Board Games Reviews

Ravens of Thri Sahashri Beginner’s Guide

As I mentioned in my review of Raven’s of Thri Sahashri, while I thoroughly enjoyed it the learning curve is sizable. The two player roles are quite different, and with unique gameplay revolving around non-verbal communication strategies for neither role are immediately apparent nor intuitive.

This is not meant as a complete substitute for the rulebook, but hopefully will be a useful gameplay guide to help make the complicated rule structure more accessible and supply a few strategy hints to help new players from feeling too overwhelmed.



Each round (“Dream”) of RoTS has two goals that must be satisfied to win:

  1. The four rows in front of the Ren player (ie Ren’s “Poem”) must reach specific totals (7-7-7-5).
  2. The only card colors that can be visible in the central area (“Atman”) are the colors of the four cards Ren started the Dream with.

A game of RoTS consists of three consecutive Dreams (rounds), and the players win the game if they win all three Dreams.

Game End

Players lose RoTS if

  1. All five Raven cards are in Raven row.
  2. The draw deck is empty at the start of Feth’s turn.
  3.  Feth cannot add at least one card to the Atman on his turn
  4. The Atman runs out of cards.

There are special rules for the third/final dream, which I’ll discuss later.


  1. Choose which player will play Ren and which will play Feth.
  2. Deal four cards to Ren.
    • These are not to be revealed to Feth.
    • There must not be any Ravens among these cards.
    • These are Ren’s “Heart cards” for the Dream, and determine which colors are allowed in the Atman at Dream’s end.
  3. Ren places the four cards face down in front of her, establishing four rows to be completed.
  4. Feth deals a single card in the center of the table to start the Atman.
    • Must be non-Raven.

Each Dream starts with Feth, and then turns alternate.

Example of the game area after setup.

I’m going to concentrate on rules and strategy for things that happen within a single dream first for each player, then talk about rules and notes for a full three Dream game.

Feth’s Turn

  1. Feth deals as many cards as he wants into a “Memory Row” in front of him.
  2. Whenever he decides he is done, he moves any revealed Ravens directly below Memory Row into a “Raven Row.”
  3. Feth then plays as many cards as he wants from Memory row into the Atman.
  4. Feth’s turn then ends, and any cards left in Memory Row are discarded.

At any point during his turn, Feth may use the powers listed on any face up cards in Ren’s Poem.

Key rules for Feth

  1. Cards added to the Atman must:
    • be in the same orientation as cards already in the Atman.
    • overlap at least one shaded area with a card already in the Atman.
    • have any sections that overlap with cards already in the Atman be of like type (shaded vs clear).
    • not directly completely cover another card.
    • In the above pictures, after Feth adds the purple 5 to the Atman the green 3 is completely covered, and thus does not count as part of the Atman until/unless it is later uncovered again.
  2. If ever all five Ravens are in Raven Row, the game ends immediately.
  3. Whenever cards are discarded, if they match the color of a Raven in Ravens Row, they go underneath that Raven instead of into the discard pile.
    • Exception to the above: any cards in Memory Row directly above a Raven already in Raven Row are “safe.” Safe cards go to the discard pile regardless of color when discarded, and safe Ravens get discarded instead of moving into Raven’s Row.
    • img_3107Example of Fen’s play area. If his turn ended like this, the red 5 would be “safe” and would go to the discard pile (with the purple 5). The yellow 1 is not “safe,” and would be placed under the yellow Raven.
  4. When Feth uses a card from Ren’s Poem, that card is turned sideways and cannot be used again (unless refreshed).
  5. If a card in the Atman is completely covered, it no longer counts as being part of the Atman unless/until it is visible again.
  6. Reliving Memories (important): whenever Feth manages to play cards to the Atman such that an uninterrupted group of cards of the same color totaling exactly 7 is formed, he “relives one of Ren’s memories.”
    • The matching colored Raven is chased away from Raven Row (if there) for the rest of the Dream. Any cards under the Raven move to the discard pile.
    • Ren reveals one Heart card that matches the color of the relived memory.
      1. If she does, all cards in that row are “refreshed” (turned vertical) and Feth can use their powers again.
Example of a “relived memory.” Even through the purple 5 is covering part of the blue 4, it is not in between any of the blue cards forming a group that total 7.

