Board Games Reviews

Turning Classic Game Elements On Their Head

In June 2012 I backed a Kickstarter for an interesting two player game called The Duke. It employs a unique mechanic that has pieces flipping over after each time they move, with their available next move dependent on which side is currently face up.

It took about a year and a half for the game to be produced and delivered, and it sat on my shelf for nearly that long again as my gaming was long limited to three plus player games. I finally got an opportunity to play recently, and my only disappointment is that I waited this long to try it.

Game in progress.
Game in progress.

While it will undoubtedly take a long time to learn the intricacies of using each piece to its full potential and the numerous possible strategies the game provides, learning enough to play took minutes. Both players start with their Duke and two Footman. On each turn two actions are available: move one of your pieces on the board or bring a random piece from your reserves into play in any free space adjacent to your Duke.

The starting side of some of the pieces in the base game...
The starting side of some of the pieces in the base game…

As mentioned above the key innovation of the game is that every piece has two distinct movement patterns indicated on its two sides. They can vary wildly and it’s extremely interesting and fun to try to plan your moves taking into account what the piece you’re using will be able to do next turn. Possible moves include basic orthogonal or diagonal movement, jumping adjacent pieces, capturing pieces at a distance without moving, etc.

... and the flip side movement patterns for the same pieces.
… and the flip side movement patterns for the same pieces.

There have been a fair number of comparisons to chess, and the influence is obvious, but I found this much more accessible and enjoyable. The vast number of movement patterns allows for deep gameplay, yet the smaller board and limited starting pieces keeps things manageable. The biggest chess parallel is the game’s goal: capture your opponent’s Duke. There is even a “check” equivalent (called “guard”). But despite this commonality The Duke is solidly its own game, feeling unlike anything else I’ve played.

And I adore the fact that the Duke, while limited, is still quite powerful. He is basically a one directional rook, with his sides alternating between vertical and horizontal movement. This is fantastic because he can defend himself somewhat and get out of tight situations, but can still be cornered and trapped if you’re not careful.

Your mission: protect your Duke at all costs.
Your mission: protect your Duke at all costs.

The game plays quick. We were able to get three games in around an hour, although I expect that will change once we get better at it. Throughout those three games we didn’t even see all of the fifteen different troop types in the base game, so it will be a VERY long time before it starts to feel the same from game to game (if it ever does). But there’s even more variety to be had regardless.

Expansions based on Arthurian Legend, Robin Hood, and The Three Musketeers.
Expansions based on Arthurian Legend, Robin Hood, and The Three Musketeers.

Several expansions based on classic literature and legends have been released. While in the base game each player has identical forces, these sets are asymmetric and contain pieces molded after certain characters which are swapped with particular pieces from the base game. I have not tried any yet but I love the idea and the sets I have look great. If that somehow isn’t enough, there’s also a pack of blank pieces with movement stickers available to design your own units.

Do-it-yourself reinforcements!
Do-it-yourself reinforcements!

Overall the Duke is easy to learn, quick to play, has great production value, and is a blast. Suffice to say I’m incredibly impressed and will be playing it for a long time to come.

Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Fairly Marvelous Beginning

August 9, 2015 in Queens, NY


Marvelous Puroesu USA’s first event at the Queensboro Elk’s Lodge was presented with a lot of fanfare. Chigusa came out to start the show with a ceremony to introduce the core members of her roster: Penelope Ford, Renee Michelle, Davienne, and Takumi Iroha. She announced that they would all be traveling to Japan with her for shows / training and later returning to the US for more Marvelous Puroesu shows. Each of them then said a few words to the crowd, which was clearly unexpected as some fumbled a bit with what to say. It came off as genuine and endearing though and actually added to the casual, enjoyable atmosphere of the evening.


All three of the American core members faced Sumie Sakai, with Ford vs Sakai opening the card and Michelle and Davienne against Sakai and Willow Nightingale right after intermission.  Sumie’s antics are quite amusing and everyone in the ring with her seemed to benefit from her experience and got to show their own skills and potential.

