This used to be a video. I would ask my $10 or more Patreon supporters to request reviews. Then I would sit in front of a video camera, read the requests, offer a counter-recommendation for each of them, and draw a winner. But my ability to do video is limited these days, so as you can see, this is not a video.
On one hand, that’s a shame, because I liked to think of these as informal conversations. “Hey, you should check this out and write about it,” you would say, and I would reply, “You know, that makes me think you might be interested in this other thing.” I guess they’re still informal conversations, but written. On the other hand, perhaps written is better. Perhaps written is more accessible to people who wouldn’t watch a half hour of some dude holding forth in front of a camera. Perhaps written means the reader can just skim along until something catches his eye.
At any rate, here are the review requests from my $10 and up Patreon supporters in July. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. I like to think of them as lists of the cool things Quarter to Three’s supporters are into. As you’ll see, we’re an eclectic bunch. I learn a lot from these.
In case it’s not clear from the formatting, everything after the Patreon supporter’s name is what he or she has written, and then everything after the word “counter-recommendation” is my reply. There will be a video drawing of the winner posted tomorrow, followed by a review posted within 30 days. And shortly thereafter, we’ll do it all over again!
1. Aaron S: Heaven’s Vault. After obtaining a PS4 at the end of 2018, I finally got to playing God of War this February. I grew to really love it. By the end, this was a hungry, violent love. It was making me angry with other games, at their lack of vision or polish. Heaven’s Vault was the first game in a few months after God of War that brought me joy and wonder. inkle focused their efforts on what they could do well. The rest they managed to make “good enough”. I don’t know that you ever played Heaven’s Vault. If you don’t like it, it will be enlightening to hear the reasons.
Counter-recommendation: I adore inkle after 80 Days, but I recall being confused looking at the Steam page for Heaven’s Vault. Why would they make a game with graphics? I’m glad to hear it made such an impression on you, Aaron. And I know the feeling where you’re affected so strongly by a game that it has a blast crater around it, affecting how you feel about other games. Anyway, my counter-recommendation is 80 Days. And thanks for making me want to play God of War, jerk. I figured that was one I could just skip.
2. Alex Chapman: How about Secret Government on steam? It’s in early access, mwahahaha.
Counter-recommendation: That looks pretty cool! Like Europa Universalis, but you play as a secret society! I love playing as secret societies! By the way, I’m always happy to do early access for review requests. Sometimes, I secretly hope they’ll win the drawing because it can be hard to maintain my “bah, humbug, early access!” stance. I always appreciate a chance to circumvent my own rules. My counter-recommendation Spinnortality, a modern “secret society pulling the strings” game with a whole lotta sexy cyberspace stuff going on.
3. Andrew Shih: I would love to hear (or read) your thoughts on The Original Kings of Comedy, Spike Lee’s 2000 documentary of Black comedians on tour. I remember finding it delightful when I saw it in the theater back in the day. And as a chaser, can I recommend David Chappelle’s recent 30-minute set? Available in full for free on YouTube.
Counter-recommendation: I admire Chappelle’s passion, anger, and candor, and it was truly moving watching him open up. But when comedians workshop material like that, I feel like I’m watching early access. A comedian’s set is a performance; a comedian testing material is barely even a table read. As for Spike Lee, I’m going to do something different here and non-counter-recommend Da 5 Bloods. I only got through half of it, but I was struck at how quickly, cheaply, and carelessly Lee seemed to be shooting it. So, that gets a non-recommendation. Fortunately for a potential Original Kings of Comedy win, that documentary is from a period of some of Lee’s most meticulous filmmaking, between Clockers and 25th Hour. Actually, those are my counter-recommendations, Andrew! I love Spike Lee working from Richard Price’s script for Clockers and David Benioff’s script for 25th Hour. Yep, that David Benioff. The one who no one knows from 25th Hour or Troy because now he’s just “the Game of Thrones guy”.
4. Andrew Stanco: I first discovered your writing back when blogs were viable and we surfed along a calmer internet. I was searching for someone who thought Command & Conquer Red Alert 3, a series I associate with my childhood, was garbage. Most critics happily slapped an 8/10 on it and it bewildered me. Reading your game diary series, I discovered real gaming criticism. To honor that, can you please review the Command and Conquer Remastered edition? It’s loyal enough to the original games to satisfy the faithful, but I imagine you’ll have some comments on how far RTS design has evolved.
Counter-recommendation: At a certain point, “loyal to the original games” might not be a selling point, Andrew. :) But I’ll admit I’d be curious to take that trip back in time. My counter-recommendation for an old RTS that holds up is Shiny’s Sacrifice. Everything that would seem dated in Sacrifice instead seems deliciously weird. All those flopping, writhing, undulating, inscrutably textured monsters look as great as they did in 2000 because they still look just as weird. And the gameplay in Sacrifice, with the spells and the territory control alongside the unit management, is still rock solid.
5. AquaMafia: Curious to hear your take on Black Books (British sitcom) and any counter recommendation.
Counter-recommendation: Oh man, I have no frame of reference for what this is or who its creators are. I’m in uncharted territory. I should bring a mine detector. Which reminds me of a weird British comedy called The Detectorists, with Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones as members of a metal detector enthusiasts club. It’s super low-key, one of the most non-American comedies you’ll ever see. In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard about it from one of y’all on Patreon.
