Kalyx Volume 1 Review

“It’s easier to live, when you don’t think or feel anything.”

In 2050, amid the vast dessert that was once Japan, Soshi Sawamura became a soldier for one of the four nations that wars over food in order to stay fed himself. One day he meets one of the mysterious “Flower Girls” by chance, and the true nature of her condition might just change his life.

I’ve enjoyed manga in the past dealing with some of the more everyday aspects of life among war filled, post-apocalyptic settings, so the cover and a quick read of the premise intrigued me enough to check this out.

And a quick sense of the premise was certainly all I retained, as this one takes some odd turns I was totally unprepared for. The affliction plaguing the Flowers Girls and the way it manifests is WEIRD, and the consequences that arise naturally from the premise are quite grim. So far though it’s all well utilized and capitalized on, with appropriate emotional weight being given to the situation, no matter how absurd the initial idea.

The world building is interesting, and the dessert ravaged Japan our leads inhabit feels lived in and relatable despite it’s fantastical nature. The dessert world also heavily ties into the themes of the manga that relating to the flower aspect of Nadeko’s condition.

Several individual elements here have been done before, but this is a decent spin that pushes the tropes a bit in slightly new directions. Given the romantic themes of the manga and Soshi being an adult soldier I do wish Nadeko had been made a bit older (say at the very least late teens rather than early), but so far the execution has been fine and there are thematic reasons for her youth.

Soshi’s lack of ambition and drive is a perhaps obvious and cliched choice, but it works as a baseline since he can’t continue to be apathetic as Nadeko’s partner. There’s a real darkness simmering beneath the surface as the Flower Girls know exactly what awaits them in exchange for certain choices, and Nadeko and Soshi both having to face these realities in different ways seems a strong central plot anchor going forward.

All in all this is a decent start to a nicely character driven story in a well realized dystopian setting. I’m definitely curious enough to read more.

The Promised Neverland Volume 7 Review

“My family is not useless!”

The Promised Neverland features an overarching story with a terrible, previously revealed underlying secret. Best to start reading with volume 1.

Volume 6 ended with the first major step towards the escapees larger goal of unraveling the mystery left by Minerva, which has now become the central focus of the manga, and here the realities of what they find in the shelter take center stage.

The story progresses nicely and continues to excel in character driven conflict while taking a little bit of a breath here to give fleeting glimpses of lighter things in middle of their struggle. The children’s reaction to being aggressively confronted with a conflicting viewpoint allows for needed affirmation / exploration their own as the harsh world wears on them.

This is a solid installment in The Promised Neverland’s larger story that serves mostly as setup for what’s to come, and by the end things are rapidly escalating again.

The Girl from the Other Side Volume 5 Review

The depths of the curse’s true horrors hit home.

The mythology of The Girl from the Other Side’s world is gradually building, and it’s continuing to be a wonderful ride. There are more mysteries than answers, but in a constantly shifting manner and enough information is provided to keep the reader’s attention. It’s masterfully done. The more that’s revealed about the curse and its horrors the more questions about Teacher and Shiva arise. Of particular interest is the follow up to last volume’s cliffhanger and the contents of the long referred to revelation, which will have major ramifications going forward.

Parts of this manga are admittedly getting harder and harder to read. Desperation and terror leads to horrors in the name of survival, which is understandable and extremely important to the story and themes, but the repeated interactions of characters pleading uselessly against blind hatred or prejudice is emotionally exhausting.

Teacher (justifiably) worries constantly about his decisions and their effect on Shiva, and the consequences of those decisions is a big focus here. It’s well done and really resonates as an authentic feeling exchange between people with legitimate, different views on a situation leading to conflict. In a similar vein on those themes, Teacher being repeatedly forced into action is another great, intriguing aspect of the ongoing story.

Another strong volume in an excellent series.

The Girl from the Other Side Volume 4 Review

Shiva’s choices seem to have had disastrous effects, and Teacher learns more about both the horrors of the curse and Shiva’s tragic past.

Back outside with Teacher, Shiva eases into a new status quo while being haunted by the events of last volume.

As the full effects of the curse start to be experienced and revealed, the reasons behind Inside’s rash actions become clearer. Nothing excuses them, but a deep and complex web of people’s very real fears emerges entangled with the seeming machinations of greater beings. There are a lot of heavy themes and happenings, and it’s all done so well. The pacing and balance exquisite, with the author knowing when to pause and let emotions sit for a minute and when to keep up the pressure and tension.

As I mentioned before the art does make it a little hard to follow certain things, but overall the gist is usually clear and the incredible atmosphere enhanced by the art style is worth the occasional bit of confusion in my opinion.

There’s definitely something lurking beneath the surface of this story, beyond the things the reader can see thus far. It gives a nice building sense of unease. Many things here could be as they seem… or not. As always I’m eager to find out.

The Promised Neverland Volume 6 Review

“Everything began with this promise.”

The Promised Neverland features an overarching story with a terrible, previously revealed underlying secret. Best to start reading with volume 1.