The undercard was nicely varied in general, from heavy humor in Deonna Purrazzo & Brittany Blake vs Rick Cataldo & Eddy McQueen, to a hard hitting tag match in DJ Hyde & Rory Gulak vs Nate Carter & David McCall, to a three-way spotfest in Lio Rush vs Patrick Clark vs David Starr, etc. Some wrestlers clearly need more polish (and there was an obviously blown finish in one match), but everyone showed great effort and there’s a lot of potential here.

Nate Carter & David McCall had a great showing in their match and were a riot hanging out and taking pictures with fans at intermission. Nice, approachable guys with a lot of potential. Hope to see more of their work.
Nate Carter & David McCall had a great showing in their match and were a riot hanging out and taking pictures with fans at intermission.

A surprise appearance by the legendary Mick Foley added some amusement to the David vs Goliath battle of Cheeseburger vs Rex Lawless and gave a dose “anything can happen” to the show. The general feel of the card was one of fun and diversity, with a little something for everyone.

Quite the surprise - guest ringside enforcer Mick Foley!
Quite the surprise – guest ringside enforcer Mick Foley!

The main event was a great way to end the show. This is the second time I’ve seen Wantanabe live and he’s impressed on both occasions. Papadon was a suitable partner for Chigusa and both men did an excellent job making their exchanges with the woman believable.

They are unimpressed with Papadon's posturing.
Iroha and Wantanabe are unimpressed with Papadon’s posturing.

Of course the true draw of the evening was getting to see Chigusa live, and she did not disappoint. She had some great strike exchanges with Wantanabe, much to the crowd’s delight. It was a treat watching her wrestle Iroha, who held her own against the veteran and is certainly one to watch going forward.


Respect after the match. Iroha kicked out after a TKO from Chigusa a literal millisecond too late.
Respect after the match. Iroha kicked out after a TKO from Chigusa a literal millisecond too late.

Overall Marvelous Puroesu USA’s first show should be considered a solid success. The venue was pretty full (three sides of the ring with seats, with two rows on two sides and 5 on the third), the matches were varied and entertaining, and the whole thing was just all around fun. Looking forward to the future of this promotion, particularly the opportunity to see more of Chigusa and Iroha in the US.

Was lucky enough to meet and get a picture with rising star Takumi Iroha.
Was lucky enough to meet and get a picture with rising star Takumi Iroha.
Marvelous Puroesu USA t-shirt by Shupercousin Designs.
Marvelous Puroesu USA t-shirt by Shupercousin Designs.
Food Japan Mystery Boxes Reviews

Japan Crate August 2015

After a good batch with nice variety last month I was excited to get my second Japan Crate.


As with last month, the crate is certainly packed with unique and varied edibles from Japan. It also includes a mini-manga that explains what each item is and has instructions for the DIY kit and various additional context, pictures and promotion.

August’s crate came with 13 items. I’m giving the Pokemon Puzzle Gum to my nephew, so won’t be reviewing it (although I feel safe in assuming gum and stickers would have received at least a “decent” from me).  Here’s a look at the other 12:

The Excellent


There were two awesome soda flavored candies in this one, which makes me very happy. Shuwa Shuwa Soda Candy is a hard candy with a “fizzy” center in cola, orange and grape flavors. Soda Mixing Jelly Beans (one of the Premium Crate exclusives) came in five flavors of Japanese soda and are meant to be tasted in various combinations. The Premium Crate had another crunchy savory snack this month in the form of Japanese BBQ Scones, which had the consistency of Cheetos with a light, sweetish BBQ flavor.


There was a lot of great chocolate this time, including Chocolate Pucca (pretzel shells filled with chocolate) and Puzzle & Dragons x Bikkuriman Wafer (standard chocolate filled wafer with a collectible playing card). The DIY kit was also chocolate related. There were two possible kits, and I got the Apollo DIY, which had white, strawberry and milk chocolate tubes and a mold with which to create little chocolate treats. This was easy to do and amusing. The mini-candies to put in the chocolates to give them crunch was a nice touch, and it all tasted quite good.


