Quick Thoughts: Abraca…what? and Sushi Go!

It’s sometimes hard to find games that are younger player friendly and yet offer something for older / more experienced gamers. Here’s a brief look at two such games I tried recently that take one great concept each from more complex games and build introductory level experiences from there.

 

Abraca…what?

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The cartoonish characters and silly name had me expecting a much lighter game than Abraca…what? turned out to be. Players have a “hand” of five spellstones in front of them that they can’t see the values of, but that are visible to all other players. This recalls games like Hanabi or Beyond Baker Street, but here instead of a cooperative exchange of information towards a common goal players try to use what they see to “cast” (play) their own spells, often to the detriment of other players. Each spell has an associated value, and the value is the same as the number of that spell that exists among all the spellstones in the game (so for example, there are 5 total copies of spell #5). Having a few hidden spellstones each round adds an appropriate amount of luck, but there’s a solid deductive core in this game and it was fun to play with my niece and nephew and see them start to put it all together as the game went on.

Given the humorous player artwork and title I would have liked to see similarly silly spell names (and perhaps effects) instead of things like “fireball,” etc, but it’s a small criticism. Would be a reasonable light-gateway game to have on hand for new gamers of nearly any age.

 

Sushi Go!

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Next up is a game with perhaps even more universal appeal than Abraca-what? in Sushi-Go! Trimming away everything from games like 7 Wonders except the card drafting, Sushi Go! simply adds a well implemented set gathering goal to create a easy to learn, quick playing card game with nice balance and (light) strategic choices.

The artwork is cute and the sushi theme has just a bit of context that aligns with the desired¬†pairings of different card types. There is enough variation to have the hands feel and play out differently from round to round, and the core mechanic of “take a card, pass your hand, then repeat” is wonderfully simple. Strikes me as a great game to have on hand for quick plays in between diving into heavier fare. Also, this is again a game that introduces a concept prominent in more complex games is an extremely straightforward manner.

 

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That’s all for now. Hope to be back with more soon. ūüôā

Doctor Strange Review

“We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them.

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Doctor Strange is perhaps the hardest Marvel Comics hero they’ve tried to adapt so far, yet the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch (and several excellent supporting actors) had expectations fairly high for the¬†latest puzzle piece in the unfolding Marvel Cinematic Universe. I¬†was extremely curious as to how the mythical elements and certain parts of the mythos would be handled, and for most part really liked what they came up with.

Being both a Marvel movie and the origin of a new hero to the MCU, there are formulaic and cliched elements to Stephen Strange’s introduction. Also, some of the supporting actors are considerably better than what they were given to work with.

That said, everything did come together extremely well due to nice touches of foreshadowing here and there and a couple of strong twists. Strange himself, the Ancient One, and Mordo were given nice complexities and reasonable depth, and were all superbly acted. The special effects were brilliant and really anchored the idea of magic in the MCU along with of course providing the expected spectacles and chaotic actions sequences. The climactic battle is stunning, clever, and totally in character, which is everything I could have asked of it.

There are little things in Doctor Strange that could have been done to elevate it even farther, but by the same token there are numerous little things that WERE¬†done that add up to make the Sorcerer Supreme’s screen debut a thoroughly enjoyable endeavor.

 

NXT Takeover Toronto IPPV Live Thoughts

November 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada

Lot of anticipation going into this one, with DIY’s last shot at the Rivial and the NXT Tag Team Championships, Mickie James’ return to WWE to face Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship, and a huge rematch between Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship.

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Bobby Roode¬†continues to get amazing entrances (that aren’t exactly discouraging the crowd from cheering him, at least on the way to the ring) and a here a full choir sings along with his theme (and the crowd) live. Once the song ends about half¬†the crowd remembers he’s a heel and is firmly behind “The Perfect 10”¬†Tye Dillinger¬†as he comes out for his grudge match with Roode.

Crowd’s certainly hot, as Tye and Bobby get an “this is awesome” chant for their opening staredown. Roode circles Dillinger as the latter just stares a hole through the Glorious one. Finally Roode approaches and Dillinger unloads on him, getting the better of an exchange of punches and taking things outside the ring. Tye showing an appropriate edge here given the story and totally controls the match in the early going.

Roode eventually takes advantage of Tye’s aggressiveness¬†and catches him charging with a backdrop to the outside, and then just grinds at him for a while. Towards the end they go back and forth until Roode decides to mock his opponent too much (like a good heel) leading to a surge for Dillinger. Lots of teases of¬†a Tye victory – ref catching Roode’s feet on the ropes during a pin, Tye with a superkick, finisher teases, a Sharpshooter spot, small package exchange, etc.

Solid win for Bobby after sending Tye into a ringpost and then hitting an implant DDT (nice change from pump handle slam Рstill no nonsense finisher & appropriate for heel, but has more oomph).

This went much longer than I expected, to good effect. It dragged only a little during Bobby’s initial heat segment, and overall was a great opener¬†and elevated¬†Tye to where he looked like he was on Bobby’s level even in defeat.

 

In the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Tournament, TM61 (Shane Thorne & Nick Miller)faced¬†The Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar). The old school stipulation of having AoP’s manager suspended in a cage above the ring is mixed with a strange supporting scaffolding in one corner of the ring (which has already been revealed as a new toy inspiration). The scaffolding¬†seemed to be there primarily for someone to dive off of, and sure enough TM61 made use of it for that purpose.

Both teams tried and there were some nice moments, like TM61’s dual headscissors counter out of AoP’s double powerbomb, but these were two of the more bland teams in the tournament and the crowd was tepid for this outside of the big spots. I¬†wonder if the ending was botched. The heels tried to cheat in the classic, expected fashion given the stip (with Elering dropping a chain to help them from the very cage meant to prevent his interference), but the¬†chain went¬†flying into crowd on the first attempted hit. It looked like it might have been planned, but if so it was an unnecessary and pointless swerve with the¬†heels winning cleanly with their finish moments later.

The AoP victory was unsurprising, but did make me second guess my expectation of DIY losing and imploding during the tag title match.

