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Reviews Wrestling

Mae Young Classic Episode 8 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Here we go. These were the last matches that was taped over the July weekend and this the penultimate episode of the tournament.

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

 

Semi Finals:

Opening video package spotlights recaps the quarter finals and shows how each of the four remaining wrestlers advanced.

Crowd’s still nicely fired up despite two long days of tapings.

 

1) Shayna Baszler vs Mercedes Martinez ***

These two are stablemates on the indies (along with Nicole Savoy) in Trifecta. Mercedes is also the reigning Shimmer champion. Shayna justifies her post match actions towards Candice LaRae in her quarter final as sending a message in the build up video, while Mercedes talks about her long path to get here. They reference Mercedes being Shayna’s mentor and show footage of them together without mentioning Trifecta by name. Really good build up stating winning is more important to both than their history and pitting the experienced veteran trying to culminate her journey against the hungry, dangerous protege willing to stop at nothing to claim this for herself. 

Camera lingers of course on Rousey and company in the front row as Shayna comes out. Handshake to open, which is more respect than Shayna’s given anyone else in the tourney. Mercedes is the first to go heavy with the strikes and the story seems to be seeing if Shayna can take as well as she gives. Good approach.

Nice spot early on sees Mercedes seemingly about to go for a running kick on a seated Baszler, who is ready to counter it. Mercedes instead slips around and applies a chinlock. Crowd oohs in appreciation of her outmaneuvering her opponent.

After more dominating offense from Mercedes Shayna’s finally had enough and takes over with a frustrated flurry of strikes. Now Baszler in firm control for a bit, but Mercedes eventually reverses a submission into the Regal stretch. When Baszler powers out they end up exchanging strikes on their knees. After more back and forth once they get to their feet Mercedes hits the Fisherman’s Buster, but takes too long recovering and only gets 2 when she finally covers Baszler.

Martinex just wears Bazler out with a pair of Saito suplexes and a German, then goes for the Fisherman’s again. Baszler fights it off once, then reverses another attempt into a suplex. At the top, she reverses direction and drop Mercedes right into the choke. Mercedes fights longer than anyone else has, but has to tap.

Good, hard hitting match here with another cool finish of Shayna smoothly transitioning into her finisher. Easily Shayna’s best match of the tourney so far. One half of the finals is set.

 

Baszler selling effects of the battle, furthering the story of this being her biggest test to date. Stephanie, HHH, and Sara Amato are in the ring to congratulate her. Martinez hugs Baszler in congratulations and HHH presents Baszler with a rose bouquet signifying her win. I understand the real emotion behind the way this played out, but after being built up as a cocky heel for three rounds Shayna should have continued that role here instead of playing mutual respect with her mentor. The crowd was already cheering her a little because of her deadly finisher and skills. This made her a full face going into the finals. Of course that said, her opponent will be a bigger face, so perhaps it doesn’t matter much.

 

2) Toni Storm vs Kairi Sane ***1/2

Kairi sites Storm’s “classic wrestling technique” as her strength, then we cut to footage of Storm’s swivel “hip” attack to a seated opponent’s face. Sigh. Kairi plays up her elbow drop as the equalizer, and both are determined to win. Short and to the point.

Kairi salutes the trophy with a determined look on her face on her way to the ring. Near everyone has been acknowledging it in some way as they come out, and again little things like that really do a lot to drive home that there’s value and prestige to what they’re all fighting over.

Great chain wrestling sequence to start with constant smooth reversals from both. Insert shows Bazler watching on from the back. The early going is about them feeling each other out and mostly having an answer whenever the other gets an advantage. Well done. A bit in, Kairi goes for a crossbody from the top to Storm on the outside and Storm doesn’t quite catch her flush, leading to Kairi taking a header into the steel mesh ramp as they land. This is no doubt where Kairi got the concussion she was out with in the weeks following the tournament, and it’s amazing she didn’t get knocked completely cold there.

She gets right up and rolls Storm into the ring to continue. She works Toni’s back for a while with crab variations, but then gets caught with a nice kick counter by Storm when she goes for a sliding strike. Storm follows with a nice release German that sends Kairi to the corner and hits the running hip attack, but Kairi explodes out with the spear to counter a second. Great sequence.