The Decent

Mario Kart Gum is a thread style packaging of small flat squares of gum in wrappers adorned with characters from the game. Was softer than the hard bubble gum usually packaged in these types of things over here. Wow, Such Banana?! is a banana shaped/flavored marshmallow treat filled with chocolate, if you can call a tiny thread running through the center “filled with.” The chocolate was tastable though, so I’ll give them a pass on that. The packaging of Crayon Shin-Chan Candy captures the particular humor style of its namesake show. The candy itself is essentially mini-gobstoppers.


This month’s Premium Crate’s drink is Creamy Melon Soda, which tasted exactly as expected. Crackling Cotton is an interesting cotton candy textured snack with little bits of pop rocks throughout. Not something I’d have often, but unique and quite good. There were two possible savory pretz flavors, and I got Tom Yum Pretz. I’ve never had the soup so can’t compare, but this did have a spicy edge to it along with a sweeter undertone. Not entirely my thing, but I liked it much more than I expected.


The Meh

Nothing this month. YAY!


A great month, where there was nothing I actively disliked and several things I would buy on my own if I could. The Premium Crate exclusives continue to easily be worth the $5 upgrade. I continue to be impressed by the quality and variety of snacks in Japan Crate and am looking forward to the next one.

Board Games Reviews

Castles of Burgundy Review

The Castles of Burgundy is a “Eurogame” played in five phases for 2-4 players. It blends tile placement and die rolling as its major mechanics into a fairly unique strategy game of optimization and capitalizing on presented opportunities.

Although it’s more of a backdrop than something critically tied to gameplay, the theme of creating the best “estate” during the 15th century provides a nice backbone for separating the types of tiles and (due to stunning thematic art) gives the game a great aesthetic.


Gameplay: The core gameplay is elegant and relatively straightforward, but the large variety of options and different powers available based on what tiles you play makes the game very deep and strategic. Luck determines a fair bit about the choices you’ll have, but the game is more determined by the choices than the luck.

The goal is to have the most victory points by the end of the game. Earning points is always related to placing hex shaped tiles on your game board, but there are a lot of variations. I’ll give examples below.

1) The game board has a lot of information, reminders and spaces for setup, as well as score and turn order tracks. As such it is a bit busy even though it is well laid out. The most important parts to get an idea of gameplay are the six numbered areas (corresponding to the faces on a normal die) from which tiles can be claimed and the central area from which hex tiles can be bought .

2) Player boards, along with likewise containing a wealth of information and symbols, have a map of their estate of 37 hex shaped spaces that have varying colors and die numbers on them, as well as three hex shaped storage spaces and three square shaped storage spaces.

3) There are six different colors/types of hex tiles, all representing things that can be added to improve your estate: buildings, animals, “knowledge” (we generally call them “technologies” or “enhancements”), mines, castles and ships. Each have their own effects and powers.

4) During each round all players will roll two dice and use them one at a time to either – take a tile from the matching numbered area on the board into storage – place a tile from storage onto an appropriately colored space with matching number on their map – claim two worker tokens (die number doesn’t matter). Once per turn a player can also buy from the central area. Player use the effects of the hex tiles when they are placed on the map. The workers are key to the genius of the game balance and strategy – each token can be redeemed to change a die roll one value higher or lower, and they can be redeemed several at once. This gives players control to mitigate the effect of luck if needed.

5) Highest score after five phases of five rounds wins. Points come from a large number of possible methods, including placing special buildings, completely filling in sections of your player board, being the first to fill all spaces of a color, collecting animals of the same type, selling “goods” (square tiles that can be claimed from the gameboard), etc.

I’m obviously skipping a lot of details, but that should give an idea of what the game is like. It’s harder to explain than it is to learn, but note that I’m speaking from the point of view of a regular, veteran gamer. This is NOT an entry level game.


Overall: The Castles of Burgundy has a ton of pieces and somewhat complicated set up, but the setup is to keep the game balanced (certain spaces aren’t used depending on how many players you have) and it’s not too bad if you keep the different types of hexes separate during storage (I use small ziplock bags).

The game scales perfectly with the number of players and the mechanics are a lot of fun. The player boards are double sided, with a standard identical board on one side and unique boards on the other. So beyond the variation each game will have just from the tiles, the unique boards can be used to increase the dynamic and replayability.