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Speaking of which, next we would find out if¬†DIY¬†(Johnny Gargano & Tomaso Ciampa) finally unseat The Revival (Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson)¬†for the NXT Tag Team Championships in a 2 out of 3 falls match¬†or if¬†they’d come up short leading to Ciampa going nuts and turning on Gargano in emphatic fashion.

Nice showcase here for DIY in the early going, until Revival cheats for the advantage. Classic formulas are classic for a reason. Speaking of classic formulas, the¬†heels get the¬†first fall with their finisher (Shatter Machine in a beautiful reversal of Gargano’s slingshot spear) to put faces behind the 8-ball.

During the second fall Johnny and the Revival just played the crowd like a fiddle building up to a false tag that had the arena ready to riot. ¬†Later a smooth back and forth sequence lead to a¬†Heart Attack and a believable “Revival could sweep” moment.

After Ciampa finally got the hot tag he fought the Revival off by himself for an extended time, further teasing a possible DIY loss at the end with him blaming Gargano. Eventually DIY hit their double strike combo to even things up.

The third fall was just a non-stop parade of believable false finishes and callbacks to the two teams’ previous encounter. The excellent work from all four throughout the match combined with a few totally plausible reasons for the match going either way led to a dramatic finish with the crowd ERUPTING for DIY’s win. Two of the best teams in the business putting on an instant classic. Seek this one out right away.

 

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Asuka’s a favorite of mine and after seeing Mickie James wrestle in Shimmer the previous weekend I was quite excited to see how her return against NXT’s wrecking ball for the NXT Women’s Title would turn out.

During the introductions Mickie did a good job of selling confidence mixed with caution in her expressions. The¬†pace built nicely, with some mind games and Mickie actually putting Asuka on the defensive a bit in the early going. James’ matches at Shimmer certainly helped her eliminate any potential ring rust issues. There were some great exchanges of both holds and explosive strikes early on, a great choice to help re-engage the crowd after the roller coaster ride of the Tag Title match.

It felt more even than I expected to start, which I thought was a good way to portray James as a legitimate threat before Asuka destroyed her. The longer the match went however, it became more and more clear Mickie was being shown as Asuka’s equal and challenging her in ways the Empress of Tomorrow hadn’t been during her time in NXT.

Both wrestlers are extremely charismatic and the match was structured to play to Mickie’s strengths. They kept this reasonably brisk and exciting, and after Mickie having Asuka on the ropes a few times and having unexpected answers to a lot of the champ’s offense, Asuka persevered in fighting for the Asukalock and forcing Mickie to tap.

Asuka’s building delight in dominating opponents is a nice direction to allow her to take the character. She’s always at her best when allowing almost heelish, bullying mannerisms into her ringwork. The taunting refusal of Mickie’s handshake offer after the match not only continues in that vein nicely, but also gives Mickie a storyline reason of disrespect to stick around if that’s what she decides to do.

 

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Several live violins for NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura’s entrance for his defense against Samoa Joe, which was awesome. This was¬†built as a bitter grudge match, and both combatants sold it perfectly. Each brought great intensity during the staredown, and really conveyed the idea that they just wanted to get their hands on each other.

Joe was unexpectedly dominant early on, and I adored¬†the psychology of him¬†going after Nakamura’s¬†knee. They really¬†laid into each other as things built up throughout the match. Great¬†match for Joe to pull out the tope, and on the other side of things¬†seeing someone give Joe a German is always amazing. The¬†STRAIGHTJACKET GERMAN made me pop big time, although I do question Joe starting to make¬†regular use of it now considering Akira Tozawa’s in talks and it’s his centerpiece finisher.

Joe’s cheapshot low blow and subsequent Muscle Buster to retake the title just STUNNED the crowd. No one was really expecting the invasion of 50-50 booking here, but it does make a certain amount of sense in that Nakamura’s first loss is now out of the way, meaning they aren’t telling the same undefeated champion story with both him and Asuka, and it seems they’re setting up for a big win and retaking of the title for him in Japan.

 

Overall

Great show, with everything really being exceptional outside the tourney finals, and a tag title match that could be a match of the year contender.

Shimmer Weekend November 2016: Day 3 Live Thoughts

November 13, 2016 in Berwyn, IL

After a Friday night show featuring the debuts of Mickie James and Hudson Envy and a Saturday that saw a new Shimmer Champion as well as the debut of Dulce Garcia, Shimmer weekend wrapped up with the taping of Volumes 89 and 90 on Sunday.

I had seen Sonya Strong before at Marvelous USA in Queens, and it was nice to see her get a spot on the pre-show via Rise against Heather Monroe. This was a basic, by-the-numbers encounter with Monroe in the heel role and Strong as a face. Strong was slightly more impressive and I was happy to see here on the main card later.

 

 

In a second Rise pre-show match, Angie Skye faced¬†Kate Carney.¬†This was honestly a bit of a train wreck, with Skye looking a little rusty compared to the last time I saw here and Carney’s timing being extremely off.

 

Volume 89

The main shows started off with Solo Darling vs¬†Cherry Bomb and the¬†Thunderkitty vs¬†Taeler Hendrix rematch stemming from events on Volumes 87 & 88. Cherry stealing Solo’s drink and have a hyper reaction to it (a la Veda Scott on Volume 88) was amusing.

Thunderkitty vs Taeler was similar to their first match, and Thunderkitty’s retribution victory for Taeler’s cheating fell flat due to TK applying her finisher while in the ropes and never breaking as Taeler stumbled out to the center of the ring. Considering, like Dulce and Mickie, Taeler only had two matches for her debut weekend I would have liked different opponents between the two shows.

 

 

Nixon Newell upset LuFisto in a well deserved victory for the youngster. Good dynamic, with LuFisto getting more and more aggressive as her march towards a heel turn continued.

 

 

Another Rise participant got a main card showing as Kennadi Brink faced Mia Yim in a good, back and forth encounter.

 

 

Kimber Lee defeated Samantha Heights in a solid match and a good return for Heights. She had appeared in Shimmer once before as Crazy Mary Dobson’s partner, and returned this time via the Rise seminar. Great to see her back and she was a big crowd favorite here and in her Volume 90 match, which will hopefully lead to her becoming a regular part of the roster.