6. Armando Penblade: I’m going to recommend the recently completed Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. To be clear, I don’t mistake you for the target audience, and know you to be a savvier consumer of cinema and television than I am, so I can’t even promise it will hit the same emotional notes for you that it did for me, as you frequently consume media that resonates deeply with the human experience, while I largely consign myself to stories about lasers and elves and laser-elves.
But. . . for an animated revival of an early 80s cartoon meant to sell overpriced embarrassingly named and gender-oriented toys to children, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a hell of a journey and so much more than the sum of the parts listed on the back of the carton. The characters, writing, humor, inventiveness, and vitally, the heart of it are all very much on-point. It paints a beautiful picture of a fantastical world that could be so much more than our own — one I’ve felt more than once that I could live in instead these last few weeks. And sticks the landing it spends 5 (brief — the whole thing is 52 20-minute episodes) seasons setting up better than just about any other finished series I’ve seen. So that’s something, right?
Counter-recommendation: I totally support the world of laser-elfs! And I feel like I should know who She-Ra is. Isn’t she, like, Beastmaster’s lady friend of something? She rides around on a zebra? She’s played by Tanya Roberts? Or is that Xena: Warrior Princess? As you can tell, Armando, fantasy princesses from the 80s is not a Jeopardy category I would ever choose. My counter-recommendation is my favorite princess movie, Brave. It’s my favorite for a number of reasons, but I think the main reason is that it has a subversive message for a princess movie: maybe the Queen knows what’s best, after all. Have you seen Brave? In which case, my counter-recommendation is to see it again.
7. Brad Grenz: The Silmarillion.
Counter-recommendation: The Dungeon Degenerates lore books, available from Goblinko’s website. They’re much shorter, less stuffy, and you don’t have to remember as many elfnames. Some of them even have scenarios you can play in one of my favorite boardgames, Dungeon Degenerates: Hand of Doom.
8. Bradley Steele: I would like to submit the show Devs as my review request. I won’t tell you what I think of it or anything else about it, except that it is an Alex Garland project.
Counter-recommendation: I watched the first episode of Devs and I appreciate your discretion, because heck if I know where that show is going. I am fascinated by Nick Offerman as an actor, so my counter-recommendation is to enjoy him as the father in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Also enjoy Olivia Cooke, who’s great in this.
9. Bruce Geryk: Children of the Arbat by Anatoli Rybakov.
Counter-recommendation: So, historical fiction about what a whack job Stalin was? I’m game! My counter-recommendation is a movie with insight into the more modern Russian character under Putin. In The Blackout, electric power fails around the world, with the exception of Moscow. It turns out — spoiler! — that aliens have invaded and their world-wide blackout didn’t work against Moscow, so now they’re mind-controlling humanity to attack Moscow. Everyone comes at Moscow like a zombie horde, and a handful of Russian soldiers and their firepower hold them at bay. Only these elite soldiers appreciate what’s really going on. Not the craven scientists, not the dishonest press. It’s truly a wretched movie for how it glories in Russian soldiers mowing down “mind controlled” civilians. And I’m not actually recommending it, but I am saying if you want to see how a country thinks of itself, you can learn a lot from its blockbusters. My real counter-recommendation is Dual Powers: Revolution 1917, which is for two players, but also supports solitaire play so you can practice until I get there.
10. Chris H.: Before making this review recommendation, I went back and re-listened to the Qt3 movie podcast for The Favourite, and one of the things you expressed as a mild regret with that film — which I think you otherwise really liked — was that it pulled back a bit from being willing to go off the rails for historicity. If that’s a word.
So my review recommendation is the series The Great, on Hulu, starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult. Hoult isn’t the only shared DNA with The Favourite; Tony McNamara, who helped sculpt the final script for The Favourite seems to have been a bit of the same mind as you, and as the creator of The Great, he willingly lets the show run far off the rails of any historical accuracy…while still somehow kind of being historically accurate in its own way. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Huzzah!
Counter-recommendation: Ah, Elle Fanning, the pretty one. There’s the pretty Fanning and the talented Fanning. I mean, they’re both pretty and talented. But you won’t find anyone casting Elle Fanning as Squeaky Fromme, just as you won’t find anyone casting Dakota Fanning as the standard for vapid good looks in a Nicholas Winding Refn horror fable about the ravening corruption of beauty. I really like a grim Texas noir movie with Ben Foster and Elle Fanning called Galveston, based on a novel by True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto and adroitly directed by Melanie Laurant. Yeah, that Melanie Laurant, the one who killed Hitler in Inglourious Basterds.
As for The Great, it looks like it’s right up my twisted historicity alley.
11. Chris Holly: My review request is a boardgame. Terminator: Genisys: Rise of the Resistance. Not the miniature game, but the boardgame. It’s a gungeon crawler that I’ve been soloing and fallen in love with, so I’m quite interested to see what you think. I liken it to a snappier, cleaner version of Blackstone Fortress, for what it’s worth. The movie may suck, but I think the boardgame is phenomenally good.
Counter-recommendation: Chris, here’s a weird thing about me. I don’t like dungeon crawlers. But I keep playing them looking for ones I do like! For instance, I think Deep Madness and Space Cadets: Away Missions are brilliant. But they’re nothing if not dungeon crawlers. And the only reason I haven’t tried Rise of the Resistance yet, which certainly looks intriguing, is that it’s bottled up behind the Hellboy game in terms of dungeon crawlers I’m curious to try but haven’t impulse-bought yet. I’d be happy for your review request to shake up the queue.
