Yokohama a game of meaningful choices and immense replayability, and an pretty easy recommendation for anyone willing to get past the initial bit of information overload.

Wave 12/29/18 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Wave’s big year end show ended up even more significant than usual for the company. Not only was it Misaki Ohata’s retirement show, but also the final “phase 1” show for Wave as they prepared to go on hiatus for four months to then relaunch under new management.

 

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Hiroyo Matsumoto is a force of nature in the ring, and the formula of seeing how much an up and comer can withstand against Lady Godzilla is a good one. Hiroe Nagahama put up a good fight in this opener before Hiroyo’s relentless onslaught gave her the victory.

 

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Next up was a 9-woman battle royal, somewhat surprisingly unthemed since this was a retirement show. Cherry outlasted Fairy Nihonbashi, Hikaru Shida, Himeka Arita, Kaori Yoneyama, Miyuki Takase, Natsumi Maki, Rin Kadokura, and SAKI to win in about ten minutes.

 

 

 

Considering the talent level and interesting names involved, some of the early eliminations and the spotlight coming down to Cherry and Fairy at the end was a bit underwhelming. Still there were a number of amusing spots (including a rather well done slow motion sequence), it didn’t overstay its welcome, and this was reasonably entertaining overall.

 

 

 

In my review of Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary show I remarked how well Wave’s Rina Yamashita and her partner that night Mio Momono executed the resentful tag partners story and won without making their opponents look weak. Men’s Wave featuring Keisuke Goto & Kenichiro Arai vs Koju Takeda & Onryo was pretty much the opposite.

Goto & Arai (opponents in the  previous year’s Men’s Wave tag) were at each others throats all match, leading to occasional advantages for their opponents, but in the end Goto tired of Arai, shoved his partner away, did his own thing, and won the match single handedly. Which earned him Arai’s respect after the match. Basic ringwork and meh story here (and I don’t quite get the point/appeal of Onryo’s gimmick of coming to the ring saturated with powder and essentially being a human dust cloud to the point the ring needed cleaning before the next match).

 

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In what I considered a rather surprising upset, Nagisa Nozaki defeated a former Regina di Wave champion in Marvelous’ Takumi Iroha in singles competition.  This was a well worked, exciting little match and a huge yet believable win for Nagisa.

 

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After a preview seeing them on opposite sides of a tag encounter the night before at SEAdLINNNG, that company’s estranged former tag team champions Rina Yamishita and Yoshiko continued their feud in singles competition. The two waged war and beat the hell out of each other for a full 15 minutes, going to a time limit draw. There was silliness around Rina’s insistence in covering *herself* in a trash can for a couple of (failed) attacks, but in general this heated brawl was intense and relentless. Great match for what it was.

 

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Speaking of SEAdLINNNG, their founder and current champion Nanae Takahashi, defeated ASUKA (a former Regina di Wave champion in her own right) next in a match with a few nice flourishes that was a bit paint-by-numbers otherwise.

 

 

 

So with Mio Momono pulled from every other show leading up to this due to impending knee surgery she rightfully took it easy here and … BWAHAHAHAHA. Yeah, no. While I really hope she didn’t push herself too hard the self proclaimed BOSS as always gave everything she had (including a dive to the floor minutes into the match O_o), with her WAVE Tag Team champion partner Yumi Ohka and opponents Sakura Hirota & Yuki Miyazaki doing a remarkable job of protecting Mio without anyone ever making it look obviously like they were protecting Mio.

Boss to Mammy would eventually drop those titles to the Hirota & Miyazaki after a near twenty minute battle that was much better than I honestly expected with Mio injured and the challengers largely a comedy team. Sakura busted out the working boots in a major way here, reminding everyone how much skill actually goes into her type of comedy by transcending it at points with spot on technical displays. She even hit the dive to the outside (well, after two failed attempts of course 😉 )!!! She’s still Sakura Hirota of course though, and won by collapsing into a pin on Ohka after a collision.

Mio has since had her knee surgery, and I wish her a speedy recovery and return.

 

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In the main event Misaki Ohata challenged her Avid Rival tag team partner Ryo Mizunami for the Regina di Wave Title in Ohata’s final match.

This was a different kind of retirement match than I’ve seen for others. Since it was a championship match they had a straight up contest befitting the prestige of the title and traditional “retirement spots” were completely absent. They clearly still had some fun with things though, such as when they brawled to the time keeper’s table and Misaki rang the bell directly in Ryo’s ear (ouch!).