Kairi’s got a nasty welt forming on her face from hitting the ramp. They both struggle to their feet and exchange hard strikes for a while, which Kairi eventually gets the better of to put Storm down and go up for the elbow. Storm gets to her feet and catches Kairi on the top turnbuckle though, pulling her off in Muscle Buster position and dropping into a Fisherman’s suplex for an extremely close 2. Toni’s in shock. She sets up for Strong Zero but Kairi fights out. Kairi looks to capitalize with a back fist but it’s blocked and Storm takes her down into a bridging armbar on the arm Storm’s been working all match. Storm’s working of the hold combined with Kairi incredible selling and expressions makes this look deadly. Kairi toughs it out and eventually manages to turn onto her back beneath Storm and roll the latter up for 2.

A hard strike from Storm lays Kairi out and Storm hits the top rope legdrop that beat Viper to Kairi’s back, but Storm’s hurt too from the move and can’t cover. Kairi’s actually the first to crawl up. When both are on their feet Kairi nails the backfist this time to put Storm right back down and abuses Storm’s back some more. With Storm face first on the mat Kairi goes up again and this time her beautiful signature elbow drop connects to Storm’s back and the after that the pinfall is academic.

 

Perfect endcap to the pre-taped rounds and one of the best matches in the tourney. This is the performance I’ve been waiting for from Storm, and Kairi has just killed it all tourney long.

Kairi’s crying in joy as her hand is raised and gives Storm a huge hug as the latter congratulates her on advancing. As with Shayna, HHH, Steph, and Sara come out again to celebrate with the winner.

 

Baszler comes out to square up with Sane at the top of the ramp, Kairi offers a handshake with a respectful smile, but when Baszler ignores it to stare her down and place her fist under Kairi’s chin the Pirate Princess gets a deadly stare of her own in her eyes and simply returns the gesture. Great moment resulting in a fantastic visual to build anticipation for the final. Kairi shakes her head at Baszler to indicate she can’t be intimidated, then pulls her arm back only to present the other in her standard way of calling for the elbow drop. Shayna smirks slightly and they keep eyes locked as we fade out. That whole confrontation was pitch perfect.

 

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This is the final I expected, and Baszler’s strength and grappling against Kairi’s speed and explosiveness is a great pairing. Two extremely good matches here set it all up wonderfully. One match to go.

Categories
Board Games Reviews

My Top Ten Favorite Board Games (late 2017)

Tastes constantly evolve, so as I mentioned in my previous versions, I intend to periodically revise my top ten games to see how things change and share any new games that have impressed me.

Ground rules:

  • This reflects my favorite things to play. I love everything on this list. Order is pure personal preference and whole list HIGHLY subject to change and reshuffling, as ten is a small number to cover all the great games I’ve played and something’s bound to be missing.
  • Narrowing things down to just ten games is always difficult. Some games have been replaced here simply because of other games that suit my current tastes (and those of my group) just a little more. Blueprints, Euphoria, Mysterium, and The Duke are all still fantastic games well worth seeking out / trying.
  • Expansions I have are considered with the base game and won’t be listed separately.
  • The write-ups for reappearing games were changed only as needed.
  • Links to further reviews included as available.

 

Outside Looking In:

Here are some honorable mentions of games I’ve enjoyed that very well could make this list as I play them in the future: Ars Alchemia, Magic Maze, Near and Far, Ravens of Thri Sahashri, Trickerion, Yokohama, and many more…

 

10. Viticulture

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The debut game from Stonemaier, which instantly made them one of my favorite publishers. Beautifully realized worker placement game that is just completely infused with the unlikely theme of winemaking. The Tuscany expansion adds several great aspects that make it even more amazing, and the game scales incredibly well and feels like the same game no matter the player count. As usual with Stonemaier the production quality is absolutely unreal, with individually shaped building pieces and gorgeous art elevating the immersion.

 

 

 

9. Yamatai

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Yamatai is a great area claiming game that’s reasonably accessible yet achieves significant depth due to modular setup, the variety of action choices available, and needing to properly exploit boats/resources placed by opponents. There are a lot of  -interesting choices every single turn and subtle underlying strategy and tactics to experiment with. I’ve played two and three players and the dynamics were quite different while still retaining the same feel and appeal. This is a fantastic new addition to my collection.

 

8. Castles of Burgundy 

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Castles of Burgundy  is a wonderfully unique, and it shines in the unusual way uses dice to determine both which tiles a player can buy and which purchased tiles can be placed on their personal player boards. There are a lot of “moving parts” and things to keep track of, but it’s all logically laid out and intuitive once you get the hang of it. There’s tons of replayability and different viable strategies, even before considering the numerous different player boards available. I fall more and more in love with this game each time I play.