One other thing to mention is there isn’t really direct player interaction – someone might take tiles you had your eyes on, or get a fulfillment reward first, but that’s about it. It didn’t bother us at all, but if you’re more into confrontation style games this won’t fit the bill.

As is probably clear by now I loved The Castles of Burgundy. It’s an innovative take on tile placement games that I can see myself playing for a long time to come.


“‘Cause I was Rowdy, before Rowdy was cool!” 


My love of professional wrestling started when I was young, and growing up I had three favorites that stood above the rest: Bret “The Hitman” Hart, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

Piper had a charisma that was unlike anything else at the time or since. Whether it be in the ring or during his perhaps even more incredible promos, he always brought an energy that was captivating and made him fascinating to watch. It was impossible to look away when Piper came on, and his words often echoed long after. He made everything seem real no matter how ridiculous, by virtue of totally committing to his role and the moment and a personality and style that just worked perfectly in pro-wrestling and always seemed genuine.

Piper’s matches weren’t always the technical exhibitions Hart’s and Perfect’s were, but he certainly could hang with the best of them when called for. To this day one of my favorite matches of all time is his Intercontinental title defense against Hart at Wrestlemania VIII. I remember being beyond excited for it in the weeks prior, and hanging on every move and counter for the entirety of the bout. The years since and subsequent viewings have done nothing to diminish my appreciation or enjoyment. From the pre-match interview that no one but Piper ever could have given to his one pinfall loss over an amazing career Piper was on fire that night, and with Hart more than capable of keeping up they created magic.

Roddy Piper is one of the main reasons pro-wrestling became such a big part of my life. He will be missed greatly.

Rest in peace Hot Rod.

Mystery Boxes Reviews Video Games

Arcade Block July 2015

July’s 2015 Arcade Block has arrived, as always sporting its awesome retro NES style box. Let’s take a look inside.


In advance it was promised that this month’s block would have a Funko Pop, and the “Product of the Month” is said Funko Pop, one of four possible from Evolve. I’m not familiar with it, but Markov looks cool enough. The second item is a mystery pack of “Nommies” from Cut the Rope. Another game I don’t know, another product that’s cute for what it is. DJ Organic & Mega Ran’s Coin-Op Crush CD, featuring rap tracks using samples from classic video games is amusing, but not really my thing. Sonic Worlds Unite: Battles #1contains side stories from an upcoming Sonic/MegaMan comic crossover, and has an Arcade Block exclusive cover. The art is good and captures the look and feel of the video game characters well, but the three stories were short and silly and didn’t do anything to interest me in the crossover.


Classic Console Cartridge Coasters is where things get more interesting for me. They’re thin cardboard and I’m not sure they’d hold up as coasters, but the NES cartridge design and nods to four great NES games is phenomenal.


The other things that was revealed ahead of time is that this month’s block would contain an extra t-shirt. This worked out well for me, as the Caution t-shirt from The Last of Us does nothing for me, but the random shirt meant to give a taste of the Classic Nerd Block or Horror Block ended up being a fantastic Star Wars riff.


Most of this month’s Arcade Block were misses for me, but I still appreciate the quality and variety of items and properties being included. So even with only two things I really liked I’m still satisfied with AB. If nothing else this one’s given me some good gifts for friends with different tastes than mine.

Reviews Wrestling

Shine 28 ippv Review

July 24 2015 in Ybor City, FL

Match 1 – Malia Hosaka (w/ Leilani Kai) vs La Rosa Negra: ***

Quick start from La Rosa fires up the crowd. She’s developing into one of Shine’s most beloved fan favorites and is charismatic enough to get the crowd into a headlock. Classic heel tactics from Hosaka and Kai to take over. An extended beatdown leads to the surprising pin for Hosaka after a sitout faceplant. They’re not finished, as Legendary attacks La Rosa with a chair after the bell, then cut a promo on LVD (who’s off the show due to injury). Dominating win for Hosaka in a good opener.

Match 2 – Renee Michelle vs Amanda Rodriguez: **

Rodriguez clearly working heel, possibly further foreshadowing for the main event given her association with Ivelisse. She shows a vicious edge throughout the match, and wins with rope leverage and a handful of tights. Basic, slow match that was more about establishing characters than the ring work.