 

 

 

As to be expected from two wrestlers of this caliber that know each other so well this was an excellent, hard hitting, back and forth encounter. Misaki eventually busted out a rolling variation of her Sky Blue Suplex (!!) and just wore the champion down until a final Sky Blue Suplex with bridge gave her the win and saw Misaki retire as Regina di Wave champion. Fantastic match and a well deserved honor for the twelve year veteran.

 

 

 

Misaki was in good spirits and joking around a bit during her retirement ceremony (even while her poor partner cried goodbye), a nice sign of her being satisfied with her career and ready to proceed to whatever’s next.  I’ll miss her but wish her well.

Likely because of Wave’s hiatus, there was no Zan-1 champion crowned this year. To end the night a video hyping Wave’s return in April was played, hinting at Hirota signing with Wave among other things.

 

 

 

Wave’s year (and “phase 1”) end show was missing some of the elements I’d usually associate with a retirement show, but it still felt a fitting and suitable goodbye for Misaki. The matches were mostly decent with a few exceptional ones, making the show enjoyable even beyond it’s significance and emotional notes.

Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show 10/8/18

I’ve been long familiar with Hikaru Shida from Shimmer, as well as here and there after I started coming to Japan. When I was planning my Fall trip (largely around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show, which featured Shida in the main event), I noticed I could catch this special anniversary show the night before I returned, and decided to check it out. Looked decent on paper, with a variety of match types and surrounding intrigue featuring wrestlers from various promotions, although I honesty wasn’t 100% sure exactly how well it would all come together.

 

 

Things started out interesting right away with a pairing of two incredible wrestlers who clearly weren’t entirely thrilled to be teaming together. Mio Momono & Rina Yamashita walked the fine line of maintaining a certain level of disrespect for each other throughout their match against Kaori Yoneyama & Koharu Hinata while still remaining competitive and properly recognizing their opponents as a threat.

Mio continues to be particularly fantastic, and I hope she recovers quickly and completely from her recent knee surgery and is able to return to wrestling. Great spots like Mio playing jump rope with their opponent during a Rina giant swing and her “helping” Rina during a submission hold by pulling Rina’s hair for “leverage” were made even better by the charisma and ttitude she brings to them. Really well done overall, with Mio & Rina staying serious enough despite their egos and issues that their eventual victory was still believable and didn’t make their opponents look weak.

 

 

So Misaki Ohata, Hiroyo Matsumoto, & Buffalo vs Yako Fujigasaki, Gabai Ji-chan, Toru Owashi was that good balance of ridiculousness and action that I desperately look for in most of my comedy matches. While not all of the humor was to my personal tastes (I tend to find Ji-chan amusing and annoying in equal measure), this turned out quite fun overall.

The foil cone “weapon” being aimed at people’s backsides was a focal point several times, as was Misaki’s engagement. Her partners sacrificed themselves to an attack with it to protect her at one point, and later when Misaki herself stole and wielded the weapon Toru put on a mask of Misaki’s fiance Makoto Oishi to dissuade her from attacking. Toru’s strategy was unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

It was really nice to see 3S together one last time before Misaki retired, and I enjoyed a lot of this. Also, seeing Misaki absolutely SPIKE Ji-chan with her crucifix bomb for the win was really satisfying.

 

 

In what may have been my personal most anticipated match of the night, Ice Ribbon regular Maika Ozaki got a chance to face reigning Sendai Girls’ champion  Chihiro Hashimoto (in non-title competition of course). It’s not a pairing that would normally be likely given the lack of crossover between the two companies at the moment, and one I was extremely excited to see. This was a great showcase for Maika against one of the very best power wrestlers in the world, and she pushed the beast that is Chihiro to the limit before Sendai’s champ finally put down the upstart.

 

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I swear I’ve seen Madoka announced under like five different names in various matches, and a quick search shows he has like ten. Here, as Hagane Shinnou, he teamed with Risa Sera against Aja Kong & TARU. No illusions about what kind of match this would be, as Risa was bloody in under two minutes. They fought all over, inside and outside the ring and right by me a few times, spreading chaos all over the arena.