 

 

7. Scythe

Scythe definitely has a learning curve and is Stonemaier’s heaviest game yet, but I was pretty well acclimated after a single game and I adore the way it comes together. This is a unique game that won’t necessarily appeal to all fans of Jamey’s other offerings, but players who can take it for what it is and enjoy adapting to (somewhat) constantly changing situations and balancing needed actions with required currencies will find a thoroughly enjoyable (and quite possibly addictive) experience here. Extra praise is deserved for a great included solo player variant that captures the same feel as the “regular” game. If I had more opponents up for this and thus more opportunities to play it would likely be ranked even higher.

 

 

6. Ghost Stories

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Fantastic co-op game that’s fairly easy to teach but has a lot of variation and depth. Best on its own or with Ghost Moon (Black Secret has fallen flat with my group so far). Notorious for its difficulty, but we’ve found it challenging rather than frustrating. The changing board, player powers and enemy cards make every game significantly different, which greatly aids its longevity. It’s also great to have a go to co-op game on hand, as many of my “non-gamer” friends have really enjoyed trying something that has them working with, rather than against, the rest of the group. I played a LOT of excellent co-ops lately that are nipping at Ghost Stories’ heels, but for now this is still the standard bearer for the genre.

 

5. Hanamikoji

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Hanamikoji‘s gameplay design is phenomenal. A selection of four specific actions, all of which must be used eventually, determine how cards must be played in attempting to play more matching “gifts” for each central geisha card on your side of the table. The depth and brilliance of the game come from actions that involve picking several cards from your hand, of which your opponent then gets to choose some for themselves. You can essentially only ever guarantee a single card in your hand each round is going to count for your own scoring, and the psychology and  strategy of picking what options to give your opponent are vexing in the best possible way. This is quick, surprisingly deep, and addictive.

 

4. La Citta

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La Citta is over fifteen years old and feels so timeless and classic I’m actually surprised it’s not older. Wonderfully thematic game that combines tile laying and resource management as players try to build the most attractive cities and lure the greatest population (the game’s victory points) to them. Details like needing water sources to grow beyond a certain point, having to produce enough food to feed your population, and a changing priority system signifying what people value most in their cities each round make this a fantastically deep, balanced game.

 

 

2. (tie) TIME Stories

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The best part of T.I.M.E Stories is how engaging it is. The sense of foreboding and immersion, as well as the depth of gameplay, achieved with just a deck of various cards is INCREDIBLE. The artwork and graphic design are both exquisite and work in tandem to fulfill both functional and thematic demands perfectly. We were completely invested on surviving the game and completing our mission, and extremely intrigued with the mysterious happenings we were thrown into. It really felt like we were exploring and investigating, which again is amazing given everything is represented by and explained on cards. The puzzles and situations are appropriately challenging without being impossible, and it all further enhances a strong core story that has some great twists.

This really comes together brilliantly and blew me away in all aspects of design, immersion, and fun, as evidenced by the fact that it actually tied my previously clear cut favorite game of all time…

 

 

2. (tie) Princes of Florence

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For the first time in a great many years I’m not only ranking something equal to Princes of Florence, I’m ranking something else higher. But make no mistake, it’s still the bar for me in terms of design and longevity.

It incorporates what’s usually one of my least favorite mechanics (the auction) in a quick and enjoyable way that enhances the balance of differing strategies greatly. At any point if an opponent’s strategy seems to be working too well, the others players need to be making them pay more for the needed components. The way the different elements that can be purchased and used come together is wonderful and allows deep and varied gameplay. The combination of resource management, strategic choices and maximizing opportunities is just perfect and I could (and probably will) play this a million times.

 

1. Tragedy Looper

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Here’s the juggernaut that finally toppled Princes from it’s perch atop my favorite games. Tragedy Looper is unlike anything else I’ve played and I absolutely adore both the atmosphere and the way its core mechanics combine mystery elements with those of a logic puzzle. It’s somewhat of a tough game to get your mind around, given unusual mechanics and a non-trivial learning curve, but once you do it’s a great mystery game (a genre that’s underrepresented and hard to do well).  It’s asymmetric, with players who are time traveling and trying to prevent a tragedy, and a gamemaster that is trying to stop them. There are limitations on possible actions based on the scenario and various stats of the characters being controlled, which is where clues about what has happened and how to prevent it come from. It requires the right group of players, but is highly enjoyable once you’ve found them.

 

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And that’s it for this time. Will be interesting to track how this list changes in the future. What are everyone else’s current favorites?