 

 

BaleSpin (Xandra Bale & KC Spinelli)¬†once again faced The Rejected (Christina Von Eerie & Hudson Envy).¬†This was likely meant to be another chance for the faces to get their hands on the heels who had thus far always gotten the better of them, but as it started with none of the intensity of their first encounter it came off a little less meaningful than¬†it could have been. ¬†The rapid fire nature of¬†Rejected’s tag title match followed by this rematch heavily foreshadowed BaleSpin’s victory as well as the result of the tag title defense later on this volume and BaleSpin’s title shot on ¬†Volume 90. Another team used here against Rejected would have preserved a lot of unpredictability and made the tag division seem much less shallow.

Was happy to see Jessicka Havok and Allysin Kay matched up in a singles contest, as they have great chemistry and their styles are extremely complimentary.

I am totally in favor of Shimmer continuing to have 4-ways on (nearly) every show considering how good they always are. This one featuring¬†Nicole Matthews, Kay Lee Ray, Candice LeRae, and Rhia O‚ÄôReilly was no exception, and after good period of back and forth between the four¬†Matthews stole a¬†victory at Rhia’s expense, leading to Saraya storming the ring again to continue her issue with Matthews.

 

 

Also building off of a weekend-long story, Shazza McKenzie and¬†Shayna Baszler had a rematch under¬†no DQ¬†rules. In the early going more use of the stipulation would have been nice, but it picked up as it went along and ended with Shazza overcoming the odds due to mistimed interference by Baszler’s Trifecta teammate Nicole Savoy. As only Shayna’s second loss in Shimmer, this¬†would seem to be aimed towards elevating Shazza in the direction of a Shimmer title shot.¬†Shazza again no sold a lot of¬†leg work done by her MMA star opponent, but¬†while still frustrating¬†it was slightly less noticeable in the context of this match.

This was heated and well worked overall by both competitors leading to a strong finish to their story for the weekend. Shazza also showed incredible heart finishing the match after smacking the back of her head in what looked like a powerbomb reversal gone wrong. Blood was visible in a line down the back of her hair. She required seven staples¬†afterwards and obviously did not wrestle later in the day on Volume 90. Gusty performance and I’m very glad to have heard since that¬†she’s ok.

 

 

Mount Tessa (Vanessa Kraven & Tessa Blanchard with significantly timed new team name) challenged Slap Happy (Evie & Heidi Lovelace) for the SHIMMER Tag Team Championships. I was honestly hoping for the implosion of Kraven and Tessa’s alliance and the beginning of the implied feud to come, but given the earlier signs I wasn’t shocked to see them unseat Slap Happy. I feel things have been drawn out with Tessa and Kraven perhaps a touch too long, but there are great comedic touches in pairing and Tessa doing the “I’M the tag team champions” shtick is pouring fuel on the fire for the crowd turning Kraven face. Good title match.

 

 

Dulce Garcia (Sexy Star) finished up her Shimmer debut weekend with a dream match of sorts against¬†Mercedes Martinez. This was honestly a bit of a styles clash, but still extremely good. Early on Mercedes commented a bit about how fast Garcia was and made “slow down” comments that while in character might have been a legit request. It would have been nice to see Garcia against someone in a similar style that could match her speed (like Kay Lee Ray, etc), but no real complaints about the two opponents chosen for her and the matches produced. Dulce did not get a “please come back” chant, but that was likely due to the crowd not realizing she wouldn’t be wrestling on Volume 90.

 

 

Cat Power had her last match of a strong¬†return weekend challenging Kellie Skater for¬†the SHIMMER Championship in Volume 89’s main event. The pacing felt a little off early on, but it built nicely and ended up another good showing for Cat and solid defense for Kellie.

 

 

 

Volume 90

Sonya Strong, perhaps due to her performance during the pre-show, faced Marti Belle to open the second taping of the day.

In the second match Samantha Heights upset¬†Nevaeh to a nice pop from the crowd. Nevaeh continued to perform in a face role here, but showed some touches of her heel persona.¬†Nevaeh’s well established enough that the losses this weekend won’t hurt her, and in contrast the win was huge for Heights.

 

 

Melanie Cruise continued her seemingly designated role for the weekend of crushing Rise talent against¬†Kiera Hogan. Pretty much a squash. “Hogan” is not a name that needs to be used by anyone in Shimmer.

 

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Leva Bates came out for her match with Cherry Bomb with an E.T. doll and dressed as Eliot to most of the crowd’s delight. The humor and interactions were awkward at first, but smoothed out a lot once Cherry Bomb established control , spoke with the doll, and declared “E.T. wants me to kick his ass!” ¬†Her combination of goofiness with¬†a dangerous edge elevated this considerably.

LuFisto defeated Solo Darling, showing reluctance the longer the match went as she had to get more and more vicious to keep Solo down. After she finally chose to hit the Burning Hammer and pinned Solo she snapped, and just decimated the Sugar Creature to a 50-50 reaction from the crowd. Big payoff to the slow building heel tendencies of¬†Lufisto’s been showing / fighting.

 

 

In what very well might have been the best match of the weekend, Kay Lee Ray¬†and Nixon Newell¬†tore down the house in a¬†FANTASTIC contest. Nixon has looked great in her Shimmer appearances, and KLR is always in the running for MVP of all the Shimmer weekends she’s been a part of. Great pairing and I’d love to see a rematch sometime.

 

 

Mount Tessa (Vanessa Kraven &¬†Tessa Blanchard)¬†defended their newly won¬†SHIMMER Tag Team Championships against¬†BaleSpin (Xandra Bale &¬†KC Spinelli). Would have preferred a different team in the challenger role, as Rejected and BaleSpin trading wins over the course of the weekend being enough to propel each into title contention highlights¬†the¬†current lack of depth in tag division. Match was primarily a backdrop for Kraven & Tessa’s interactions and an establishment victory for the new champs.

 

 

The streak of great 4-ways continued as Mia Yim picked up a win against Allysin Kay, Kimber Lee, and Evie.¬†Allysin and Kimber’s on and off alliance during the match was highly amusing, as was Kimber’s delight in the crowd cheering her by default when chanting¬†“everyone but Allysin.” I personally did not partake – PINKIES UP!