Beginning strategy notes for Feth

  1. Balance drawing enough cards to provide Ren with good options to complete her poem, and being wary of drawing all five Ravens or emptying the deck.
  2. Make sure he can always play at least one card to the Atman.
  3. Pay attention to Ren’s clues, and as the dream progresses try to guess which colors should be present in the Atman and which colors he should be trying not to play and/or covering up.

Ren’s Turn

Mechanically Ren’s turns are much simper than Feth’s

  1. Ren draws any one visible card from the Atman and either adds it to the current row of her poem or discards it. That’s it.

Key rules for Ren

  1. Ren is trying to add cards to the rows of her Poem such that the totals are 7-7-7-5.
    • Totals include Ren’s Heart cards.
    • Rows must be completed in order.
      1. For example, to begin the Dream Ren can only play cards she draws from the Atman to the first row of her Poem.
      2. Once she plays a card to that first row that brings the sum of all card values in that row to 7, one the following turn she will start playing cards to the second row of her Poem.
    •  If Ren adds a card to a row that matches the color of the Heart card for that row, the Heart card is revealed to Feth.
    •  Whenever a row is completed, Ren informs the Feth player of that fact.
      1. When the fourth row is completed, Ren tells Feth whether the Dream is over or not ( depending on whether or not the Atman only shows colors in her Heart cards).
      2. If not, play continues until the players accomplish that second goal or until a loss condition is met.
  2. Partially covered cards are fine to draw. Any cards over or under it remain in position, and any previously hidden cards uncovered by Ren’s draw are now considered part of the Atman again.
  3. Cards Ren discards that match the color of a Raven in Raven Row go underneath the Raven as normal.
  4. If Ren chooses to draw a card that can be played to the current line of her Poem, she must play it there (and cannot discard it).
  5. Whenever the Atman is “split,” Ren is the one who decides which part(s) of the Atman are discarded, regardless of whose turn it happens on.
    • The Atman is split when it consists of more than one section that are not visibly connected by any overlapping cards.
    • Ren chooses one section to keep, and all others are discarded (cards are placed under Ravens as normal).
    • Remember – cards not visible are not considered part of the Atman, so there may be hidden cards underneath those being discarded that will remain on the table / become part of the Atman once the discarded sections have been removed.


Example pic of a simple Atman that could be split – if Ren draws the blue 4, the purple 5 and blue 1 will be unconnected. Ren will then choose one to discard.

Beginning strategy notes for Ren

With Feth, a player need to be mindful of several options and rules and focus on aiding Ren. In contrast, Ren’s role is to make the most out of removing a single card from the Atman each turn, both in terms of progressing towards their goals and in providing as much information to Feth as possible.

  1. Removing cards from the Atman primarily of colors that aren’t in Ren’s Heart is a good way to clue Feth in about what colors can’t be in the Atman at the end of the Dream.
  2. Removing/discarding high value cards from the Atman can help indicate what value(s) are need for the current row of the Poem.
    • For example, if the Atman only shows values of 3 and higher, and Ren draws and discards a 3, the Feth player knows she couldn’t play the 3 in her row because the total of the row would go over 7. That also means she can’t play any of the 4s or 5s in the current row.


Example of part of Ren’s Poem during game. From the above pic Feth knows:

  1. The first Heart card is not yellow or green, and the second is not yellow.
  2. The Heart card for the first row must be a 1.
  3. If Ren has not announced the second row is complete, that heart card must also be a 1. If she has said it’s complete, the Heart card must be a 2.