Categories
Reviews Wrestling

Mae Young Classic Episode 7 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

And round 2: episodes five and six.

 

Quarter Finals:

Opening video package spotlights all eight of the remaining wrestlers and who they each beat to get this far in a nice touch. Six of the eight (all but Storm and Sane) are former or current members of the Shimmer roster (including current champ Martinez), which is great to see.

 

1) Abbey Laith vs Mercedes Martinez **3/4

Commentary’s a little better here with the previous rounds to refer back to and provide structure for them. They focus heavily on Mercedes being the most experienced participant left, both in terms of the advantage it gives and the nagging injuries she may have hindering her.

This was all about the two just straight up striking at each other until one fell. Abbey had a nice dive from the tip onto Mercedes on the outside at one point, as well as a close near fall off of a sweet German suplex (one of her finishers on the indies). Their kick exchanges looked stiff as hell and were a highlight here. Mercedes planted Abbey with the Fisherman’s Buster to win this one. Solid.

In some ways I would have preferred Laith advancing, but she got a decent chance to shine in the tourney, I understand why Martinez won, and the competitor using Mae Young’s finish going out in the quarters instead of marching to the finals gives a nice appearance of unpredictability.

 

2) Shayna Baszler vs Candice LaRae **

The story here was Candice giving her overpowering opponent more than Shayna bargained for. Like in previous rounds, it wasn’t designed to allow Baszler to show her full range of skills, just flashes of dominance, power, and heel mannerisms. Another out of nowhere but pretty cool finish sees Baszler reverse Ms. LaRae’s Wild Ride in midair directly into the rear naked “sleeper” for a quick tapout.  Baszler viciously keeps it on after the match until Candice passes out. Then after having her hand raised Baszler goes BACK over to LaRae and literally kicks her while she’s down (to the consternation of Gargano, who was in the ring checking on his wife) in mocking fashion. Very well executed for what it was: a vehicle for making Baszler seem dangerous and callous. She’ll face her fellow Trifecta stablemate Martinez in the semis.

 

3) Toni Storm vs Viper ***

This had several fun exchanges and was a much better showcase for Toni than the first couple of rounds. Piper’s versatility was on full display here as she effortless alternated between chain wrestling, displays of her agility, and straight up power moves that made the most of her size. 

I had forgotten who won this so was a bit surprised when Storm pulled it out (with an unfortunately weak looking top rope leg drop to boot that didn’t seem like it would be the finish). I like Storm (and she looked the best yet here), but really wish Piper had advanced. She was extremely impressive in all her matches and more than earned a further look by the WWE. I hope she gets more opportunities in the future.

 

We get look at three of WWE’s Four Horsewomen (Charlotte, Bayley, and Becky) confronting Shayna’s three MMA Four Horsewomen stablemates backstage as the latter were being interviewed about Shayna’s success in the tournament. Rousey’s acting is not good, and the whole thing was surprisingly cheesy and awkward for a ten second posturing segment. The march of inevitability towards the two groups facing off continues.

 

4) Kairi Sane vs Dakota Kai ***1/4

It’s admittedly weird seeing Evie with the size advantage. This featured great strike battles and other highlights including a gorgeous cross run spear from Kairi, a vicious sliding kick in the corner by Kai, and Kairi following up a great double stomp dodge with her beautiful top rope forearm. Kairi’s selling is impeccable, and always does a lot to draw the viewer into her matches. Eventually Kairi lays Kai out and nails her deadly top rope elbow for the win. 

For me, this was the best of the quarters. I’ve heard some were disappointed and yes, they could have done more with a proper allotment of time, but they certainly made the most of what they had to work with and I liked the way this built as it went even within its limitations. Taping four rounds in two days (as well as the general structure WWE used for these tournament episodes) is going to impose some restrictions. I really enjoyed what we got though, and of course with both under contract a future rematch is definitely possible.

 

——-

Solid quarter final round, and we’re down to four competitors left. The pairings are interesting, and while everything’s building towards the final I expected all along getting there has been fun.

Categories
Board Games Reviews

Magic Maze Review

Real time cooperative games are a growing genre with a lot of potential for innovation. I enjoyed Escape: The Curse of the Temple and loved Project: Elite, and was extremely curious when a friend introduced me to another unique, imaginative entry into that general category of games.

 

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The premise of Magic Maze completely ridiculous. The pawns represent a party of adventurers that need to resupply and have decided to rob the … local mall. Yes, really. 🙂 The players share control of all four of them and try to map out the mall, get each adventurer to their favorite shop simultaneously, then get everyone out.