My counter-recommendation is to give the latest Terminator movie a chance. The one with Mackenzie Davis. It does kind of suck, but there’s some really cool stuff in it, especially if you don’t know that stuff is coming. In other words, everyone should stop watching trailers if they want to enjoy movies that might not be good!
12. Chris Dammers: Could you review Amazon’s Patriot? Ideally the whole thing, but failing that Season 1.
Counter-recommendation: I was so in love with so much of season one. Utterly captivating in it’s unique morose way. And thanks to Ian Slutz for getting me to watch it. But I had such a problem with where the second season was going that I bailed. So I’m going to counter-recommend something that has the courtesy to fall apart in a single season. Quarry, starring Logan Marshall-Green and set in the South during the 70s, has a fascinating cast, an amazing production design, and some super-violent and well-staged action scenes. But it all turns to mush by the time its first and only season is over.
13. Chris M: Should I go with the standard picks that I’ve already been rotating from month to month (Jimmy Corrigan, first season of Larry Sanders, Elektra Assassin, the works of Edward Gorey) or try something a little different? I think I am going to go with something a little different.
I choose The Pixies. I’m going to leave it vague intentionally so that you have more leeway to figure out what to do with it if it should get chosen. It could be a specific album, song, their entire catalogue, or what have you.
Counter-recommendation: I’m going to counter-recommend Piranha 3D, because I watched it recently and decided it holds up. Except for the kid wearing a Pixies shirt. Prehistoric piranhas overrunning a Lake Havasu Spring Break are one thing, plausibility wise. I can accept that. But a kid that age wearing a Pixie’s T-shirt? I don’t think so.
14. Chris Schmidt: Here’s a loaded review request: White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. I read this a couple weeks ago (well, listened to the audiobook). I disagree with a great deal of it. I think there’s a lot about it that’s just going to make racial reconciliation worse for all involved. I would never recommend anyone take this book to heart. But I think it’s also important to understand it, as it’s so much a part of the current conversation. And while I’d tell someone what I thought of the book if they asked, I’m also not out to crusade against it. I *am* against this book, but I recognize that the voice of a white guy telling people not to read White Fragility is probably going to be counter-productive at best–at least online.
I respect your writing and your thinking a great deal, and I’d love to have your perspective on it. Whether you love it or hate it, I’m not actually sure I’d want you to publish a review of it, for the same reasons I’m reluctant to talk about it online. It deals with issues I believe in and realities that are raw and painful surrounding racism and privilege–I don’t agree with the direction or the conclusions, but it’s addressing things that need to be talked about–but I think a lot of those are going to be best discussed in person, with the people around us in our families and communities. So selfishly, I kinda just want your thoughts on it personally.
But Quarter to Three is its own kind of community, and perhaps you’ll end up thinking it’s worth a discussion there. I don’t know, it’s just been on my mind a lot since reading it.
Counter-recommendation: I’ve been wanting to read White Fragility, precisely because I have reservations about it along the lines of what you’ve said here. My counter-recommendation is actually kind of obsolete at this point, but I felt similarly about Hillbilly Elegy when it came out. I read it because I had reservations about what it was saying. It’s an economic anxiety apology that I don’t think holds any water, and it’s particularly rich for how it’s written by a guy who joined the military to turn his life around and give himself the confidence to hold forth about the classic conservative social welfare policy known as bootstrapping.
15. Clay Heaton: I would like you to review the book River God, by Wilbur Smith.
Counter-recommendation: Heh, that is NOT what I expected when I looked it up. Of course something about Ancient Egypt would be called “river god”. Duh. But my mind went to the titular story in Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters, which is a great example of what makes some of Ballingrud’s horror unique. So that’s my counter-recommendation. I know it’s a repeat, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw the words “river god”. And while we’re on the subject, allow me to non-counter-recommend Larry Fessenden’s Beneath, a horror movie in which a bunch of teenagers in a rowboat fight a giant catfish.
16. Craig: You might have read it, and if not it is a bit long, but I love Anathem by Neal Stephenson. This book still haunts me, mainly the first half.
Counter-recommendation: Uh-oh, a Neal Stephenson book that’s “a bit long”? Cryptonomicon “a bit long”? Or Snowcrash “a bit long”? :) Let’s see, I would counter-recommend William Gibson’s short stories in Burning Chrome, which are the opposite of a bit long because they’re short stories. I mean, everyone’s read Neuromancer, but have they read the short story the Johnny Mnemonic movie is based on? I recall really liking one of the stories called New Rose Hotel.
17. Dave Hemke: I have been requesting a Corvette Summer review off and on for years. I would imagine Dingus just not getting it, and Kelly patiently trying to explain how it was funny, before you would come in with some esoteric point about how the movie was directed or the bold choices in camera work. I don’t really know you guys, but your voice has been in my ear for years and humans are strange creatures. I miss the trio. I’m retiring that request.
As for board games, I’m so far out of current it isn’t funny. My shelves are still full of old AH and Victory Games favorites that haven’t been opened in decades, mixed in with a few newer games that caught my eye but have never been played. I’ve been slowly getting my two daughters into games. I’ve come to accept, like the old football QB whose son is the drum major, my daughters will never marshal the remnants of the Wehrmacht in a last ditch effort to prevent the Red Army from taking Berlin in an epic battle resolved by a 4:1 Combat Resolution Table dice roll, but we did just yesterday play Pandemic for the first time. While most recently, I’ve been binging the Rockford Files on Amazon Prime (for the record, Jim’s $200/day is roughly $1k/day today), it isn’t exactly what I imagine the Tom Chick brand to be.