The game beyond finishing the first dream

In between Dreams

When the players successfully complete a Dream, three key things happen:

  1. Any cards underneath Ravens in Raven rows are “eaten” (removed from the game), and the players will not have use of them for the remaining Dreams.
  2. Any Ravens chased away by Feth “reliving a memory” return to Raven Row.
    • If this causes all five Ravens to be in the row, the players have lost.
  3. Any of Ren’s Heart cards that were revealed by Feth “reliving a memory” (NOT those revealed by Ren playing a card of the same color to that Heart card’s row) go into a “score pile” that is set aside until the final Dream.

As such Feth’s deck generally decreases in size from Dream to Dream, increasing the difficulty as the game goes on.

Final Dream

The players’ last attempt to complete Ren’s Poem and match the Atman to the colors of her Heart has additional challenges and advantages for the players. When learning the game I’d recommend not worrying about this section too much until you get there, except to understanding adding some cards to Ren’s score pile throughout the game is important.


  1. Ren must complete a line of her Poem on EVERY TURN, or the players lose.
  2. The Atman colors must match the colors of Ren’s Heart cards at the end of Ren’s fourth turn, as the players will get no additional turns to accomplish that.

Extra abilities:

  1. In addition to drawing a card from the Atman and playing it on her turn, Ren may play as many cards from her score pile as she wants to help her complete the row.
  2. Cards under any Ravens Feth chases away during this Dream go into Ren’s score pile instead of the discard pile.

Hopefully this will be a useful reference. Feel free to let me know in the comments if anything is unclear.

Manga Reviews

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Volume 5 Review

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is a dense, gradually unfolding story that has open story threads tracing all the way back to volume 1. Best to start reading there.


Kuro’s travels with Ninjuku, Sanju, and Sen continue as Kuro remains on the trail of the witch Hifumi.

Wow. Just wow. Given how impressive the series has been up to this point, I’m continually amazed at Kiyuduki’s ability to push things even further. The stories here are all firmly focused on Kuro and/or the witch she’s tracking, with significant insight into both. Kuro’s entourage and the various people they meet along the way are of course present and important, but this time they’re there specifically to help shine the spotlight on the stories of the manga’s main protagonist and antagonist rather than bask in it themselves.

It’s a nice payoff for the readers who have been patiently waiting for more background on that key relationship, and is the perfect time to share some of it.  As always every answered question requires a lot of effort to fully process as well as raising even more mysteries, but my goodness do we get some huge reveals in this volume. I am literally having to force myself to withhold further detail to avoid spoilers because there is so much to talk about here.

I’ve waited nearly two years for this newest volume of Kuro’s adventures, and am pleased to say it was more than worth it. Kiyuduki’s enigmatic, multi-layered tale makes the reader work to fully appreciate it, but rewards those who do with a fascinating world filled with compelling characters and evolving mysteries that provide enough to satisfy while always teasing the next surprise and providing enticement to continue along. I hope the next installment comes quicker, but let’s be honest: I’m happy to wait as long as it takes without complaint for this level of excellence.

Comics Reviews

Gotham Academy Volume 2 Review

Gotham Academy is not a normal school, and even there Olive Silverlock is not a normal student. But with a like minded group of inquisitive misfits, Olive investigates secrets regarding both the school and her own past.


There’s no way around this: volume 2 of Gotham Academy was quite disappointing. After six atmospheric and fun issues in volume 1 that established a cast of quirky characters and several intriguing mysteries, the pacing just completely falls apart in this installment and the story collapses under its own weight.

The phenomenal cliffhanger from the end of volume 1 is blown off in a single issue with the featured hero acting incredibly out of character and ham-handedly isolated to interacting with just a single member of GA’s established core cast. I actually expected it to be revealed as an imaginary sequence and would have preferred that given the tone and characterization inconsistencies. So much potential wasted.