 

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There’s several catches that make those objectives difficult, and Magic Maze a ton of fun. First, this is again a real time game, so players are not acting sequentially but all at once while an hourglass relentlessly winds down.

Second, each player specific actions they are limited to. I may only be able to move pawns North, while other players are responsible for the other three directions. Only one person will be designated to add new tiles to the board when pawns are in position to discover them, etc. Finally, all the teamwork that the previous limitations give rise to in order for players to be successful and win must be done in silence. Player can only tap a special pawn in front of other to indicate that want the other person to do something, without talking, pointing, or otherwise indicating what it is that needs to be done.

That last twist gets a lot of odd looks when trying to teach the game, but it’s an absolutely essential aspect and actually one of the most engrossing things once people start playing. The tension of others not quite seeing what you are or moving towards a different goal or not noticing time running out is palpable and incredibly compelling. Everything comes together wonderfully and the feeling of accomplishment as how to play effectively starts to click is great. There’s definitely a learning curve here, but the time nature of the game means those first couple of games needed just to get a feel for how things work go quick and the game’s uniqueness means it’s immediately compelling even during the inevitable early mistakes and failures.

 

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The replayabiliy is incredibly high here, between increasing complexity and difficulty through additions like more tiles, special abilities, and restrictions, modified strategies needed at different player counts, and varying which players get which moves/powers.

So far I’ve played several two player games of this trying around five of the difficulty levels and a few with eight people at the introductory level (well, level 2 technically with each pawn having their own exit). The challenge ramps up naturally with the new additions, which all fit well within the basic framework. The game is incredibly well designed and balanced.

Playing with two, where each person controls two directions and some of the special actions (use stairs, warp to portals, or place tiles) is quite different than with eight where everyone has a single direction but all are duplicated (and the special actions are spread out among three players). But both were great and felt balanced. My inclination is other possible counts will present other nuances, and I’m looking forward to trying them out. Again, put all of the above together and this seems exquisitely built to stay intriguing and challenging through a ton of replays. Perhaps best of all, it always feels like a full experience while playing in (a max) of 15-30 minutes.

 

Overall Magic Maze is a fantastic real time co-op that features phenomenal design and brings something new and fun to the genre. It made a strong positive impression on everyone I’ve played with, and is a great addition to the game closet.

 

Categories
Board Games Reviews

Quick Thoughts: Bears vs Babies and Shahrazad

Some quick impressions on my experiences with a couple of new to me games.

 

Bears vs Babies

 

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As I’m sure is beyond clear from the title and box art, this card game is completely absurd and ever so slightly disturbed. Players build frankenstein monstrous creatures by stitching together body parts to fight off approaching hordes of hideous babies and eat them if victorious. Highest combined value of eaten babies at end of game (collected points) wins. Three different types (land, air, and sea) of attacking babies and defending monsters, as well as the players being in control of when babies attack and thus able to perhaps force other players into action before they’re ready form the backbone of the game’s strategic elements.

The gameplay’s ok but seemed limited. It might have been a bad draw, and/or the player count leading to a limited number of actions per turn. Although I feel I got a good enough feel for it to know there are better games in this vein. But the ridiculous theme is main draw anyway. If grafting a pair of lobster claws onto a body wearing a tutu with tank treads for legs and a beaver head to fight deformed babies sounds hilarious the shallow mechanics likely won’t matter much. Wasn’t quite enough for me though.

 

 

Shahrazad

 

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In Shahrazad the goal is to lay out the twenty one tiles in such a way that no tile touches a lower value to its right and every tile is connected to the first and last columns via direct left to right path. After tiles that do not meet those conditions are eliminated score is determined by the largest connected sections of each color.

There are two player co-op rules, but this really feels like it’s primarily a single player puzzle, and that’s how I’ve played. It’s interesting and I had fun with it, but I think I’m done. The (admittedly reasonable) limits on column height makes it feels “solvable” in the sense of having a best strategy/layout to go for that doesn’t change much. The randomness of the two tiles in the player’s hand at any time doesn’t do enough to get by that. The second round where “eliminated” tiles from round 1 aren’t used can actually be more interesting because of having a different number of tiles, but it’s a direct result of playing poorly in round 1.

Overall I did really enjoy this for a little under ten games and do recommend it on a short term basis, but it unfortunately lacks in longevity.

 

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Hope to be back with more soon.