 

 

 

Shayna Baszler bounced back emphatically from her no-DQ loss to Shazza by besting¬†Heidi Lovelace in singles action. Heidi’s a high level¬†competitor to keep Shayna’s continued threat clear, and she¬†always looks strong in defeat. Very good match.

The weekend long issue¬†between Saraya Knight¬†and¬†Nicole Matthews¬†came to an appropriate climax in a¬†Berwyn Bunkhouse Brawl. This was the expected crazy brawl all over the Eagles Club, which ended by TKO when Saraya was hanging Matthews over the ropes and the refs declared the latter couldn’t continue. Shimmer wisely doesn’t do matches like this¬†too often, but they’re¬†very effective when used sparingly. The¬†feud between these two was very well done, with ups and downs over the course of the five shows and a satisfying ending.

 

 

Warning bells of a possible 3S style title reign for Kellie Skater started going off when it became clear Mercedes Martinez would be getting a rematch for the Shimmer Championship to finish Shimmer weekend. Trifecta played the crowd like a fiddle, executing traditional heel interference behind the ref’s back with flawless execution. Obviously Shazza wasn’t available to counter them, but having someone else take issue with Trifecta’s cheating and attempt to come to Kellie’s aid at some point would have been nice. Strong, appropriate main event regardless though, and indeed Mercedes eventually hit the Fisherman’s Buster and regained the title to a chorus of boos.

 

 

I’ve actually seen more criticism of Kellie losing the title “so quickly” than of Mercedes losing it in her first defense. Hazards of being a heel I guess. ūüėČ But after the match Kellie gave an usual speech that felt like a¬†farewell, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this booking was a way to make sure Kellie received her well deserved reign with the Shimmer belt (as well as underscoring unpredictability in Shimmer and giving Trifecta nuclear heel heat). If this was Skater’s goodbye, it was a hell of a run.

 

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Impressive finish to this Shimmer trip, with Volume 90 the best show of the weekend. Fun time as always.

Top Five “New to Me” Games late-2016

I’ve played a lot¬†number of new games so this year. So many in fact that I decided to do a midpoint look at games that really impressed me. I also did a similar list at the end of 2015. Here are the best games I’ve tried in the second half of 2016.

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time in since my mid-2016 list.
  • I’ve tried around 15 new games since¬†then, so it was again difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Beyond Baker Street and Mystic Vale.

 

5. Project Elite

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Project Elite is a fun, frantic co-op with alternating sections of untimed setup and two-minute real time action rounds. It’s feel like a combination of the best aspects of board and video gaming, and I had a lot of fun during my sole play of it so far.¬†Further thoughts here.

 

4. Android Mainframe

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Mainframe is a great little abstract that I find myself introducing people to often. It is incredibly easy to pick up, largely due to taking the basics of the children’s pen and paper game “Dots” and turning it into a “full fledged” game in such a way to keep it accessible while also achieving a decent level of complexity.¬†Further thoughts here.

 

3. Ravens of Thri Tahashri

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Ravens of Thri Sahashri is a two-player asymmetric cooperative game that focuses on communication through card playing and taking. It has a huge learning curve, but is also extremely unique and rewarding once you get into it. Further thoughts here.

 

1. Scythe (tie)

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I played two new games during 2016 that I adore so much I can’t choose between them. So they are tied for first in this list. Scythe is the latest from Stonemaier Games, makers of other phenomenal games such as Viticulture and Euphoria. ¬†Scythe is Stonemaier’s “heaviest” game yet with a lot of moving parts and generally takes a least a game to get the feel of. But it comes together wonderfully through focus on¬†taking just a couple of specific actions per turn. There’s a lot of depth here and various viable strategies, making for an excellent game.¬†Full review.

 

1. T.I.M.E Stories (tie)

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As much an experience as it is a game, T.I.M.E Stories provides a compelling and fun first mission as well as fantastic framework for future expansions/adventures. Full (spoiler free) review.

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That’s it for now. Great year of gaming for me all around.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories Review

Idealistic Koto Amekura works in the cold case unit, and is less than pleased with her boss Shounosuke Nanase’s lack of motivation. But when a mysterious tip implies a five year old death wasn’t an accident, they’ll both poke at what ever obscured leads they can find.

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I loved Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and its sequel Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, so when I heard their director had a new detective game coming out I simply marked it for purchase and did no further research. So when it came out I was surprised and perhaps a touch disappointed to find out it’s an episodic series rather than a “full” game. Still, it’s priced appropriately for the content and harkens back to the atmosphere of those previous games while being something new and different.

One of the most interesting things about Distant Memories is the limited setting. It takes place solely¬†in a police interrogation room and relates the story through almost entirely¬†through conversation and interrogations. Some flashback images help flesh things out. It’s a hard structure to pull off but works well here.

This is almost a visual novel in concept, with the only gameplay elements being selecting which questions to ask people (which are often extremely obvious), occasional memory quiz summaries, and a couple of “deduction” moments where the player has to identify something suspicious in a photograph. So the gameplay is light, but it’s integrated well and fit the narrative.

The background mystery was decent and fairly intriguing, but also a little too transparent and while this episode stood alone reasonably well it definitely felt more like a prologue than a complete adventure in its own right. There was a lot of foreshadowing and dropped hints providing setup for the next chapter/game.

So while I admittedly wanted a bit more from Distant Memories, it was still a decent couple hours of police procedural style mystery and definitely did an effective job of making me want to play the next in the series.

Shimmer Weekend November 2016: Day 2 Live Thoughts

November 12, 2016 in Chicago, IL

Coming off a Friday night show featuring the debuts of Mickie James and Hudson Envy as well as Kellie Skater gaining a pinfall over reigning Shimmer Champion Mercedes Martinez in tag team competition, Shimmer weekend continued with the taping of Volumes 87 and 88 on Saturday.

 

Before the main shows began there was a dark match involving participants of the previous Thursday’s Rise seminar.¬†Kikyo Nakamura & Roni Nicole defeated Arianna & Savannah Evans¬†in a fine match. Kikyo & Roni showed good chemistry as a team and could help flesh out Shimmer’s currently shallow tag division.