This was all about Risa & Madoka trying to survive the monsters, and as such it had a fire absent from some of the other hardcore matches I’ve seen recently. Easily the most compelling performance I’ve seen from Risa all year. Risa can be incredible in this kind of match, often in my opinion when she’s more the underdog, and was both here. This was a “the journey is as important as the destination” type of match, and going to a draw with the monsters made Risa & Madoka look like stars.

 

 

In the main event Hikaru Shida seemed to be setting out to exorcise a personal demon against Naromuchi Marufuji. They had faced earlier in the year, with Shida getting knocked out in under two minutes. I could feel the pressure weighing on Shida as she looked to prove herself by at least putting up a better fight here. The right story, well worked, makes all the difference and they built off of that feeling of insecurity to craft an excellent match in both story and action.

 

 

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

 

 

I’m honestly kind of surprised how great this was from top to bottom. Everything clicked, being really well booked an executed in terms of stories and action within each individual situation and avoiding potential pitfalls. Generally everyone just made the most of their opportunities, and this was a high note to end this particular trip on.

 

 

 

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Ninja Mio sees you…

 

 

Gris Review

 

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Gris is an enjoyable platformer with a melancholy atmosphere and a sense of wonder. It’s absolutely GORGEOUS, with an evolving look as color slowly comes back into the world as the player progresses. I found the controls, evolving abilities, and game design well implemented (for the most part) and most importantly, fun.

On the flip side, there’s a touch too little exploration to be done of/in the engaging landscape, particularly in the wonderfully stark early section. The game will kind of railroad the player around at certain points, making it hard to get a sense of geography. When the visuals change dramatically and the game spins me around rapidly down several unclimbable slopes I often couldn’t tell if I was re-exploring an area I’d already visited or not. It didn’t significantly impact my progression, but did break immersion a bit. Also, some dramatic moments have their impact pretty much killed when control is either forcibly (by turning things into a cut scene in the middle of a pivotable moment) or subtly (having the player apparently in control but without their actions actually making a difference in outcomes) taken away.

So it’s not without its drawbacks, but there’s still a solid, engaging game in Gris well worth checking out for anyone who likes the idea of an “artsy” platformer shaped by its underlying themes.

Gatoh Move 12/30 & 12/31/18 Live Thoughts

December 30 and 31, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Shows #2 and 3 from Gatoh Move for this trip, although I was also lucky enough to also see Gatoh talent in action at Michinoku Pro on 12/21 and SEAdLINNNG on 12/28.

 

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As I like to explain to start my Ichigaya reviews, these events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some souvenirs).

 

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I’ve seen An-chamu at Gatoh Move once before in 6-person tag team competition, but here the gravure model had a singles opportunity against Gatoh’s resident ace in Riho. An has a different look and approach to wrestling that helps her stand out. She’s not nearly as physically strong as the other rookies, so has to adapt a bit in style. So far it’s working well and provides a nice contrast. Decent showing before the women tri-champion Riho turned up the pressure and simply outpaced and dispatched of the rookie.

 

 

Mei Suruga’s straight ahead, “I can take on the world” optimistic character is fantastic, and the undercurrents of mind games and one-upmanship it fostered in her match with the larger, stronger Saki were phenomenal. Lots of compelling, back and forth action until the size and power advantage finally swung things Saki’s way and she picked up the victory.

 

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Masahiro Takanashi, Emi Sakura, & Baliyan Akki are always a blast as a trios team as their heel instincts gradually come out, making their pairing against the hero group of  Mitsuru Konno, Sawasdee Kamen, & Sayaka Obihiro even more appropriate and fun. Obi didn’t quite mesh well with the masked heroes in the end, causing miscommunications that lead to Akki pinning Mitsuru. Sawasdee was not happy with Obi “failing” his regular partner and made it known. Standard high level performance from Gatoh’s 6-person tags.

 

 

12/31/18:

 

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Baliyan Akki  vs Cherry vs Toru Owashi was of course comedy heavy with the talent involved, but still felt nicely competitive. Cherry outsmarting  her much larger opponents and pitting them against one another to earn a win here was a really solid story to build around, and they did so reasonably well.

 

Seeing Masahiro Takanashi and Cho-un go to a time limit draw on New Year’s Eve has become something of annual tradition, and to be honest one I was a bit lukewarm on last year. I feel like they pushed themselves a bit to do something different this time, to great effect. While the previous matches were decent, this one was more interesting, with better pacing and the draw feeling less like a forgone conclusion, and unusual elements (like fighting over an audience member’s stool) being involved. Kudos to the vets for freshening things up.