After that we properly refocus on Olive, but the tension and slow build of the first six issues are replaced with reveal after reveal with no lead up and far too little explanation. The developments are interesting, but everything from secrets about Olive’s past to relationship developments and conflicts among the cast to various secret agendas and schemes are all thrown at the reader too quickly for any real emotional impact or for anything to truly click and resonate. Even with my extensive familiarity of Batman mythos it was a chore to follow all the implications and name-drops, and someone reading GA in isolation would be totally lost.

It’s a shame because Olive and her struggles are intriguing hooks to the book, and other things ranging from the diverse personalities of the support cast to the vivd yet atmospheric art all make me want to like this more than I do. But in a single volume the comic has gone from a mysterious, foreboding adventure with touches of humor and a pace that fosters reader curiosity to crash-TV style “shock of the month” storytelling that doesn’t allow anything to fully develop and feels like a couple of years worth of plots and twists have been stuffed into six issues.

What a reversal. I still love the concept and some of the characters, and “Calamity” isn’t horrible by any means, but neither is this even remotely the same comic I started reading in “Welcome to Gotham Academy.” Don’t know if I’m up to continuing, as while I am still interested in seeing how things turn out for Olive I don’t feel I know enough detail about what happened during this volume, let alone having the framework to process the next batch of info dumps. We’ll see I guess.

Board Games Reviews

Beyond Baker Street Review (First Impressions)


I’ve played Hanabi once a couple of years back, and recall it being interesting. A Sherlock Holmes themed game with that same central mechanic and additional gameplay elements piqued my curiosity quite a bit.

Beyond Baker Street capitalizes on its potential nicely, adding depth to the core of Hanabi without getting overly complicated or losing any of the fun.

Like Hanabi, Beyond Baker Street revolves around players being able to see other players’ hands, but not their own. Clues are given by telling someone which cards in their hand are a particular color or number. Players use these clues to try to figure out which cards from their hand should be played at different times.


In Hanabi, players try to place like color cards in sequential order. Here there are three piles of cards on the board representing three types of “leads” (suspects, motives, and opportunities), and the player must play cards of the appropriate color to total the value on the top (face up) card of each pile. There is also a general area called “the impossible” to which players must play cards to reach a total of exactly 20 (marked on an “investigation” track) throughout the game. This represents supporting evidence needed to close the case, where the cards below each lead category represents what’s needed to confirm the proper suspect, motive, and opportunity for the crime.

The theme is used nicely to add depth to the game. The idea is that the players are detectives trying to solve the crime before Sherlock Holmes. Each time you give another player information about their hand the Holmes marker moves closer to zero. If it ever reaches that point Holmes has solved the crime and the players lose. The players can also lose if they eliminate all three cards in any of the lead piles (by accidentally going over the target total, choosing to discard the top card because needed evidence cards to reach its value are already out of play, etc).

The four types of evidence cards are mixed throughout the lead piles, which can present interesting choices in the event that the same color is needed for more than one lead. Difficulty and strategy is also influenced by the “case” that players choose to play at the beginning of each game. There are six different case cards that indicate where Holmes starts on his track, how many cards may be in the impossible before additional cards move Holmes faster, etc. I’ve only played the first case, but it’s already very clear how these variations on initial conditions will put pressure on the players.

As recommended, we played our first game without using the player character cards which have various powers that can both help and hinder the players. I looking forward to trying them for added variability, as well as to playing with more than two players to see how the dynamic changes.

I love the theme in Beyond Baker Street and the way it’s implemented to take a strong base mechanic and flesh it out into something that feels both different and more fully developed than the inspirational game. The various goals and moving parts work well together and provide interesting strategic choices without getting too complex. I had fun with Hanabi, but personally I think the twists here and a lot of extra layers and so far I like this a great deal more. Definitely a welcome addition to my collection.

Books Reviews

Perfectly Invisible Review

“Better some tears get shred because she was mean, than blood splashed because she wasn’t.”