 

Volume 87

Veda Scott‘s first match¬†of the weekend opened Volume 87 as she faced one half of the Shimmer Tag Team Champions in Evie. Amusing pre-match moment saw Veda taking one look at returning referee Bryce Remsburg and asking¬†“where’s Andy?” Good opener with Evie firing up the crowd in a win over Veda. I feel Veda’s improved a lot in the ring over the last couple of years and she held her own with Evie nicely here.

 

 

Jessica Havok came out to talk about her tainted loss to Tessa Blanchard on Shimmer 86. Tessa once again over-exaggerated her lack of need of Vanessa Kraven’s help and agreed to a rematch with Kraven banned from ringside for Volume 88.

 

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Taeler Hendrix¬†made her Shimmer debut against¬†Thunderkitty, defeating the wrestler with “over 50 years experience” through nefarious methods. Taeler has a striking look and gear and carries herself such that she was immediately established as a heel. I honestly didn’t think this match came together particularly well, but they told the story they needed to and set up for a rematch with Taeler’s cheating.

 

 

Leva Bates‘ match with¬†Candice LeRae suffered a bit from a large portion of the crowd (including me) not getting the reference to Stranger Things¬†of the character Leva was cosplaying. The telekinesis jokes were understandable regardless though, and with both wrestlers being fan favorites this was fairly well received.

 

 

The Rejected (Christina Von Eerie & Hudson Envy)¬†faced¬†BaleSpin (KC Spinelli & Xandra Bale) as a result of the post-match events following Envy vs Bale from Volume 86. As appropriate for the issues between the two teams BaleSpin forwent their usual entrance to rush the ring and start brawling. Rejected look good as a team and got a definitive victory here to seemingly start to establish them in Shimmer’s tag ranks.

 

 

Rhia O’Reilly continued her momentum from Volume 87 by defeating Cherry Bomb. Rhia and Cherry are two of the most consistent, and perhaps underrated, members of the Shimmer roster. They played off each other well for a solid match.

 

 

Cat Power also built off of her victory the previous night with a hard fought win over Mia Yim. This was one of the best of the day. Mia was impressive as always and Cat really knows how to work against quicker opponents.

 

 

Another big debut for the weekend saw Dulce Garcia (Sexy Star) wrestle in a Shimmer ring for the first time against mainstay LuFisto. Dulce was welcomed by the crowd and an increasingly aggressive Lufisto was a good choice for her initial opponent.

 

 

Shimmer has been doing a good job of putting fun mixes of wrestlers together into 4-way matches, and the first of the weekend saw Shayna Baszler (w/ Nicole Savoy) vs Vanessa Kraven (w/ Tessa Blanchard) vs¬†Kay Lee Ray vs Heidi Lovelace. Amusing prematch moment saw one of MMA’s “Four Horsewomen”¬†Baszler eyeball Tessa¬†over her “Four Horsemen” association via her father. Tessa shied away from Baszler a bit and hid behind Kraven.

Good action all around here, with KLR and Heidi working together at times to counter their larger opponents and Kraven and Baszler showing having a fun “anything you can do…” competition in the middle of the match. ¬†In the end Tessa helped Kraven to victory to both continue to highlight the various elements of their¬†ongoing alliance¬†and¬†also to set up Kraven as a title challenger.

 

 

The crowd was chomping at the bit for unlikely face Saraya Knight to get her hands on Nicole Matthews, and their match here was simply and effectively set up to increase that emotion and build anticipation. This was short and the audience was given just a couple of moments to cheer before  the Kimber Bombs interfered to hand Matthews an opening and the victory. An effective tease of what was to come.

Matthews and the Bombs continue the assault after the match, which prompts Rhia to try the save. Numbers are still against them until Mickie James runs out. While Mickie, Saraya, and Rhia are perhaps the most unlikely alliance in Shimmer history, it’s a nice play off of her match the previous night with Matthews and sets up a big six-woman match for the next volume.

 

 

In the main event of Volume 87,  Mercedes Martinez defended her Shimmer Championship against Kellie Skater. Kellie earned this shot by pinning the champ in tag action at Shimmer 87. As expected from two athletes of their caliber, this was a solid match, but to be honest the crowd was a bit tepid since this really seemed like a foregone conclusion match to establish Mercedes reign. NO ONE expected her to lose the belt in her first defense, regardless of the opponent.

 

 

 

Things did pick up near the end as Shazza McKenzie came out to counter Trifecta’s interference and chased Baszler off with a pipe (swinging it in Baszler’s direction would have been better, but it played well enough). Left alone, Mercedes and Kellie traded finisher attempts until they became intertwined in a small package and rolled around for a LONG time as the crowd waited to see who would get control. Fantastic spot. It ended and a three count was made with some teasing of a double pin, but from my angle Kellie’s shoulders were clearly up and sure enough a NEW Shimmer Champion is announced!

The Shimmer faithful ADORE Kellie Skater and combined with the shock of ending Mercedes’ reign in her first defense the crowd explodes. Huge moment.

 

 

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During intermission the roster photo was taken for the weekend, then the wrestler’s all went out to the merchandise tables as usual to meet the fans and sell t-shirts and photos. Always a great atmosphere.

 

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WDSS!

 

Volume 88

 

Marti Belle returned to Shimmer after missing the June tapings and defeated KC Spinelli in the opening match of Volume 88.

Jessicka Havok’s rematch with¬†Tessa Blanchard was next, and as expected it came down to the “banned from ringside” Kraven sneaking out anyway to give Tessa the victory (in this case by hitting Havok with a spare turnbuckle part). I like the dynamic between Tessa and Kraven, but that particular part of it is honestly getting old. Match was fine though and got the point across.

 

 

The middle of the show featured Mia Yim vs a returning¬†Nevaeh,¬†Allysin Kay vs¬†Candice LeRae, and¬†Veda Scott vs¬†Solo Darling. All were fine for what they were, with reasonable action and obvious outcomes. Nevaeh got an unusual face reaction for her return, and credit to both her and Mia for going with it and doing a mutual respect handshake after the match. Allysin Kay has become so crisp and smooth in the ring and is fully in command of her character, so it’s great to see her remaining a regular participant in Shimmer. Solo Darling’s act isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it amuses most of the audience and her hiding from Veda in the front row here got a good reaction.