 

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The main event was a “old Gatoh Move vs new Gatoh Move” 6-woman tag as Riho, Sayaka Obihiro, & Emi Sakura faced Mitsuru Konno, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori. From little things like brawling through the crowd a little more to coming up with inventive new ways to use the windows to all the tiny, detailed character touches they all use to differentiate themselves, Gatoh Move’s firing on all cylinders and the results are amazing. I loved this match, from the starting moments where Sakura didn’t quite care about being a full part of her team through to when the veterans’ skills were just a little too much for the rookies’ energetic determination to overcome and all the frantic, captivating action in between. Mei was eventually isolated by her opponents, triple teamed liberally, and pinned by Riho.

 

 

Seeing Gatoh Move at full strength is so awesome, and as I’ll mention often in this batch of write ups there was a definite feeling of progression and evolution in these shows. The wrestlers are pushing the boundaries of the format, environment, and the personal strengths and weaknesses they’re working with and elevating what was already always a fun time to another level. Everything’s consistently coming together wonderfully and it’s a joy to see.

 

Ice Ribbon 10/8/18 Live Thoughts

October 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Stepping back a little to look at one of the last two shows I have to write up from my September-October trip. Big Korakuen show for Ice Ribbon here, the day after most of the roster appeared at Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show.

 

 

The show opened with a non-title 2 out of 3 falls contest with unspecified other stipulations between reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion Tsukasa Fujimoto and Risa Sera.

If any in story reason for this being the opener was given, I missed it. I generally dislike it when things happen unexplained because of how the match is going to play out and had that sinking feeling here, and sure enough this started the show so it could continue throughout the event.

First fall was a regular match, which seemed there to placate the live audience and be able to say that those who paid to attend the show live got to see some of Risa vs Tsukka. While it involving these two meant it was still decent, it wasn’t enough honestly. Eight and half minutes of them hitting their signature spots before they disappeared to wrestle elsewhere for hours.

To be clear I don’t blame them at all for pacing themselves, but given the majority wouldn’t be happening at the arena I would’ve liked to see something… more compelling at least from this first fall. The biggest problem with the angle they’re running of Risa’s character being much more effective/interested in hardcore matches than regular matches is it seems to be bleeding over into her work and her regular matches feel less interesting/engaging than her hardcore stuff now.

Tsukka won this clean as a whistle center of the ring (more on that later). Then the second fall was announced as falls count anywhere and they brawled through the crowd … and out of the arena, leaving the live audience behind. A referee and camera was sent after them, and the show moved on.

 

 

In a somewhat tough spot of being overshadowed by the match that just vacated the arena, Miyako Matsumoto, Tae Honma, & Uno Matsuya vs Tequila Saya, Giulia, & Makoto was a decent way to keep the energy in the arena up. Good match overall, and I really liked Tae’s increasing frustration with her own partner Uno as things went on. Little touches are so important.

On a side note, I think this was my first time seeing Saya’s entrance gear that riffs on Giulia’s militant look, with Saya’s version having a bandolier of shot glasses and a glass tequila bottle shaped like a gun. Fantastic.

 

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As Misaki Ohata’s career wound down this year I really enjoyed her involvement in P’s Party, particularly her matches / interactions with Asahi. So it was a real treat for me to see them team here against Arisa Nakajima & Karen DATE. I loved this, as beyond just great action it also had several interesting undercurrents being played off of throughout the match.

Arisa and Misaki’s mutual resentment was palpable, and Misaki’s strained patience with Asahi yet being rabidly protective when Arisa mocked the rookie was pitch perfect character work. Great stuff all around.

With all of the DATES currently absent from Ice Ribbon’s shows this seems like it was my last time seeing Karen live for the foreseeable future (if ever). A high note to go out on at least.

 

 

A year and change into her career, Ibuki Hoshi got the… opportunity… to face legend Aja Kong. Exactly as expected and warranted, as the defiant Ibuki fought her heart out but still eventually got wrecked by the veteran monster. Ibuki’s really solid in her storytelling, and this was quite good for this formula.