A pair of national tragedies in the 1990’s has turned the US into a largely totalitarian nation. Homeland Security Services is the omnipresent but largely mysterious elite law enforcement organization that takes over when cases are too dangerous or too important to entrust to anyone else. Miracle Dunn’s first case as Krait Squad’s new investigator involves a simple looking murder which uncovers a less simple makeshift crypt in the apartment next door.


I’m quite torn on this first novel in Michael Stackpole’s Homeland Security services series.  It takes place in an intriguing, unnerving alternate reality that displays Stackpole’s usual thorough development and vivd descriptions. Everything is internally consistent and provides a stark environment with tons of potential to frame Miracle’s story against. Heavy topics, ranging from government approved exile to institutionalized, legalized discrimination and covering a wide range in between saturate the society HSS polices and the variety of directions Stackpole could explore within this dystopian framework are extremely intriguing. 

Miracle and her coworkers are nicely individualized characters in both areas of expertise and personalities. I adore the way Stackpole fleshed them out via their approaches to their job and interactions with Miracle such that it all feels natural and the pace never slows.

However the breakneck pace is where I have my reservations. There is so much happening and so many story threads introduced in this short novel that by the end I felt like too much was left dangling. It sets up a few too many outstanding mysteries and as a result came across more like the first half of a longer novel than a standalone start to a series.

To be clear: a central mystery IS solved and by and large a complete, good story is told. But there are a couple of other important things that certainly seemed like they were going to be addressed during this book, and it was hard not to be disappointed when I realized they were going to be left obscure. Mystery series walk a fine line of giving the reader enough to satisfy during each book and keeping enough back to build to future installments, and overall Perfectly Invisible did too little of the former and too much of the latter. 

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy in Stackpole’s alternate vision of the US, and I am interested in continuing with the series. Though to be honest,  will probably wait until there are at least a couple more to read at a time to be sure I get enough plot advancement to avoid the unfinished feeling I was left with here. 

Board Games Reviews

Ravens of Thri Sahashri Review (First Impressions)

Ravens of Thri Sahashri is an asymmetrical 2-player cooperative game that comes together quite unlike anything else I’ve seen.



One player takes the role of Ren, a young girl in a coma with her mind and soul being consumed by darkness, and the other plays Feth, searching through Ren’s dreams for the fragments of her fading memories that will restore her heart. The fantasy theme is a imaginative, solid framework for the game.

The two character’s mechanics are VASTLY different. Feth draws (face up) hands and builds a central repository of cards (called the Atman), from which Ren draws one card each turn to either discard or add to rows of a “poem” in front of her that starts with four hidden cards representing Ren’s heart. If the players can complete the poem and have all visible cards in the Atman matching the colors of Ren’s heart, the “dream” (round) is completed. Players must complete three dreams to win the game.


On each turn, Feth draws an many cards as he wants into a face up row in front of him. Once he’s done any ravens (which I’ll explain later) drawn are moved to a second row, leaving only memory cards in the top row. Feth then plays as many cards from the top row as he wants into the Atman. At the end of his turn any memory cards not played are discarded.

The faded sections of each memory (card) determine how it can be added to the Atman. When placing a card at least one faded section must overlap with an existing card in the Atman, and any overlapping sections must be of like type (faded or clear).  Cards in the Atman can be completely covered in certain circumstances, and no longer count as part of the Atman until / unless they are uncovered later.

Feth can also “restore a memory” for Ren by forming an uninterrupted block of the same color of cards that totals a value of 7. When this happens the raven of the same color is chased away (removed from the game for the current round) if present in Feth’s bottom row and any cards under it are discarded, and Ren can reveal one of her “heart” cards that matches the color of the restored memory. At the end of the dream revealed heart cards are kept by Ren in a special score pile to be used during the final dream.


The five ravens in the deck, one for each color, represent the dark forces trying to destroy Ren’s memories and cause her to drift away forever. If at any point all five ravens are in Feth’s playing area, the game is lost. The ravens can also “eat” Ren’s memories. When a raven is in Feth’s playing area, any cards of the matching color that would be discarded are placed under the raven instead. Any cards underneath ravens at the end of a dream are “eaten” (removed from the game) and will not be available in the following rounds.