Match 3 – Su Yung (w/ April Hunter) vs Tracy Taylor: ***1/2

Psycho Su is still one of the most interesting characters in wrestling. Taylor’s looking to straighten out her former partner once and for all, while Su’s simpering in the corner. Taylor throws Su around the ring for a bit, but a slap to the face finally makes Su snap. She fires back, then firepoles down the building pillar from the top turnbuckle then hides under the ring. Su comes out the other side, then pulls Taylor under. Count still going. Back out and brawling, and both make it into the ring in time. After some back and forth Taylor’s takes firm control again, but retreats under the ring herself after a lungblower. Su goes for the mist, but Taylor counters with a kiss then a slap. Su FREAKS and and spasms around ringside, the implication being as a result of swallowing the mist substance. Taylor wins by countout, and April Hunter eventually carries her lifeless body to the back once she calms down.

Somewhat anticlimactic end to a suitably heated grudge match, but it’s original, continues the angle nicely and sets up future encounters. The under the ring stuff was intriguing at first, but didn’t go anywhere or have a clear resolution/explanation so ended up really detracting from the match by the third time.

Match 4 – Amber Gallows vs Leva: **1/2

Amber Takes exception to Leva mimicking her bullet babe gunshots and attacks at the bell. All Gallows early, in and out of the ring. Leva with extended offense after a backstabber, then they trade heavy shots until Leva stuns Gallows and hits a double stomp from the top rope. Before she can cover April Hunter comes out to distract her (on behalf of the absent Tessa Blanchard), but Mia Yim chases her off. Gallows hits a ddt off the distraction, but Leva persists and hits the pepsi plunge for the win. Gallows is so tall Leva had a lot of trouble setting up the move, with them both falling off the turnbuckles during her first attempt. Good effort from both with ok results but the match didn’t quite fully click for some reason.

Match 5 – Vanessa Kraven vs Jessica Havok: ****

Kraven’s height advantage leads to an interesting visual when they square off. A standoff leads to shoves leads to an exchange of heavy strikes to start. Havok gets the better of it and Kraven bails to the outside. Intense, see-saw battle. Highlights include a beautiful cannonball in the corner by Kraven, Havok reversing a piledriver attempt into the stretch muffler, and an exchange of chokeslam attempts. Kraven with a sunsetbomb(!) on Havok for the pin. Exactly the hard hitting match I wanted from these two, and I’d love to see a rematch. A clean pin on Havok should skyrocket Kraven, and indeed the announcers treat this victory as the big deal it is.

Match 6: Allison Kay (w/ April Hunter)  vs Mia Yim ***3/4

Lenny does a great job setting the stage on commentary, mentioning Mia breaking Kay’s nose in a previous match, Kay’s winning streak, and the importance of winning for either athlete to get into title contention. Mia’s presented as an equal match for the much larger Kay, and her credentials and ring style as well as Kay’s selling make it convincing. Good back and forth brawling on the outside. Kay busts out a pinkie’s up stunner, which is just fantastic. Mia with a series of rapid fire dropkicks followed by a missle dropkick 3/4 across the ring. She hits the package piledriver, but Leva is on the apron trying to bring the ref’s attention to April Hunter on the opposite side. April ducks out, and Mia sees only Leva and starts yelling at her for distracting the ref when she had the match won. Kay nails the discus lariat for the pin. Dissension for the Lucha Sisters afterwards, with Mia blaming Leva for the loss. She eventually shoves her partner, flips her off and storms to the back. Leva’s left muttering “I was only trying to help.”

A competitive victory for Kay to put her at the top of the list for a title shot. The ending was flat. I don’t mind Kay cheating / getting an advantage to win, but being completely beaten by Mia was too much. It would also be a much stronger heel turn if things were tweaked a bit so Mia didn’t have a point. Good intentions or not, Leva DID cost her the victory. Great match otherwise though.