 

 

Mercedes Martinez snapped back after her title loss to Skater by defeating¬†Nixon Newell in an excellent match. Mercedes did a good job playing off the crowd’s taunting chants of “where’s your title?” “Kellie’s got it.” Great showing for Newell, who plays the underdog role wonderfully. This may have been my favorite of the day.

 

 

The Rejected’s (Christina Von Eerie & Hudson Envy) victory over BaleSpin was apparently enough to earn them a shot at Slap Happy (Evie & Heidi Lovelace) for¬†the SHIMMER Tag Team Championships. Really wish they had at least one more victory first. Just seemed way too soon for this as one win (over a team with only one win in Shimmer none-the-less) shouldn’t earn a¬†title match.

That said, either way I was happy to see these teams face off, and this was a very good match with the Rejected given the champs a lot of trouble before Slap Happy persevered and retained.

 

 

Building off of Shazza McKenzie chasing¬†Shayna Baszler away during Mercedes’ title defense on Volume 87, the two faced off in a grudge match of sorts. Baszler is amazing for her level of experience. Shazza looked good against her until the end, which I’ll have to talk about in some detail.

Baszler lost her temper while battling Shazza on the outside, wrapped the latter’s leg around the guardrail, and refused to let go until the ref was forced to disqualify her.

I was fine with this finish to continue their issue and set up a future match. The problem was as soon as the ref DQ’d Baszler and a bevy of officials pulled her off, Shazza sat up from her position on the rail and perched¬†herself on the rail making “come and get me” hand motions at Baszler. Again – she BALANCED herself on the GUARDRAIL¬†on her bad knee SECONDS after Baszler got DQ’d in uncontrolled rage showing a¬†preference to do DAMAGE to Shazza’s knee rather than win.

They then did an admittedly intense pull apart brawl, but again Shazza ignored the leg. No limping, nothing. Look, credit where credit is due – Shazza’s¬†good, showed appropriate¬†intensity, and rose to the level the match needed (and just wait until we get to¬†her gutsy performance on Volume 89). But to properly sell the story she shouldn’t have been standing/walking on the leg (at least not without showing difficulty), let alone perching on the guardrail. It made MMA trained Baszler’s offense look ineffective, and honestly made her look a bit stupid for getting DQ’d to do exactly ZERO damage.

Hot and well done angle otherwise, but if Shimmer’s going to continue to push Shazza at the upper-card level she really needs to pay better attention to her¬†selling.

 

 

 

Next Cat Power continued her clear march to a Shimmer title shot by defeating¬†Kay Lee Ray, and having Cat face another established, high energy opponent was a fantastic¬†choice and led to another great match.¬†Getting to see¬†her face Nixon on Volume 87, Mia on Volume 88¬†and Kay Lee Ray here was a treat. Kay Lee Ray continues to be a workhorse¬†for Shimmer, with this match being among the day’s best as well as being involved in the best from Friday and Sunday.

 

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Mickie James had her second and final match of the weekend as she teamed with Saraya Knight & Rhia O’Reilly against The Kimber Bombs (Cherry Bomb & Kimber Lee) & Nicole Matthews. Saraya started off with some great comedy moments involving her scaring the daylights out of the Bombs.

 

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Once the match settled down Rhia worked the majority for the “faces” and later Mickie ended up picking up the win¬†for a crowd pleasing moment to see see her¬†off with. Mickie’s two matches formed a decent little story and, while not being a weekend of dream matches per se, were a fine use of her in her Shimmer debut.

Also, things were set up well to again give a little taste of the Saraya / Matthews conflict without blowing it off yet.

 

 

In the main event Vanessa Kraven (w/Tessa Blanchard) challenged Kellie Skater for the SHIMMER Championship in a good first defense for Kellie. Kraven is of course physically imposing as well as a dominating wrestler which allowed Kellie to play a slight underdog role even as champion. Tessa eventually gets caught trying to interfere and ejected, and Kellie defeats Kraven to retain.

 

 

Decent shows overall from Shimmer on day 2 including a big, surprising development.

Day 3 thoughts to follow. ūüôā¬†

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Always great to see Heart of Shimmer Champion Nicole Savoy and nice to meet the Queen of Spades Shayna Baszler. 

NXT at MSG 11/16/16 Live Thoughts

November 16, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY

In addition to the general high quality of NXT’s in ring action, it is currently populated with numerous wrestlers I’ve followed for years before they came to NXT. Add in the fact that in all my time in the NYC area I’ve never been to a show at MSG, and I was beyond excited for NXT’s debut at The Theater at MSG.

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Just days away from NXT Takeover Toronto, WWE presented an NXT show that foreshadowed that event nicely and had great matchups that built throughout the night. The Theater is a good venue, with no bad seats and a fun feel.

The show opened with crowd favorite No Way Jose¬†against¬†Roderick Strong. As I’ll say about several others on this show, the crowd was obviously quite familiar with Roddy from his time at ROH, Evolve, etc. Jose has improved quite a bit since I first saw him, and had the crowd suitably fired up all match. These two had good chemistry and put on a fun opener leading to a feel good win for the crowd by Jose. Shane McMahon (who was watching from the front row) danced with Jose on his way out to a big pop.

Tag action from the women’s division was next as¬†¬†Peyton Royce & Billie Kay faced¬†Liv Morgan & Daria. I think the heel gimmick / persona is really working well for the former Jessie McKay. The Jersey team got a hometown-like reception (including to Liv coming out eating pizza), leading to good crowd involvement for this one. The more established heel duo picked up the win.

Elias Samson came out to sing and man did he get booed.¬†Hard to tell if it was entirely “we want someone to come out and shut you up” heat or “we just want you to go away” heat, but I can see why NXT is trying to run with it. After a couple of verses insulting NY, he’s interrupted by¬†Oney Lorcan to a big reaction. In addition to just wanting Samson shut down¬†I again bet a good portion of the crowd was familiar with Lorcan¬†from his indie days as Biff Busick. ¬†Best match I’ve seen from Samson, as he and Lorcan had a decent, hard hitting encounter which the later come out on top of to please the crowd.