Mechanics-wise Ren’s turns are much simpler: she removes one visible card from the Atman and either discards it or adds it to her poem. Ren’s poem starts with one card for each of the lines face down (hidden from Feth). These cards represent her heart, and only the colors of these four cards may be visible in the Atman at the end of a dream. Ren is trying to complete a Japanese poem form called Doidotsu, which has a 7-7-7-5 rhythm. So she must place cards in the first three lines such that each line (including her heart card in that line) adds to a total of 7, and place cards in the final line to reach a total of 5. The lines must be played in / completed in order, and once the last line is completed the poem is finished.


The only communication between players is meant to be through card choice, which is where the challenge for Ren comes in. She does much less on each turn than the Feth player, but her choices on which cards to take from the Atman, and whether to use or discard them, is crucial to providing Feth with information about what she needs and what colors are in her hidden heart cards and must be the only ones in the Atman at the end of the dream.

It is possible for the Atman to be “split” (have sections that are not visibly connected) during the game, and Ren’s other big ability is choosing which part of the Atman remains and which is discarded when this happens. This is another key way to pass information to the Feth player and work towards their mutual goals.

There are other details to the mechanics that add to gameplay, such as special powers on the memory cards that Feth has access to for any face up cards in Ren’s poem, and added restrictions and abilities during the third and final dream of the game.

General Thoughts

As I mentioned above Ravens of Thri Sahashri is quite original, and it takes a bit of start up time to wrap your head around. There are a lot of details to learn before beginning to play, but it all fits well once things get going and everything adds to the game in an important way.

There’s a nice “press your luck” element to drawing Feth’s hands: draw too few cards and Feth will lack options and limit Ren’s ability to play, but draw too many and Feth risks losing the game by revealing all the ravens or draining the deck.

Ren’s turns are much shorter than Feth’s and she seems to to have less to do, but I played her and really enjoyed it. What Feth chooses to do on his turns provides extremely vital clues towards what colors he thinks are important, etc and so I was as engaged in the game during his turns as I was during my own. I found trying to figure out how to pass useful hints by only removing a single card from the Atman challenging and rewarding.

The game increases in difficulty from round to round, due to both unavailable cards that have been either eaten or set aside in Ren’s score pile and to extra limitations placed on the players during the final dream. It’s somewhat difficult to judge how the game is going during the middle and there is a large luck component related to card draws, but co-op games should be a challenge and I feel Ravens dances the line just right.

We were slightly lax on the silence in the one game I’ve played, allowing some rule discussion (which I highly recommend when learning the game) as well as the Feth player thinking out loud a bit here and there without me responding. I’d probably try forbidding that last part in future games to see how it plays, as in retrospect him ruminating about what colors he thought my be in my heart cards did affect some of my choices.


I LOVE the visual design here. I’ve looked at pictures of the original version and it’s even more polished here, using faded gray coloring instead of bars for the faded memory sections to make the cards less busy and let the marvelous artwork shine more. Each card’s art is beautiful while keeping all gameplay related elements and information clear. The production quality is excellent in general, with a sturdy, striking outer box, appropriately large and thick cards, and vivd colors and printing.

Adding a final touch of mystery are three sealed envelopes, to be opened only when players win a complete game, which provide additional story context and legacy gameplay elements.


The lack of table talk and a fairly sizable learning curve for a card game definitely puts Ravens of Thri Sahashri in the “not for everyone” camp, but I found it to be a wonderfully original game that forces players to approach cooperation in a unique way. The asymmetric roles and legacy rule changes add even more longevity, and I can see myself coming back to this again and again for a long time.

Anime Film Reviews

Paprika Review

“Night dreams of Day, and Light dreams of Darkness.”