I admittedly harp on this point, but as an avid mystery fan and reader of hundreds of stories with suspenseful twists, battle of wits, etc, it is SO IMPORTANT for characters to be smart and capable without being infallible, and The Promised Neverland does this SO WELL. It allows the reader to both marvel at the ingenious measures and dogged determination that allow characters to stay a step ahead while understanding things could wrong at any moment and feeling dread that they’re only a step ahead.

There are major revelations and a big shift in perception here, but it all feels logical and earned. The outside world Emma and friends find themselves in is filling in nicely, and the series continues to do an excellent job sprinkling in interesting characters with individual motivations and agendas among the general conflict and situation driving the children’s actions. Also, the author is particularly good at knowing when to revisit said motivations and goals amid ever changing situations and shifting circumstances.

This manga continues to be a gripping, wonderfully tense read.

The Girl from the Other Side Volume 3 Review

The day Shiva’s been waiting for has come… but not without questions to be asked.

From the second volume’s subtly ominous ending The Girl from the Other Side continues full force and a complicated overarching narrative is forming with events moving rapidly out of Teacher’s control and Inside forces taking actions that will have significant effects.  

As will no doubt become a running theme in my reviews for this manga, it does a particularly incredible job of balancing the multitude of contrasts aspects it contains.

It still retains its deliberate pacing and the “slice of life feel,” but main story elements are escalating and major developments starting to be sprinkled in. The way everyday life intersects with the more dire aspects is quite masterfully done, and the line of providing enough new information to keep readers engaged while continuing to have intriguing underlying mysteries is being walked perfectly.

This volume ends with another significant revelation, and it’s impressive how well the atmosphere and tension is being maintained without losing the relatable engaging nature of the characters amid this strange world. Both Shiva and Teacher will no doubt come away from the events of this volume significantly affected, and as usual I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Tapestry Board Game Review (First Impressions)

Tapestry is the newest offering from Stonemaier Games, makers of several board games I adore including Viticulture, Euphoria, and Scythe.

I’m going to state up front that I enjoyed the game quite a bit overall, as there are some criticisms to explain and I don’t want the tone of the review to seem overly negative as I go through them. Bottom line is I’ve definitely had fun in the games of this I’ve played thus far (once 2-player and once 4-player).

Tapestry is advertised as a civilization game, which it is in theme only. The various trappings seem well researched and appropriate and it’s a fine theme, but nothing about playing feels like the mechanics really marry with the theme. There are no gameplay effects to changing ages, no real resonance between actions and consequences, etc. This is an engine building cube pusher, nothing more or less. WHICH IS PERFECTLY FINE, and it does it well. But it bears mentioning for those looking for a deeper thematic experience.

Also, Stonemaier’s usual high production quality admittedly and unfortunately feels like a case of style over substance here. The attractive, individually sculpted landmark tokens end up only having one function from a gameplay standpoint: to cover squares on a player’s capital city mat. And for that they are rather poorly designed.

The smallish bases with rounded corners make them cover a smaller area than they should, and in addition to not fully covering the intended areas they sometimes “fit” into spaces they shouldn’t (areas smaller than the number of squares they are supposed to cover). Yes, there are established, correct areas for them and it’s playable keeping this in mind and “centering” the tokens in the proper areas. But again, this is literally the ONLY thing these intricate tokens are for, so placing aesthetic preferences over functionality is a puzzling and disappointing production choice.

Lastly, some members of my gaming group’s initial impression is that Tapestry’s somewhat unbalanced and a bit too influenced by luck. The person who concentrated on the navigation track was disappointed in the space tiles compared to the rewards players received for completing other tracks, civilization bonuses have a potentially huge impact on the game, tapestry cards vary wildly in usefulness depending on when they are drawn with no real way to minimize the effect, etc.

They are all interested enough to try it again though, and I personally found the luck of the draw aspects fine. Also, luck of course tends to balance out over several plays. But the effect is large and for the type of gamer that prefers careful progress to adapting to circumstance changes this probably won’t be their cup of tea.

All that said, as indicated up top there is a lot to like about in Tapestry.

Each player continues taking turns to move their tokens along the various advancement tracks until they need to or want to take an income turn (during which points and resources are generated, among other things). The big innovation here is that the game lasts five income turns for each player, so since it’s their choice when those turns are taken the game can and likely will end at different times for different players. It’s a really cool and creative idea leading to interesting choices and is well implemented.

Moving along the four different advancement tracks is a strong central mechanic, particularly in how the tracks interact with each other and with the player boards. Removing buildings from the income mat increases resources and points collected as well as filling in the capital mat for bonuses as they’re then placed, discovering and advancing technology cards give other bonuses and special abilities, choosing which tracks to advance on and which resources to spend effects when income turns have to be taken, exploring and moving about the central map creates other opportunities for scoring, etc. I have minor quibbles with how a few aspects interact (and combat outcomes really should have more involved than pure luck of the draw), but overall the general frame is nicely done and it all gels well.

I’m curious to see how this feels after more plays with varying player counts, but so far despite perhaps not being quite as polished as Stonemaier’s previous offerings in some respects I found Tapestry a fun, creative game that I’m happy to have added to the collection.