TM61 vs SAnitY (Alexander Wolfe and Sawyer Fulton). The SAnitY gimmick certainly has impact and presence.¬†Not really familliar with Sawyer and Fulton, but they looked fine here as slightly psychotic bruisers. TM61 did some of their trademark high flying to keep the energy high here, and got a quick rollup in the end for the expected victory given they’re in the Dusty Classic finals.

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Eric Young joined his proteges for a beatdown of TM61 after the match, but was interrupted by¬†Tye Dillinger¬†making the save. The members of the tag match all bailed to the back while Young warned Tye about getting into their business and challenged him for “later tonight.” As the advertised lineup order would have it, Tye instead insisted it happen immediately.

Dillinger’s really coming along in refinement of both his ringwork and character and the audience was strongly behind him against SAnitY’s demented leader. The “10” chants were in full effect, including the audience taking over every count the ref did with “10” in place of whatever number was appropriate. I felt it was fine/amusing for this match, but when it continued later in the crowd it was wearing out its welcome. Like Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” chants, when the crowd chants “10” when Tye’s not involved it could make it seem like the crowd likes only the chant, not Tye. Another feel good victory for the house show attendance here with Tye beating Eric.

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After intermission the show resumed with a surprise appearance by NXT General Manager William Regal who made a short statement thanking everyone for coming.

Cedric Alexander¬†is a fantastic wrestler and received quite the ovation coming out, but it was admittedly dwarfed by the crowd’s explosion when the first notes of¬†Bobby Roode’s theme hit.¬†Roode’s act is odd, as he’s fantastic at making people boo during certain spots in his match with his commitment to his heel work, but at all other points in time the audience just eats his act up and cheers him like crazy. ¬†A loud accompanying serenade of his theme from the crowd brought him to the ring, then in a … ahem… glorious moment when the song cut out just before the third repetition of the verses the crowd SANG THEM ANYWAY without the music. Roode was just looking around in wonder as our voices¬†echoed through the venue.

The match itself was great, and right up with the two title matches for potential match of the night. Roode’s at his best with a fast, explosive babyface to play off of, and Cedric certainly fits the bill. Roode sneaks in a low blow before hitting his finisher to put away the upstart. Would love to see an extended program between these two at some point.

Asuka¬†(c) defended her NXT Women’s Championship in a triple threat against Ember Moon and Nikki Cross.¬†Always a joy to see my favorite wrestler ply her craft, and this was a particular treat as she faced two other Shimmer alumni in Athena (Moon) and Nikki Storm (Cross). Weird seeing Cross in a gimmick where she doesn’t speak much given her incredible promo skills, but she’s doing well giving an¬†unhinged, dangerous vibe for her character. This was the expected solid work from the exceptional level of talent involved.

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The champion triumphant. Photo by David Powers.

Speaking of Shimmer, I coincidentally¬†saw Asuka’s Takeover Toronto opponent Mickie James’ return to the ring the weekend right before this show at Shimmer 86. It will be an awesome end to the week to watch them face off after getting to see each live in preparation.

The main event was a star studded 6-man tag featuring Shinsuke Nakamura & DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa) vs Samoa Joe & The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson). NYC loves it some Samoa Joe. Once the match started the crowd was firmly behind the babyfaces, but during entrances Joe got a pop equal to DIY and Nakamura. Speaking of entrances and Shinsuke, the audience did the Bobby Roode trick again and hummed Nakamura’s theme for another round after the music stopped.

All six men are excellent in their roles, and with “Johnny Wrestling’s” firm fanbase and Nakamura’s one of a kind presence this was an electric main event. Both pairs of Joe and Shinsuke and DIY and Revival interacted in ways that whet appetites for their big matches this Sat. The faces prevailed here to cap off the night on a high note. DIY doing Nakamura’s pose with him afterwards was highly amusing.

Overall

Really good, fun show from top to bottom. Hope they did well enough to run The Theater again sometime, because it provided a great atmosphere.

*Thanks to David Powers for additional photos as marked.

Project Elite Review (First Impressions)

Project Elite is a game I backed on Kickstarter promising “an innovative real-time board game full of intense moments” with “highly detailed miniatures.” While they came nowhere near fulfilling the latter part, the minis are at least identifiable and fine to play with. As for the former statement, now that PE is finally in my hands I think in that respect they were quite successful.

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There is a non-trivial learning curve to start, as the players need to understand how everything works before even attempting the two minute real time sections that comprise the heart of the game. But it all meshes well once you start playing and the framework is really well designed so that players are concentrating on PLAYING while the clock is running, not rule clarifications.

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Having those previously mentioned rounds of real time play separated by untimed planning and alien upkeep periods is a great structure that balances all the needed elements of gameplay well. The players get a breather between rounds and all the things that take just a bit more time to set up properly and shouldn’t be rushed because of the clock aren’t.

Project Elite almost feels like a video game, in a good way.¬†There’s a frantic pace and sense of urgency that only a few board games achieve, while retaining some elements unique to tabletop gaming.

My friend and I played a two player extermination game on easy difficulty. Our goal was to destroy three target tokens on the board and get back to base within eight rounds without ever letting any aliens get into our base.  We managed to win by skin of our teeth, which is about right for a first attempt played by regular gamers on easy difficulty level.

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The items and weapons are interesting and definitely have some effect on the strategy players will employ in pursuit of they’re objectives. Some of them seemed a little underpowered, but it could have just been beginner’s impression and/or poor luck rolling.

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Likewise the player powers all seem interesting. We made frequent use of the powers of the two characters we chose, and I imagine the game plays quite differently with different combinations.

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So far Project Elite seems like a great¬†addition to my co-op collection.¬†I’m definitely excited to¬†play more in the future and in checking out how if feels at the various objectives, difficulties, and player counts.