A groundbreaking technological advancement called the “DC Mini” aims to enable revolutionary treatments by directly interacting with patients’ dreams. However test patient Detective Toshimi Konakawa and Doctor Atsuko Chiba are caught up in much more than an experiment when the DC Mini is stolen.


Satoshi Kon’s four movies are all excellent and form a collection of extremely diverse, impactful tales, and his final film is perhaps the most ambitious of them all. I recently had an opportunity to revisit Paprika in 35mm glory thanks to a special 1oth Anniversary screening at Japan Society. It was such a treat to see this glorious assault on the senses in that form.


Paprika feels different in emotional resonance from Kon’s other films, perhaps due to it being an adaptation instead of original work. The characters are interesting and carry the story well, but don’t have quite the depth of those in Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers (although both Konakawa and the titular heroine do face some nice introspection and growth at points).

Here the events and action are spotlit somewhat more, with a constant barrage of weird happenings that manage to be both zany and creepy at every step. The visuals are absolutely incredible, with vivid colors and wild, semi-abstract images pouring all over the screen.


But the genius is that there is always a framework, with repeated dream images and themes and limits to how abstract things get, as well as equally impressive environments and attention to the art during the quiet moments. It all comes together to ensure the story can always be tracked and suspense can build. There are several beautifully executed moments that are just breathtaking.


Elevating all I’ve mentioned even further is a phenomenal score that blends seamlessly and unobtrusively accentuates the action as well as the emotional undercurrents of each scene. Pieces of music from the movie have been stuck in my head for days, which in this case I have no objections to. 😉

One last thing I’ll mention is the plethora of delightful references and Easter eggs strewn throughout, from fun characters and costumes donned by Parprika in the dream sequences to amusing nods to Kon’s other films. Filmmaking is a theme as prevalent in Paprika as the meaning of dreams is, and excellent use is made of both for both story gravity and added layers of fun.


There’s disagreement over whether Paprika quite reaches the heights of Kon’s other movies, but either way it is a wonderful experience in its own right. Strap in for the ride, and enjoy the trippy, wild visual feast.

Reviews Video Games

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 Review

It’s 1979,  and Kyle Hyde is three years and a lot of miles from his past life as a NYC Police Detective. But when his new job sends him to an odd hotel in the middle of nowhere, he’ll find significantly more than a quiet night’s rest.


Hotel Dusk is an old favorite of mine, which I hadn’t played in years. As I seem to finally have an opportunity to get around to playing the sequel, I decided to revisit Kyle Hyde’s original adventure first. I’m surprised at how much I’d forgotten, as entire sections of the game seemed new to me.

This is a game that knows exactly what it wants to be and gives no quarter. It’s an old-fashioned hard-boiled mystery with a down-on-his-luck protagonist and a bunch of odd people and happenings his mind just can’t let go of. As such, the pace is appropriately deliberate as Hyde pokes around Hotel Dusk and pieces everything together. The journey is well worth it, but this is a story that unfolds gradually and requires some patience. The game’s self description of being an “interactive mystery novel” is spot on.

Aiding in the immersion as the player guides Hyde through a tangle of misfits with hidden secrets is a fantastic artistic style and some unique elements both in presentation and gameplay. The “hand drawn” feel to the character portraits and the way color is sparingly used on and of in them contrasts nicely with the more traditionally drawn backgrounds. This not only let’s the characters stand out, but keeps the backgrounds simple and clear so searching for things and solving puzzles isn’t unnecessarily complicated by the art. Even little touches, like requiring the DS be held sideways to resemble a book while playing or having a virtual notebook you can hand write notes in, add to the experience.

The puzzles are fine overall. They tend to be reasonably engaging and as well incorporated as can be. Some are a little shoehorned in, but nothing seems terribly out of place or breaks immersion enough to be a problem. A couple of mini-games/puzzles were particularly clever, and effort was taken to make use of the DS’s features. The mystery elements are the focus though, and a majority of the game is walking around gathering information and talking to various people to unravel all the odd things going on at the hotel.