So, I think I’ll cast my choice as Baghdad Central (Hulu).
Counter-recommendation: That was quite the journey, Dave! Thanks for taking me — well, all of us! — along with you. It got a little scary at the end there. I was, all, oh god, he’s going to ask me to review Pandemic. And then it got even scarier. Oh god, he’s going to ask me to review The Rockford Files! But then it had a surprise twist with a request for something that looks really cool. My counter-recommendation for a TV series with a unique appreciation for Arab characters is The Looming Tower for Tahar Ramin’s character.
18. David Morton: I am a sicker for David Lynch and would love to see you review Lost Highway from 1997.
Counter-recommendation: David, I was going to correct “sicker” to “stickler”, but I’m not sure that’s right either, so I left it as is. But I take your point that you’re into Lynch, because I think you have to be into David Lynch to be into Lost Highway. Unlike, say, Mulholland Drive, which folks might like just because they’re into Naomi Watts. I will counter-recommend another movie in which two different actors play the same character for no discernible reason. There’s a Thai movie called Last Life in the Universe. At a certain point, one of the female characters is played by an actress whose character had died earlier in the movie. I figured it was the director making a point about grief or perception or longing. Apparently no such thing. In an interview I later read, it seems they just had fun working with that actress earlier in the movie and wanted to bring her back for a while. Somehow, I can’t see David Lynch feeling that way about Balthazar Getty.
19. Elton Glaser: My first thought was “Disco Elysium”. I played this in April and having such a richly described world to explore was a great way to get transported when I couldn’t go anywhere in real life. My backup idea is “Hollow Knight”. It’s so deliciously melancholy, and scratched an itch I didn’t know I had about exploring dangerous unmapped caves.
Counter-recommendation: No way I’m passing up an opportunity to get back to Disco Elysium! Although I’ve heard that Hollow Knight gets really rewarding if you stick with it. But I’m putting you down for a Disco Elysium request, Elton. My counter-recommendation is Killer 7, because I think the same part of me that responds to Suda51 was being lit up as I played Disco Elysium.
20. Erik Geitner: I would love to read a review of the video game Hades. I have several friends who have been playing it and they say it’s really awesome. However, when I went to look it up I noticed it was still in Early Access. So no point in a review of something that’s not finished. I did hear Astroneer is out of Early Access, another game I’ve been curious about. So I’ll pick Astroneer and hope that it turns out better than No Man’s Sky. That game didn’t really click for me.
Counter-recommendation: I’m really excited about Hades. Supergiant does such amazing work, even if the actual gameplay bounces off me. Their last game was a sports game. A soccer kind of thing, if I know my sports. Which I don’t. But, yeah, I can’t wait for Hades to hit 1.0. They’ve gone back closer to Bastion territory. And as near as I can tell, there’s no soccer in Hades. As for a counter-recommendation to Astroneer — which I’ve played just enough to know I didn’t hate it! — let me counter-recommend going back into No Man’s Sky. Have you played recently? They’ve done such a great job giving you various ways to approach it, and loading those ways up with hooks to draw you in, whether you like crafting or exploration or progression or story or VR or multiplayer. I can think of no game that has come a longer way since its release than No Man’s Sky.
21. Flemming Madsen: Autonauts! This game seems really, really interesting! It looks cute, it’s about building stuff, which I adore, it has a lot of automation which is interesting, and it’s kinda without too much (Any?) violence, which is always a nice thing. (I play Conan Exiles a lot, so it’s not like I don’t play games with violence in them. I just don’t play games FOR the violence, if you know what I mean!). I tried Autonauts once, for…3 minutes I think? It just seemed kinda complex there, and I sort of dropped it, and went back to something I knew what was, and was easy to pick up. But the game has excellent reviews, and looks fun, so…maybe it is? I don’t know – you tell me! (I know, I know – “fun”, but it’s fun to say to you!).
Counter-recommendation: Firstly, in the personal part of your message I didn’t include here, you asked if I play tabletop RPGs. I don’t play tabletop RPGs. But I could! I have friends who do. I could have easily joined them. I have tons of boardgaming friends who would have been amenable to trying an RPG campaign in lieu of boardgaming. But there’s always been one obstacle: I have no desire to play RPGs. Not out of a sense of condescension or disdain or anything like that. But because RPGs involve an element of performance, improvisation, and even trust that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with these days. Which says a lot more about me than RPGs, I suppose.
So you’re right that Autonauts and its emphasis on automation is more complex that you might guess from the screenshots. It’s kind of a programming game, actually. But for a more conventional building-and-transporting game with cute robots, I cannot recommend The Colonists strongly enough. It’s cute, but layered over some of the purest logistics porn you will even indulge in.
22. Gene Vostok: You can choose one or flip a coin and let fate decide: *Vampyr*, the sideways sequel from the devs of Remember Me and the Life is Strange series seems rather topical, being set in the pandemic. Though i hate the phrase, review it and see if you agree with me that there is a certain Ludonarrative Dissonance at the core of the game that entirely undermines and spoils its narrative. Or, if you’d prefer, wander off into the wild and wooly world of Free to Print and Play board games! I am myself a neophyte here but am printing up a couple to take with me into the mountains over the weekend; Austerity or perhaps Pencils and Powers might just be the ticket! Or find a better one to share!