 

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Shortly before this show Maika Ozaki had temporarily broken up her GEKOKU team with Kyuri in a case of tough love because she thought the latter wasn’t as upset by losing matches as she should be. Here they were pitted against each other in tag action, teaming with Nao DATE and Totoro Satsuki respectively.

I adore the fact that they were teaming with two wrestlers who were regular partners themselves (as Novel Tornado), as it created several interesting parallels between the team who was ok facing each other in a competitive environment and the team who was being torn apart by it. Kyuri wanted NO PART of fighting Maika, looking absolutely miserable during the ring entrances and only lightening up when in the ring against Nao. She wouldn’t even lock up with Maika at first, but later in the match when pushed far enough she completely went off on her usual partner in spectacular, crowd popping fashion.

 

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Maika, perhaps partially proving her point about Kyuri’s priorities, eventually prevails and pins her regular partner with the Muscle Buster. A dejected, depressed Kyuri then slinks off with Totoro in tow as Maika desperately tries to call her back and explain. Great interweaving of stories in a great match. Between this and the ActWres feud Gekoku has been the center of some of the best storytelling Ice Ribbon did all year, and of course the story wasn’t over yet.

Like Karen, Nao has also apparently stopped wrestling for now (?) since I saw this show. She’s one of my absolute favorites among Ice’s rookies and I hope to see her back someday.

 

 

Next up former Ice Ribbon wrestler and unwelcome invader Hikaru Shida faced Akane Fujita. Fine, if a bit perfunctory. Long for what it was as Akane never had a chance here and they didn’t do a great job of ever making it feel like she did. Tae Homna being the only corner person for Shida (since all of Ice Ribbon hates her in story) was a nice little touch. Shida was confronted by the entire batch of Ice Ribbon “rookies” afterwards, which led to nothing.

 

 

So an hour an ten minutes later we get the finish of fall 2 of Tsukka vs Risa, relayed via video clip on a screen directly behind me. Yay live wrestling. Risa wins, and they hop on a train to continue for fall 3. How is “falls count anywhere” and “falls count anywhere (WE’RE ON A TRAIN NOW!)” any logically different as a stipulation? No idea. And on to the next match we went.

 

In the supposed semi-main event Maya Yukihi faced Wave’s Rina Yamishita. Really good showing for Maya against tough competition in a hard hitting fifteen minute battle before coming up short. She’s gradually and continually improved over the three years I’ve been watching her wrestle and is at the level for the position they’ve been building her towards. Rina’s great and it’s always nice to see her come to Ice Ribbon in the few appearances she makes.

 

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It seemed possible that Tsukushi’s journey since her redebut would culminate here and lead to the vacated International Ribbon Tag Team Champions of This is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiiragi) reclaiming the belts. But instead the team that claimed the belts in their absence, the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi), had their reign legitimized in a decisive win. Solid match, with Mochi and Tsukushi’s simmering animosity that bubbled over in at the dojo show days before providing a strong central emotional core to build around. But once the dust settled in the aftermath of the heated battled all was forgiven.

 

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But of course that wasn’t really the main event, because we still have a fall left of our “opener” to check in on. Risa wins the train battle, and thus the “match.” This makes her the #1 contender to Tsukka’s title, and then they throw to another video which is an announcement/commercial for a variety show TV special Ice Ribbon had coming up.

I was really torn on this, because I like that Ice Ribbon does unusual promotional things exactly like having a match spill all over Tokyo. On the other hand, as a member of the live, paying audience having the majority of this, including both the falls that actually mattered in the end, happen away from the venue and relayed on a video screen directly behind me quite honestly sucked. And progressing throughout the show the way it did meant it became the focal point, and the wrestling actually happening in the building was in some sense second fiddle to off site action. Another smaller frustration is that as a result the champion and number 1 contender, arguably the company’s two biggest stars, ended up hours away from the venue and missing for post show photo ops, etc.

On top of that Tsukka, the champion facing her rival who’s being set up to challenge her mind you, won center of the ring in the non-stipulation fall. Why does Risa then winning gimmicked, brawling falls make her number one contender in the exact type of match she just lost clean in short order?

This should be fine and enjoyable on dvd, but from my personal perspective as a live audience member as well as how it was presented / booked I was honestly disappointed.

 

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Overall this show was clearly a mixed bag for me live, but the primary issues I had won’t be a problem on tape and there’s some really great gems hiding in the undercard, so this still gets a recommendation from me to check out.