Hyde is generally a smart protagonist, and there were only a couple times where I was ahead of him enough to get a little impatient. Not bad at all for such a long game. There’s a good mix of (semi) reasonable red herrings and interwoven backstories for the various characters. There are of course some coincidences in this kind of tale, but they are relatively minimal and blend in fairly seamlessly overall. Everything ties up fairly nicely at the end, although a few minor lingering questions remain involving some of the supporting cast. The main story threads are resolved to satisfaction while leaving room for certain things to be expanded on in the sequel, although I don’t know if they were (to my knowledge sequel is largely separate/stand alone even though it features same main character).

Perhaps most importantly at this point is that I find Hotel Dusk: Room 215 holds up well compared to when I first played it and I thoroughly enjoyed my replay. The heavy narrative focus, as well as little things like not being able to speed up the text display, will make this a slog for some players, but those with the patience to wander through a solid, old school noir-ish mystery will still find this to be a gem among the DS’s expansive library.


Books Reviews

Neverwhere Review

Richard Mayhew is an everyday nobody with a quiet life, a boring job, and an impending marriage to someone above his station. But an unusual encounter with a young girl who he finds bleeding on the street is about to expose him to the world beyond the cracks in society too many in London have been unfortunate enough to fall through.


Neil Gaiman has become the prototypical “rock star” novelist, expanding upon his initial fame from his award winning run on Vertigo Comics’ The Sandman. His tales generally blend elements of horror and fantasy in vastly captivating ways. I’ve read a fair number of Gaiman’s books and stories, but while I’ve liked a lot of it nothing has come close to unseating Neverwhere’s firm grasp as my favorite. Gaiman expanded upon a screenplay he wrote for a BBC tv series of the same name to include everything he couldn’t in the show and give true life to the story that grew in his head far bigger than what could be realized in its original form.

Richard is an excellent protagonist. In over his head and a bit hapless, but generally good of heart. He’s the audience proxy into the strange world of London Below, but has just enough definition and individuality that he’s not a cypher. The realms he explores are home to those who fell through the cracks of society, and are wonderfully imaginative and well realized. Gaiman uses literal interpretations of London geography as a springboard for populating London Below with captivatingly bizarre places and people to frame Richard’s journey. Watching as events unfold around him is highly engaging.

But beyond even the twists and turns of the plot and Richard’s strengths as a main character, Neverwhere shines brightest for me in its supporting cast. From the tragedy touched yet determined Door to the unsettling, relentless Croup and Vandermar to the delightfully enigmatic and coldly practical Marquis de Carabas and beyond, the intertwining of diverse and well defined characters and their conflicting agendas is what truly propels this novel along and keeps me coming back for reread after reread.

Gaiman’s vision of a fantastically strange and often dangerous world in between the normalcy of everyday London is an adventure quite unlike anything else I’ve read and something I wholly recommend experiencing. It isn’t grand literature per se, but it is a grand adventure.


Comics Reviews

Raven #1 Review

Dealing with the loss of a friend and teammate as well as the weight of her legacy, Raven seeks to explore her human side a bit by moving in with her aunt’s family and living a “normal” life for a while.


Raven’s a character I’ve always liked, but never really read too many amazing stories about. A different take on her written by New Teen Titans legend Marv Wolfman was too intriguing to pass up.

And different this most certainly is. The whole hook of the concept is watching Raven try to be normal, and it was pretty entertaining to see her try to “blend in” a little in her new home and attending high school. Wolfman does a good job of providing those moments without letting them overwhelm the comic, and lays in a mysterious, superhero appropriate underlying story that we just see hints of in this first issue. Alisson Borges’ art is admittedly uneven in parts, but is spot on most of the time and suits the tone and events in the comic well.

It’s not perfect and maybe not what longtime Titans fans wanted from a Raven solo, but I find this take compelling and entertaining overall and am interested in reading the rest as it comes out.