Counter-recommendation: Vampyr also felt weird to me, Gene. I didn’t get very far, but I got far enough to think this was a weird way to situate a vampire in an open-world game. For my counter-recommendation, the Bloodlust games have an interesting approach to incorporating vampire powers in an open-world action RPG. They’re both super-janky, and I’ve never been able to stick with them very long because I think that jankiness sometimes crosses over into bad game design territory. But I really admire how much vampire lore they’re trying to express with gameplay.
As for your review request, I’m definitely going to take you up on print-and-play boardgaming. Pencils and Powers looks like a puzzle that would hurt my head, but I’m keen to try Austerity. And I don’t even like bag builders! However, since you also said I could find another one, I think I’ve already found it. I’ve had Utopia Engine: Beast Hunter printed up and ready to go for some time now. Is it cheating that my counter-recommendation is also Utopia Engine: Beast Hunter? I could also suggest Bargain Basement Bathysphere, but the developer added social media plugs to the gameplay. Once he introduced a rule where you get to roll extra dice if you Tweet certain hashtags, I decided I’d found the print-and-play equivalent of a business decision affecting game design and I rage quit.
23. Hendrik Thiel: I will try to get you to review Gigantic (1998) by Sebastian Schipper, the regisseur of Victoria, your second-favourite movie of 2015. It’s a movie dear to my heart, but it’s also quite German and I am very interested if it would work for you.
Counter-recommendation: I do adore Victoria and Laia Costa, the actress who carries it. But then I saw her in a movie called Duck Butter and thought she was so annoying that I might like Victoria slightly less. Okay, probably not. But she really didn’t work for me in Duck Butter. So that’s my counter-recommendation. Did you see Sebastian Schipper’s latest movie, Roads? I don’t think it ever made it to the US.
24. Ian Slutz: Fantasy Strike the fighting game for everyone. Ooh if you want to review a book instead of a weird fighting game: “Vita Nostra” by Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko.
Counter-recommendation: Ah, Fantasy Strike is a David Sirlin game. I should have guessed! Vita Nostra looks kind of cool, though. Hmm. And it took two people to write it. A Ukranian anti-Harry Potter? Okay, I’m putting you down for Vita Nostra, mainly because I feel like I know exactly what Fantasy Strike is, but I have less of a feel for what Vita Nostra is. My counter-recommendation is the HBO miniseries His Dark Materials, which takes place in a world where every kid gets a talking animal pokemon sidekick, but then one of them has to go on an adventure instead of staying in school. So that makes it kind of an anti-Harry Potter, too. I confess I didn’t stick with it because it showed its YA roots too readily. But Dafne Keen and Ruth Watson are such a joy to watch, at least for a few episodes.
25. Jarmo Petäjäaho: My review request this time is for a movie called The Rider by Chloé Zhao from 2017. Why? Because we saw it recently and it struck us as a movie worth seeing, for various reasons. As a bonus, I’ll throw in the Twitter account of @nachosarah. I recently ran across her as the co writer of the Money Shot comic book, which I enjoyed and consider well-written. Cheers!
Counter-recommendation: Since I’m copying and pasting this, the Scandanavian dots over your name are intact. That’s what they’re called, right? Scandinavia dots. On your name, around the dot over the j, they look like a light dusting of snow. On Sören Höglund’s name (see below), they look like handles to carry it around.
I reviewed The Rider when it first came out, but I’m happy to revisit it. It gave me a new appreciation for how scenes are shot with actors and horses, or for how actors interact with the horses. I can always see when they’re faking it now, and they’re almost always faking it. My counter-recommendation is tonally NOTHING like The Rider. In fact, tonally, my counter-recommendation is rather cruel. There’s a movie called Bone Tomahawk that is not for the faint of heart, but among the many small touches I love in that movie is the relationship between Matthew Fox and his horse.
26. Jay Gittings: My request for the stream would be a solo play through of Sentinels of the Multiverse Oblivaeon. You don’t have to worry about which heroes to pick since you will use them all. Make sure you have plenty of space at the table.
Sentinels continues to be my favorite story telling board game with all its twists and turns – heck we wrote quite a few of these for readers all those years ago. Oblivaeon is the culmination of the story and Greater than Games design sensibilities. I have my thoughts on the game that might surprise you and I’m interested to see what you think about the evolution of their designs over the arc of the story.
Counter-recommendation: Quick point of order, Jay, but I won’t be able to do any streaming or even boardgame videos just yet. You mentioned not to worry which heroes I pick for Oblivaeon because I’ll use them all, but I don’t see how I could keep five environments alive long enough to get through that many characters. Based on reading the rules, it seems really difficult, which I guess is the point? I love the idea of Oblivaeon, and I look forward to trying it, but it looks like the decks are stacked against the superheroes.
My counter-recommendation for a superhero card game is not Marvel Champions, which I don’t really like. Nor is it Marvel Legendary, which I really do like. Instead, my counter-recommendation is another solitaire/coop game whose worldbuilding shows remarkable enthusiasm, affection, and imagination: Champions of Hara.
27. Jeremy H: I know you’ve been on the hunt for interesting science fiction so perhaps you’d enjoy “All Systems Red” by Martha Wells. It’s the first novella (of four, and then a full length novel) in the “Murderbot” series, which is one (of many) interesting explorations of artificial intelligence and humanity that’s trickled out in the last few years. Of the bunch it’s probably the most accessible, plus the central character is media-obsessed and surely that’s relatable for most of us around these parts!
Counter-recommendation: Whoa, there’s a series called Murderbot. I’m down with whatever that is! I love reading about, fighting against, and watching movies with murderbots! I’ll counter-recommend a little known movie called Kill Command, which has some good AI vs humanity themes going, but is mainly about murderbots. And it’s got cute little Vanessa Kirby playing a character from a Deus Ex game!