Match 7 – Shine Tag Team Titles: Andrea and Marti Belle (w/ So Cal Val) vs the Kimber Bombs(c) **1/2

Sponsorship of the match is mentioned both during ring introductions then at greater length by Amber on commentary, which I’m fine with as long as it continues to just be one match a show. Belle and Cherry start, with Cherry getting the better at every turn while Lenny ponders Valifornia employing Freebirds rules if they win. Quick tags from the Bombs early on. Marti bails and in comes the monster, but the Bombs keep control with more quick switches and effective double teaming. Belle with a distraction to give Andrea control. Both Belle and Andrea showing great heel mannerisms and expressions while working over Lee. Tag for Bomb after a Belle miscue and she works in a Cima-style dropkick to the posterior with Belle tied up in the corner. All four in and the match gets thrown out as two unknown wrestlers attack everyone. Daffney’s with them. They decimate Valifornia, then lay out the Bombs as they make the unlikely save for So Cal Val. Brutal DDT on a chair to Lee.Daffney promo promising retribution and introduces Amaiya Jade and Katie Forbes, the Iron Madiens. Lee sells the DDT like death as Cherry calls for more refs to help her to the back.

Strong debut, but it came at the price of cutting off what could have been a phenomenal match just as it was picking up. And Shine loses their only face faction in exchange for a fourth heel one. On the plus side, Andrea and Belle have awesome chemistry as a team. I think I like them quite a bit better than B.T.Y.

Main event – Shine Title: Santana(c) vs Ivelisse (w/ Amanda Rodriguez) ****

Ivelisse stares a hole through Santana during the champ’s entrance. Feeling out sequence with Santana countering Ivelisse’s strikes with chain wrestling leads to a great exchange of submission holds and pin attempts. Santana’s carrying herself like a champion and looks more confident and assertive in the ring than she has in the past. Unique spot playing off Ivelisse’s MMA background as she gets on her back and tries to lure Santana into attacking in an attempt to get a hold. Lenny’s doing a fantastic job of explaining these finer points tonight on commentary.

Ivelisse in control and starting to take shortcuts, choking Santana, getting extra leverage from Rodriguez, etc. After an extended period of taking punishment Santana fires back on the outside and wipes out Rodriguez with a big clothesline to neutralize her interference, but Ivelisse rams her face first into the building support column. Heated strike exchange back in the ring leads to an offensive streak from Santana, including a handspring elbow and turning a tree of woe into a handstand headscissors driving Ivelisse into the turnbuckle. Guillotine choke looks to finish for Ivelisse, but she converts into a DDT when Santana tries to fight out. Crowd is so happy to have Ivelisse back they continue to chant for her no matter what she does to turn them. Ivelisse favoring her leg, and Santana goes right for a submission. Ref calls for the bell. Santana wins and retains.

Ivelisse throwing a fit but barely standing. I don’t really mind the finish, but the desire to continue fighting through an injury and a controversial decision against the heel is not a good way to stop the crowd from cheering for her. Fantastic match otherwise.

Overall: A show with excellent action marred by too many screwy finishes. I would’ve kept Su vs Taylor and maybe one other as is and overhauled the rest. Shine is also dangerously low on effective babyfaces for the crowd to get behind, with four heel factions with managers now on top of Ivelisse and Rodriguez, the bullet babe, and Kraven. None of the factions are likable enough right now to turn  (the Iron Maiden’s debut will be for naught if they fight Valifornia, because the crowd will cheer Daffney by default not matter what she says or does) and the heel the crowd most wants to cheer for, Ivelisse, is essentially still in the middle of her heel turn. The individual angles are all fine, but taken together it’s too much. The booking really needs to be rebalanced going forward.

All that said, Shine has a lot of amazing talent and strong work rate and this show was a good watch despite its flaws.

Japan Wrestling

Farewell Tomoka: A fan’s personal look back on a great career

Tomoka Nakagawa and Aja Kong after Nakagawa’s penultimate match.

Although she was nearly a six year veteran at the time, Tomoka Nakagawa’s Shimmer debut on Volume 29 (in April 2010) was the first exposure I had to her work. Joining Nakagawa in the first appearance of joshi talent in Shimmer were Ayumi Kurihara, Misaki Ohata, and Hiroyo Matsumoto. She was impressive in a losing effort against Kurihara in her debut, and stood out a bit extra due to being the only heel of the four.