Shimmer Weekend November 2016: Day 1 Live Thoughts

November 11, 2016 in Chicago, IL

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Like in June, Shimmer weekend kicked off with a Friday night show at Logan Square Auditorium. Logan Square is a nice contrast to Berwyn and I like having Friday and Saturday there and Sunday at the Eagles Club. The big points going into Friday¬†night were Mickie James and Hudson Envy’s Shimmer debuts, Kellie Skater’s issues with the newly named Trifecta (Shimmer Champion Mercedes Martinez, Shayna Baszler, and Heart of Shimmer Champion Nicole Savoy), and possible new talent debuting as a result of Thursday night’s initial Rise show/seminar.

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The show opened with¬†Rhia O’Reilly, who’s continuing to gain crowd sympathy and support, against¬†Kimber Lee. Great way to start, as both wrestlers are exceptional and I think generally underrated. Rhia won to perhaps start a well deserved push, and Kimber is always impressive whoever she’s in the ring with.

The aforementioned potential new talent from Rise was featured in the following two matches, with¬†Angel Dust vs Leva Bates and¬†Shotzi Blackheart vs Melanie Cruise. Leva came out dressed as a Predator to the audience’s delight. I was previously unfamiliar with either Rise participant (and unfortunately missed the Rise show). ¬†I personally would have preferred a different opponent for Dust given she was crowned Rise’s inaugural champion. Leva’s primarily a comedy wrestler in Shimmer (and as usual¬†this match had humorous spots revolving around Leva’s choice of character) and if Rise’s champ¬†had to lose her first Shimmer match a more serious competitor would’ve been more appropriate. The match was reasonably fun though and the crowd seemed impressed with Dust, so mission accomplished either way I suppose.

Shotzi got the “David vs Goliath” match as her debut against Melanie. Cruise pretty well destroyed her, but she showed fire and generated crowd sympathy, displaying¬†good instincts and indicating she’d be a great regular member of the roster. I’d be happy to see both her and Angel Dust return.

Hudson Envy¬†was¬†impressive in her Shimmer debut against¬†Xandra Bale. Envy has a unique look and strong character that makes her stand out and would be a good long term addition to Shimmer if possible. She continued to beat on Bale after the match ended, which prompted a save by Bale’s tag partner KC Spinelli. In response¬†Christina Von Eerie¬†made a surprise return to help Hudson, and the heels left Balespin laying to end the exchange.

Speaking of returns, with the announced Courtney Rush out with injury Shimmer brought back Cat Power as a last minute addition for¬†the weekend.¬†She has an EXTREMELY different look and gimmick since last we saw her, and it’s great. The self-proclaimed “Joshi Slayer” had a strong reintroduction to the Shimmer crowd¬†as she defeated natural babyface underdog ¬†Nixon Newell.

Tessa Blanchard and Vanessa Kraven continued their somewhat rocky but beneficial association as they helped each other to victories over¬†Jessicka Havok and Candice LeRae respectively. Tessa vs Havok was a bit of a styles clash but turned out fine and was more about the angle of Vanessa once again handing Tessa a win anyway. I feel it’s getting a bit repetitive there, but Kraven is so good at playing condescendingly tolerant to Tessa’s treatment the dynamic is still amusing. The crowd is cheering Kraven nearly as a face, and is DYING to see her finally have enough of Tessa and reduce her to her constituent atoms.¬†

Kraven and LeRae had a good, competitive match with minimal interference from Tessa, continuing to subtly show Kraven as perhaps the more competent of the two. In addition to the crowd getting behind Kraven, they¬†love LeRae too, so were into¬†this. Kraven’s chokebomb finisher is great.

Slap Happy (Evie & Heidi Lovelace) defending their Shimmer Tag Team Championships against WDSS Flyin High (Mia Yim & Kay Lee Ray) was one of best matches of the entire weekend. These four are all high energy wrestlers who are sharp and crisp in everything they do, and the chemistry between them all both as teams and opponents is excellent.

Was a little bit of a shame that this was WDSS’s only tag match of the weekend, as they’re really hitting their stride as a duo, but on the other hand Mia and Kay Lee are equally great in singles so no real complaints. ¬†

A week before her WWE return to face former Shimmer wrestler and current NXT Women’s Champion Asuka at NXT Takeover Toronto, Mickie James¬†made her Shimmer debut against former Shimmer champion¬†Nicole Matthews. Matthews is a well established veteran in her own right and a great choice as James’ first opponent. Their match was¬†decent. It started strong and the first few minutes were exciting, then honestly they lost a lot of momentum and the match dragged a bit until the end. It wasn’t bad by any means, it just seemed that Mickie perhaps didn’t have the ring endurance she’s used to and had to slow things down significantly a couple minutes in. Still, a good return to the ring overall for James ahead of her high profile match at NXT.¬†

Mickie won when Nicole stole her belt and tried to use it to win the match. Saraya, who exchanged words online with Matthews regarding Matthews’ treatment of Saraya’s protege Rhia O’Reilly while Saraya was absent from Shimmer last June, stopped Nicole from using the belt and gave Mickie an opening to defeat her. Afterwards Matthews¬†flipped out and called Saraya back to the ring, but bailed when her challenge was answered.

The main event saw Kellie Skater recruit Shazza McKenzie to face Trifecta (Shimmer Champion Mercedes Martinez & Shayna Baszler, w/ Heart of Shimmer Champion Nicole Savoy). I felt this was close to exactly what it should have been. Trifecta controlled until the end, just dominating the faces to establish them as a dangerous force. Finally Kellie got a surprise cradle pin on Mercedes, shocking the champ and setting up title match on the next volume.

I appreciate the idea of trying to elevate someone, but honestly while good Shazza is not quite at the same level as the other competitors here and it showed a bit. Also Kellie and Shazza could have used a few more hope spots to engage the crowd more. However, no one can fault the effort of any of the four and all in all this was a solid main event that kept several issues going and helped Trifecta to look like a strong, threatening unit despite the loss. 

Overall, Shimmer 86 was a solid show that set the tone for the weekend nicely. There were a bunch of good debuts and returns that helped compensate¬†for the lack of Joshi and some of Shimmer’s regular stars like Eagles, Melissa, Savoy (in ring), Rush, etc (although honestly the absences were felt a bit).

Fun stuff. ūüôā¬†Day 2 and 3 thoughts to follow.