28. Joshua Marshall: I’ll request a review of the collected 2000 Year Old Man conversations with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. They’re all on Spotify, Youtube, or similar streaming services. Tom, you’re on record of not finding Mel Brooks particularly funny, but Carl Reiner just passed away today and the two men brought me such joy over the years. As a kid in the 70’s, I wore out their cassette tape on long car rides. Maybe you’ll get a laugh. Maybe it’ll strengthen your ambivalence, but any excuse to celebrate these two legendary comics, and their friendship over the years seems a worthwhile diversion.
Counter-recommendation: Hey, that’s dirty pool! Because, yeah, I bet watching Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner in that context has gotta make them pretty irresistible. It’s easy to roll my eyes at dumb jokes in Blazing Saddles. It’s not so easy when it’s two friends playing off each other’s talent in real time. For my counter-recommendation, you’ve reminded me of Micheal Winterbottom’s The Trip, which was a TV series in which friends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon go to restaurants in exotic locations and chat during their meals. Winterbottom just filmed it and each different restaurant was an episode. At some point, the series was assembled into a movie, and then followed up by The Trip to Italy, The Trip to Spain, and most recently, The Trip to Greece. But here’s the thing: I’m not convinced Coogan and Brydon really like each other. They’re more like comedians trying to outplay one another, which I find pretty grating.
29. Len Luczkowski: I am not sure if you’ve seen the show by Chris Carter called Millennium. It stars Lance Henrikson from that famous knife trick movie, and Meghan Gallagher after she made all that Larry Sanders’ money. The story overall is complex, but I will try to distill it down. The main character Frank is a forensics specialist who has the ability to see the thoughts and motivations of serial killers. He’s also trying to avert the Apocalypse. It is also possible that he can see demons where others just see…other people. To say the show is incredibly dark is an understatement. The show lasted three seasons on Fox. But, you know how Fox treats good TV.
Anyway, your review of Apocrypha reminded me of Millennium (and a little American Gods, honestly). I bought the game, and it arrives July 2. It better be worth it, Chick! Obviously I wouldn’t ask for a review of the whole show (you should watch it, though). I’d like you to review the episode The Curse of Frank Black. At this point in the series, Frank’s investigations and associates have taken a tremendous toll on his character. The backdrop is Y2K before we knew Y2K was a bust. I think there is a lot to learn from just that one episode, although if you haven’t watched any of the series, maybe watch at least the pilot to get the sense of how the show is going to go.
Counter-recommendation: Wait, his name is Frank Black? Is Chris Carter a Pixies fan? In which case, interest level rising…
Lance Henriksen shows up in some of the most godawful stuff these days. My first inclination when I watch some crappy horror movie that’s paid whatever his rate is to get him on set a few days is to feel pity for the poor guy. But when I think about it, I realize that’s not the way to think of it. He’s had a long career, successful on so many levels. Do you guys remember him in Close Encounters? Probably not, because he just stares silently at a UFO. But what about Dog Day Afternoon? Lance Henriksen’s part in Dog Day Afternoon is unforgettable. “Sal, we don’t want any accidents at this point, right? Keep your gun pointed up?” The guy is cashing in on his career, and he’s probably having the time of his life. My counter-recommendation is the painfully unfunny horror comedy Exorcism at 60,000 Feet, in which Lance Henriksen is the captain of the airplane, Bai Ling is one of the flight attendants, Kevin J. O’Connor is an unlikely hero, and Adrienne Barbeau is one of the passengers. Imagine being on that set. Actually, that’s my counter-recommendation. Imagine being on the set of Exorcism at 60,000 Feet. Don’t actually watch it. It’s worse than you could possibly imagine. I realize I’m probably just making you want to watch it, but please don’t.
30. Mark Crump: Blood Rage, with a comparison between Board and Digital. It’s one of my favorite games, and I am curious about your thoughts on both of them. For movies: Fifth Element. It’s one of those goofy, stupid movies I feel hits exactly what it set out to be. Again, interested in your thoughts.
Counter-recommendation: Mark, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak much to the boardgame version of Blood Rage, since I can’t do any multiplayer boardgaming while I’m in self-isolation. But I am curious about the videogame port. I haven’t heard good things, but hopefully those were just launch issues? Blood Rage is too good a game to have a screwed up digital version. :( My counter-recommendation goes to your Fifth Element request. There’s a game I don’t like very much called Cloudpunk, but it does a wonderful job recreating the sky traffic that was so cool in Fifth Element. You have to provide your own nekkid Milla Jovovich.
31. Matt Bugbee: My nomination for this month is the new hotness from GMT, Imperial Struggle. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, though the first hour or so of playing was pretty rough and had me wondering if the whole thing may just have too much going on to hold together. Since then it’s settled into a comfortable level of overwhelming and I’ve been hooked.
Counter-recommendation: Matt, it didn’t occur to me when we exchanged messages about this, but as with Mark’s Blood Rage request, I don’t have any way to actually play Imperial Struggle because of the covid-19 situation. Although I understand it is on Vassal. Hmm, so it’s as if it has a digital version. Okay, if this wins the drawing, I’ll see if I can figure something out. My counter-recommendation is the Civilization IV implementation of Brian Reynolds’ Colonization. When my copy of Imperial Struggle arrived and I was bitter about being unable to play, I spent the entire day rediscovering Colonization. I would say “comfortable level of overwhelming” applies here, as well. It has none of the clash-of-superpowers element of Imperial Struggle, but it does a wonderfully deep dive into the colonial element of struggling empires.