Nakagawa would become a familiar and important cornerstone in Shimmer, missing only one weekend of tapings from her debut until her retirement. The first three years continued to feature her heel persona, with her general mannerisms and penchant for spitting water in her opponent’s eyes antagonizing the crowd at every opportunity. It was highlighted by a short tag-title reign with partner Daizee Haze in 2011.

On April 6, 2013 Shimmer came to New Jersey during Wrestlemania weekend for Volume 53. It was my first live Shimmer show, and first opportunity to see Nakagawa (and many others) in person. Even more luckily for me, something that would prove very important happened at the last show of the previous tapings: Tomoka Nakagawa and Kellie Skater formed a tag-team, the Global Green Gangsters (3G).

3G t-shirt by ShuperCousin Designs and signed by Nakagawa and Skater.

Skater was recently “reformed” and constantly trying to show her new partner that they didn’t need to resort to cheating to win. The dynamic was incredible and 3G immediately had the crowd on board cheering for Nakagawa to “change her ways.” The four way tag-title match from Volume 53 only gave a glimpse of what they were capable of, but the end made it clear we’d be seeing more of 3G in the title picture. One week later 3G would win the titles at the end of the tapings in a wild no-DQ match against cowardly reigning champions the Canadian Ninjas.

I attended my first set of Shimmer tapings in Berwyn the following spring, and the love for 3G as conquering heroes was off the charts. Their struggle, along with Skater and Nakagawa’s fantastic chemistry and charisma, made them two of the most beloved wrestlers on the roster, and their matches were generally highlights of every card. The support for Nakagawa was particularly apparent during her singles match against Saraya Knight on Volume 63, where the crowd’s cheers for her were deafening.  Another amazing live experience was the end of the fall 2014 tapings, featuring 3G, Madison Eagles and Jessica Havok against the Canadian Ninjas and the Kimber Bombs in a no-DQ, no-countout war that spilled through the crowd and all over the venue.

Nakagawa announced her retirement in late 2014, and wrestled her final match in Japan on December 4, 2014. Given the success she enjoyed abroad and what Shimmer meant to her, she chose to do one last US tour and have the last matches of her career in Berwyn the following April.

Being there live was an honor I can’t properly describe. From the surprise appearances of Aja Kong and Dynamite Kansai to Dave Prazak handling the introductions for one last 3G vs Canadian Ninjas match to the closing retirement celebration the weekend was a bittersweet roller coaster ride of emotions and excitement.

On June 7 at an Oz Academy show in Tokyo Tomoka Nakagawa received a ten bell salute, official ending her ten year wrestling career.


Thanks for the incredible matches and all those years spent entertaining us. Best of luck in your retirement. You will be missed.

Board Games Reviews

A work of art in its own right.

Princes of Florence is a “Eurogame” played in seven round for 3-5 players that centers around the theme of supporting artisans during the Renaissance. It combines bidding, resource management and other common elements into a unique, wonderful strategic game. It has long been my favorite and I find it holds up beautifully years after I first played.


It can seem a bit overwhelming at first. There are a lot of components and rules and it is necessary to give new players some instruction before beginning. Once that’s done and the game begins, however, most find it easy to pick up. Getting a feel for strategy and planning will likely take a few games.

The goal is to have the most prestige points (victory points) by the end of the game. The primary method of scoring prestige points is by playing one of the 23 artisan cards to complete a “work.” The value of the work will depend on whether or not you have things in your principality (play area) that inspire the artisan. For example, playing a Mathematician is worth more if you have a University.

Each artisan prefers 1 of 10 available buildings, 1 of 3 available landscapes and 1 of 3 available freedoms. Balancing which of these, and of other benefits and modifiers, you acquire is the key to victory. There are also placement and monetary restrictions to consider.

I won’t get into to too much more detail, but the structure of each round is another key to the game and warrants discussion.

Each round has two phases:
1) Auction phase: Seven things (the three landscapes, jesters, builders, cards worth extra prestige at the end of the game and cards that let you use previously used artisans) are ONLY available via auction. Bidding always starts at 200 florin and increases in increments of exactly 100 until all players pass. The last bidder now gets their choice of anything that hasn’t been already claimed that round. This continues until every player has obtain exactly one auctionable item. The bidding element combined with only being able to obtain one of these things per round adds great layers of balance and strategy to the game.

