Categories
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.

Categories
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.

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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.

Gameplay
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.
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Overall
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Reviews Wrestling

Evolve 45 ippv Review

July 10 2015 in Ybor City, FL

Evolve had major booking issues to overcome as they lost two upper level stars (Biff Busick and Davey Richards) to injury just days before this show. The entire card got shuffled around to make up for their absences, and “hotshotting” of big matches that were previously being saved for future shows was promised.

Opening interview: The Premier Athlete Brand comes to the ring, including Trent Barreta’s return to Evolve after over a year. So-Cal Val sings their praises and riles up the crowd, but is interrupted by Gary Jay who wants his long awaited opportunity now.

Match 1 – Gary Jay vs FIP Champ Caleb Konley (non-title): ***

Good match with Jay showcasing some dives to the outside and impressive strikes in between being beaten down by Konely.  PAB of course get involved, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Konley reverses a superplex attempt into a faceplant then hits a double jump moonsault to finish. Gary Jay with a strong showing making the most of getting on the card due to the aforementioned injuries. Would be nice to see him return.

More gloating from Val, and here comes Rich Swann. He has a lot of history with Nese and Konley (including having lost the FIP title to Konley), but tonight he’s here to settle unfinished business with someone else…

Match 2 – Trent Barreta vs Rich Swann: ***1/2

Back and forth match with Swann playing the beloved babyface to perfection and Barreta doing his best to smother Swann at every opportunity. Insane half-nelson suplex on the apron to Swann in the middle of the match. After a crazy sequence of trading signature moves, the Dudebuster finishes. Solid return for Barreta that leaves him looking strong going into his next match with current Evolve/DGUSA champion Drew Galloway. Nice to have him back.

The PAB resume their celebration, but there’s one member left to wrestle and on cue here’s Andrew Everett.

Match 3 – Anthony Nese vs Andrew Everett: ***

I like the flow of sequential PAB matches since they’re already out, but the drawback is the PAB members wrestle so similarly 3 matches in a row is a bit much. Methodical attack from Nese with occasional athletic counters from Everett. Crowd got quite into it towards the end. Slight callback to Konley’s match, as Everett reverses a superplex attempt into a faceplant and hits a shooting star press to pin Nese. Good, but both are capable of more.

After his victory Everett goads Konley into putting the FIP title on the line in their impending match the next day. Teased dissension in the PAB but no fireworks.

And the PAB portion of our program has concluded.

Match 4 – Trevor Lee vs Chris Hero: ****

Great story with Lee going after Hero super-aggressively after coming up just short in their last encounter. Hero’s looking a bit big but still moving great in the ring and clearly in great shape conditioning-wise. Incredible strike exchanges (and think of the matches still to come in that regard). Lee’s constant countering of the piledriver played nicely on the ending to their first match. Lee’s backflip belly-to-belly is a thing of beauty. Hero with four brutal rolling elbows in a row for the win.

Hero takes exception to fan comments about Zach Sabre Jr. being better than Hero to hype a future match.

Match 5 – Zach Sabre Jr. vs Roderick Strong: ****1/2

Sabre is the proverbial hot commodity right now and there was a ton of anticipation for his return to Evolve / the states. Strong isn’t a personal favorite of mine, but he’s a solid performer that can mix it up with numerous styles and is a great opponent for Sabre. Match built beautifully, from careful (and even) counter wrestling to more intensive submission wrestling to crazy strike exchanges. Roddy of course also worked in some vicious backbreakers as well. Sabre’s wonderfully innovative offense is intense and exciting. Sabre wins with an incredibly painful looking arm submission after working the arm all match. Fantastic stuff.

Sabre brings a different kind of energy to Evolve and is a treat to watch. If possible this raised anticipation for the remainder of his matches even more.

Main event – Timothy Thatcher vs Evolve and DGUSA Champion Drew Galloway (non-title): ****

Thatcher is my favorite active wrestler. He throws out a challenge to Galloway to put the Evolve title on the line. Galloway recounts his own impromptu opportunity and the pride he has in competing, and puts BOTH titles on the line. Intense back and forth match here, with both basically just trying to beat on the other until he stays down. Wonderfully simple. Thatcher wins with a high angle Fujiwara armbar! A lot of attention has been made of Galloway’s foot being under the rope during the hold and the ref not seeing it, but Thatcher pulled him to the center before the tapout and I’ve seen many rope breaks where one wrestler doesn’t fully let go of the other before reapplying something, so this didn’t bother me at all. Result was a big surprise given the rebooking and ends with a great moment of Thatcher becoming double champion and the new “face” of WWNLive.

Overall: What a recovery in the face of adversity. The forced rebooking of the entire card didn’t hurt Evolve at all as they deliver an excellent show from top to bottom. No bad matches, several great ones, praise worthy performances from everyone and huge developments setting up future shows.

Highly recommended.

Categories
Food Japan Mystery Boxes Reviews

Japan Crate: July 2015

The mystery box phenomenon is in full swing, and one of the most intriguing ones I’ve heard of is Japan Crate, packed with an assortment of candy and snacks from Japan. I decided to try their “Premium” crate, and my first delivery was the July 2015 edition.

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As advertised, 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 (both EXTREMELY useful) as well as some additional context, pictures and promotion. Cute and helpful.

July’s crate came with 12 items. I haven’t done the DIY kit, so here’s a look at the other 11:

The Excellent

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The big difference between the Original and Premium crates is the inclusion of a drink and a bonus item. This month had a “Kid’s Beer” (apple soda) and Corn Potage Chips. The drink was perhaps the most normal item in the box, and tasted as expected for apple soda. The “chips” were akin to cheese puffs in texture and actually did taste like corn soup, which still kind of boggles my mind. The other Premium exclusives were a cola-flavored taffy called Kajiri Chew and some extremely Sour Lemon Gum. These were all among my favorites in the box, so the $5 upgrade from Original was well worth it.

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The other things that wowed me were Choco Bar Z Kinako and Potekoro Cubes. The description said the Choco Bar Z was back by popular demand, and I can see why. It’s a wafer bar infused with chocolate flavor and tasted divine. Best of the box. The Potekoro Cubes are a savory snack flavored with black pepper. Like the corn soup puffs, I was beyond skeptical when trying these. I was wrong – they were surprisingly fantastic.

The Decent

Maken Gummy is a firm gummy candy shaped like rock, paper, or scissors. Fairly generic. Lifeguard Paste is a semi-liquid sticky candy apparently based on a soda. Tasted like mountain dew to me and the texture took getting used to. Chameleon Candy are standard hard candies that change color. The one with the red interior is supposed to be good luck.

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The Meh

I think I’m discovering that Japanese jelly candies aren’t for me. The Chu Grape Jelly and Adzuki Mizu Yokan (red bean snack with a gel texture) weren’t bad in quality, but neither taste nor texture were to my liking in either.

Conclusion

I didn’t like everything here, but the quality of the things I did and the overall variety gave me my money’s worth. And even the things I didn’t care for were interesting to try. Going to call this month’s Japan Crate a success and am looking forward to the next one.