32. Matthew Jamison: You might have already seen this but I want to recommend I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed by Macon Blair with Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood. Doubt I need to say more to get you interested.
Counter-recommendation: I have already seen it, and even reviewed it here! But I’m happy to find some context to revisit it. My counter-recommendation isn’t nearly as good, but there are similarities. You might recognize a young comedic actor named Clark Duke as the obligatory “har har the fat guy is funny” in Hot Tub Time Machine. That seems to be his schtick. Clark Duke is in a movie called Arkansas. Which he also adapted from a novel. And then directed. And then had the audacity to open with a Charles Portis epigraph. Such gall! Arkansas is uneven, and it’s burdened by the world’s most uninteresting Hemsworth in the lead. But the best thing I can say about it, and I don’t say this carelessly, is that it earns its Portis epigraph. I hope Duke writes more, directs more, and acts against type more.
33. Mike McBain: If it’s not too much of a cop out – review something that brings you comfort in these troubled times. Could be your cat, Jaws, your bed, whatever.
Counter-recommendation: Aww, thanks, Mike! You’ve given me a write-in and I’m happy to take it. I’m not sure how to counter-recommend your kind gesture, so you can take my pick as my counter-recommendation as well. When I think of something that’s given me comfort in the last week or so, nothing has come close to the buzz I’m getting from Hamilton. Nothing in a long time. So I’m putting you down for a review of the filmed production of Hamilton on Disney Plus.
34. Mike Pollmann: I would like you to review Tom Chick’s review of the original Deus Ex. ;) In all seriousness, I thought it would be fun to revisit that original review in context of the modern modern sequels (which I’m not sure if you have played?). Did they improve the formula? Is it still crap?
Counter-recommendation: Well, firstly, I don’t think I ever said Deus Ex is crap. I had issues with its AI, level design, and story that kept me from enjoying the rest of it. But it’s far too influential and revered to be dismissed as crappy. Far too many people who know what they’re talking about can explain how Deus Ex… Wait, am I being trolled? :)
I have played the modern Deus Exs, so I’ll put this down as a review of Mankind Divided that references the review of the original Deus Ex. As a counter-recommendation, did you play either of the Surge games? I think they’re dismissed as sci-fi Dark Souls wanna-bes, but I really liked how they worked the whole “augmented human” angle from Deus Ex into their character progression.
35. Patrick Casey: I’d love to see your thoughts on the TV show ‘Patriot’ on Amazon Prime video.
Counter-recommendation: And Patriot wins a plurality in the review requests! Which, sadly, aren’t decided by plurality. Since Patriot was where I first came to appreciate the wonderfully glum Michael Dorman, I’ll counter-recommendation The Invisible Man for his role in that. Because I certainly wouldn’t ask anyone to put up with the shenanigans that start up around episode eight of For All Mankind, another series with Michael Dorman.
36. Patrick Marstall: I would love to hear your thoughts on Season 1 of Upload.
Counter-recommendation: Patrick, I had a really hard time getting past the lead actor in the first episode, who I’ve seen in a couple of things (a passable time loop movie called Arq and a silly sci-fi movie called Core 8 in which he has lightning superpower, like Storm, but he can’t fly and his costume isn’t at all sexy). I would be curious to see how his character develops and where the show goes. My counter-recommendation is Upgrade. A really clever thriller with a kind of rogue AI/body horror element. Not thematically similar to Upload, but I like how the titles are similar.
37. Peter Michelsen: In light of recent events I would like to recommend The Corner, a non-fiction book by David Simon and Ed Burns (who would go on to create The Wire) about a year in the life of an inner-city neighbourhood.
I’ve lived in the US, in southern Mississippi and Mobile Alabama, so I wasn’t a stranger to the white version of American poverty, but reading The Corner was my first brush with the American ghetto. I think it’s something that sadly most Americans never think about, or even choose to ignore, but that book left me with a great deal of sympathy for those at the very bottom of society in the world’s wealthiest country.
Counter-recommendation: Firstly, I just wanted to pass on to everyone how strongly you recommended Lee Chang-Dong’s movies in the personal part of your message. Everyone knows Burning by now — well, they should — but you mentioned his earlier movie Secret Sunshine. I’m sold.
My counter-recommendation is another representation of poverty that resonated with me partly for how it’s from where I’m from. A lot of people probably think of Winter’s Bone as an indie movie Jennifer Lawrence did before she got really famous. It is that. It’s also kind of a crime thriller. But I like to think of it as the middle period in Debra Granik’s trilogy about people who have to live outside the social safety nets that should be protecting them: Down to the Bone (which has a bit to much “junkies are tedious” tedium), Winter’s Bone, and Leave No Trace.
38. Rich VR: What could be better to speed your recovery than curling up in a comfy chair and reading a happy book? Unfortunately the book I am recommending is Blindsight by Peter Watts. It is not a happy book. But it is an amazing read.
Counter-recommendation: I’ve never read anything by Peter Watts. So then why do I light up at the prospect of Blindsight winning the drawing? Probably because my literary Obi-Wan, the guy who has single-handedly introduced me to more books that have thrilled and delighted me than anyone else in the world, the inimitable Kelly Wand, is always talking up The Things, which is apparently Watts’ fanfic follow-up to John Campbell’s Who Goes There? Which is itself the template for John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. So, there’s my not-very-well-informed counter-recommendation because I don’t know anything about Blindsight and I don’t want to know anything about it because I’d like to go in…ready for this?…blind.