2) Action phase: Each player takes up to two actions. You can buy a freedom, buy a new artisan, buy a card to add bonus value when you complete a work, buy a building, or complete a work. Careful use of your two actions, management of available cash and exploiting what you acquired during the auction will pay off greatly.

The game comes with two player rule modifications and a packed in expansion of six special character cards. These give special abilities (such as getting a free auction item) and are auctioned off in a special phase at different points in the game. I enjoy the base game so much (and never have just two people for gaming) that we have never tried either of these modifications, so I can’t comment on it’s execution or balance.

The individual player game boards and other game components are all of good quality and hold up well over time.
Princes of Florence has a lot going on but it is all wonderfully constructed and well balanced. I adore the way everything comes together. Even the auction element, which I generally dislike in games, is incorporated perfectly and adds strategy without slowing things down. There are several viable ways to enhance your chances of completing works and scoring points, and the availability of things based on your opponent’s action makes every game different.

While I wouldn’t use it to introduce people to Eurogames, Princes of Florence is easily my personal favorite and I’d highly recommend it for any Eurogamer’s closet.

Reviews Video Games

An empty house full of atmosphere

Gone Home is a first-person adventure game with the player taking the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a college student who comes back after a year abroad to find an empty house. In the middle of a stormy night Kaitlin searches for clues as to why her parents and younger sister aren’t home.

While critical reception of Gone Home has been largely positive, the game is quite polarizing in several respects. The length and price are two of the most often quoted negatives, as the game takes 2-3 hours to finish and retails for $20. As an adventure game there is also an automatic perceived zero replay value for most players, furthering the impact of the previous two points.

There are also diverse opinions on how much of an “actual game” it is. Gone Home is completely exploration driven and story based. If you are a gamer that sees a difference between a “game” and an “experience” this is the latter.

With the warnings out of the way (to hopefully give those who will automatically not enjoy the game enough information to determine Gone Home is not for them), let’s talk about why I personally loved it and wasn’t bothered by the “negatives” above.

Gone Home is an interesting experiment in storytelling, and I think it works beautifully. The fate of Kaitlin’s sister Sam, who has left am ominous note on the front door asking Kaitlin not to look for her, is the central mystery and Sam narrates journal entries as Kaitlin explores the house. The story comes together through these narrations and information from notes, books, receipts, observations, etc as we go through the house. The atmosphere created is incredible. Things unfold naturally but still manage surprises.

There is a lot to learn about the year Kaitlin’s been abroad and the house her family moved into shortly after she left. The “gameplay” here is not about action or even puzzles, the backbone of most adventure titles. The engagement aspect of the game is in seeking out all the little clues and slowly forming a picture of what’s going on. This is a subtle kind of mystery, where the game’s draw are the moments of realization as you figure out the next twist or what something you saw earlier meant.

Since the entire point of the game is piecing things together as Kaitlin explores the empty house I am going to avoid plot specifics, but all of the family members’ stories have quite a bit of depth. Including Kaitlin’s – in a wonderful touch you’ll find postcards she sent home that can be read to find out more about your protagonist’s time in Europe.

Little things like that are what really made Gone Home shine for me. Information is rationed such that conclusions can be drawn without finding everything, but the complete stories are there in their entireties if you search hard enough and pay attention. In some cases a key letter or piece of scrap adds new context to what you thought you knew.

It’s all wonderfully constructed and one of the reasons I don’t hold to the theory that mysteries or adventure games automatically have no replay value. I’m certain I missed some things, particularly relating to the parents, on my first play. So I have more to unravel next time. Also, while the game won’t be the same knowing where it’s going to end up, that’s kind of the point for me. All the clues, hints and other little nuances will mean a lot more to me during the second pass.

Add it all up and I thoroughly enjoyed Gone Home. It’s definitely aimed more towards the “games as art” crowd but if you can take it for what it is there’s a lot to like. Overall I feel it was well worth my $20, “short” or not.