Sunday, June 5, 2011


I first met The Awful Green Things From Outer Space (AGT hereinafter) in the game review section of GAMES Magazine. As I've said before, GAMES is where I've discovered so many games over the last thirty years, from Ace of Aces to Evo to Settlers of Catan to Puerto Rico.

If, over the last ten years, GAMES' influence on my gaming/buying taste has waned, that can be attributed to two factors: the rise of BoardGameGeek and the (in my opinion) decline in the quality of GAMES' review section. These two factors are intertwined, probably.

As to the former, well, you're probably clicked through from BGG yourself. It has become the definitive place for game info on the Web, as well as the hub of the international gaming community. If I hear about a new game, it's usually through BGG, and if not it's the first place I go to find out about it.

The thing is: that's what GAMES used to be for me. But there's no way it can keep up with the flood of games emerging every month, let alone review them. By the time a GAMES review has come out, the game in question has been out for months and the BGG community has already reviewed, errata'd and FAQ'd it. The annual GAMES 100 roundup used to be the must-read issue; now more often than not I howl at the games it leaves off the list--let alone the ones it chooses for Game of the Year. I'm sure this is not helped by the fact that the issue has to be put to bed in the fall. The publication cycle of paper magazines cannot compete with that of BGG.

This could be compensated for if the quality of the reviews in GAMES were significantly higher than those which could be found on BGG. Unfortunately, this is not so--which leads to my second factor: John J. McCallion.

John J. McCallion is the main game reviewer for GAMES magazine, and has been for at  least ten years. He writes almost all the reviews for the annual GAMES 100 roundup of the best games of the year (I don't know if he chooses the list). I would like to think he is a nice guy, someone I would happily share a table with at a Con.

His reviews, however, all of them, without fail, read like rules synopses. Maybe at the end there's one sentence about gameplay and feel. But that's it. What gamers and non-gamers alike need to know about a game is not about a hash-summary of the rules, but what the game feels like to play, which games it is related to in theme and mechanic, and, most importantly, how good a game it is! Robin King, the other reviewer, seems to understand this and his/her reviews are thus much better in my opinion.

But obviously the editors of GAMES feel differently, because they've let JJMcC write these robotic reviews for 10+ years now, and I doubt my little diatribe won't change anything. But GAMES Magazine has meant a lot to me over the years, so it feels good to get this off my chest!

OK, back to the game now. ((Whew.))

The Cartoony Goodness of Tom Wham
AGT was originally included with The Dragon, but was released separately in 1979 (which means I must have read about it in GAMES soon after discovering it in March, 1980). It has been reprinted in various formats large and small since then. I have the 2nd edition flatbox TSR version, and later obtained a mini-version printed by Steve Jackson Games which I later sold because it was too gosh-darned small (sometimes small is not beautiful). And now a new eighth edition has just been released. All editions feature the cartoony goodness of Tom Wham, who also designed it.

Cartoony is a great description of the game as a whole. Aliens this is not. You'd better like randomness because die-rolling and chit-pulling are a huge part of the game.

This worked in my favour this week when I played the game with my eight-year-old. The first five weapons effects chits I pulled were all either "no effect", "grow", or "1 die fragments", which pretty much meant I was beat by Turn Three. All of which delighted my son--and I hadn't even tried to cheat!

Now had things gone the other way--had I drawn "5 dice to kill" or "Shrink", for example--the game would have ended very differently. Not just in game terms, you understand.

This is beer-and-pretzels at its best, and although neither beer nor pretzels were consumed with my son, I can foresee a time ten or so years down the line when they might. And that kind of fills me with the warm fuzzies.


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