39. Sam Spackman: I always deliberate about whether to put an old review request back into the mix in the hope it gets up, or just choose a new one. The result of my deliberation is always the same however and I choose a new one because I like to think these review requests have a permadeath mode – if a request doesn’t get up then that’s it. Although there are a couple of older requests I would like to see – like Mishima, or Razorback. But that’s the nature of the beast.
I was thinking about nominating Shadow Empire. But, I’m not sure that would be the most interesting review. So this time I’ll nominate Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
Counter-recommendation: If you’d gone with Shadow Empire, your pick would have won before the drawing even happened! So…a Tchaikovsky opera? I was always suspicious of operas by composers who were famous for stuff that isn’t opera. So my counter-recommendation is Beethoven’s Fidelio. You can have my copy if you promise to rotate Razorback back into the review requests.
40. Sharon Laubach: Wings of Desire. Not the American remake, though! Wings was my favourite movie in college, though I haven’t watched it in a long time so don’t know if it still holds up. I’m sure at some point you’ve reviewed it already, but I’m still curious what you’d say about it.
Counter-recommendation: The American remake of Wings of Desire is so bad that it ruined a perfectly good Goo Goo Dolls song! So a lot of people’s go-to for Peter Falk is Princess Bride, but for me it will always be Wings of Desire. Princess Bride isn’t even my 2nd place go-to for Peter Falk. My 2nd place go-to for Peter Falk is Made, with Jon Favreau and Vince Vaugn. Mainly because it shows what a serene and forbearing guy he is. And not just in the context of his performance in the movie. You can see it in the deleted scenes. So that’s my counter-recommendation.
41. Sören Höglund: I’m voting for Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children. It’s basically XCOM if you thought it needed a ton more rules, exceptions and rpg stuff, put inside an anime. Like in an opening mission, I threw a flashbang at a group of enemies, and since I had previously killed the lights and made the area dark, they weren’t just blinded, but got confused as well. Except for the dude protected by his sunglasses.
I don’t have any firm opinions on it yet – I’ve only just made it through the tutorial and opening missions, but it seems like the kind of game you’d enjoy picking apart.
Counter-recommendation: I love me some rules and exceptions, Soren! The bit about the sunglasses sounds pretty cool. There’s a cowboy/horror themed tactical combat game called Alder’s Blood that just came out a month or so ago. Basically a Weird West XCOM. I’m concerned it’s a little too stealth oriented, but it seems to have Darkest Dungeon style character management. I haven’t played much of it, but I was intrigued enough by what I did play that I will throw it out there as a counter-recommendation.
42. Strollen: Appropriately, I’m writing this at a quarter past three. So forgive me for my more than normal missing words and bad grammar. I’m up late because I’m re-reading Donald Trump’s The Art to the Deal for the 3rd time, I’d like you to review it.
Okay, I lie (I did read it once when it was published, don’t remember anything about it). No, what I’d love to see you review is Soren Johnson’s Old World. It is in Early Access, but it is my favorite 4x game since Civ IV, so if you give it 2 stars or some such shit, I’ll be pretty annoyed. It is a great game and he and his wife are taking feedback. But I think the learning curve is steeper than it needs to be so I’d love your take on it. Plus I bet Soren would also.
Counter-recommendation: I think there’s a famous saying to the effect that a Soren Johnson early access game is like a Paradox 3.0 game. Cheap shot? Perhaps, but I’m feeling mean after thinking I might have to read The Art of the Deal. Well trolled. My counter-recommendation is the Dune mod for Civilization IV. It holds up as a grand 4X expression of Frank Herbert’s novels and a damn fine design based on the asymmetry among the factions. Basically, each faction is like a different game and each game is pretty darn cool.
43. Tim F: The game I’d like you to review is Craft the World. This is one of my favorite indie games and I have over 700 hours played with it now. It’s available on Steam.
Counter-recommendation: I don’t normally last long with crafting games, Tim. But I’ll counter-recommend My Time with Portia for how long I actually did last with that one. And I will say Craft the World doesn’t look at all how I would expect a game called “Craft the World” to look. Plus, look how old it is! It’s from 2014! And all that DLC! It must be quite the world by now.
44. Vitor Zimmerer: Wikipedia says that you have a “Masters in Theological Studies with a focus on the Old Testament”. I would like you to review the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible), and I am happy to, or even expect, you to interpret the word “review” as you like.
Counter-recommendation: That’s both a big ask and a lot of leeway, Vitor. It kind of evens out. :) My counter-recommendation is the Coen brothers movie A Serious Man, which is about someone — who happens to be Jewish — struggling with an existential crisis. That movie feels to me like a modern expression of how the Hebrew Scriptures wrestle with theology, and it uses some of the same language. It doesn’t get much more “Old Testament” than God speaking out of a tornado.
45. Will Goring: Sapphire and Steel. I’m always recommending this to people (especially Americans) because it’s one of those shows that I think deserves to be way better known than it is. I mean, I have no idea if you’ll like it. Honestly, I have no idea if *I* would still like it. But I f’ing loved it as a teen back in the day and haven’t dared risk the disappointment of seeing if it holds up.
Fair warning; it’s 70s British … SF I think? So expect appropriate production values (but a first rate cast). There’s a lot of it, so maybe just go for the first assignment? Even that’s 2.5 hours. It’s on YouTube. And if you’ve already seen it and don’t need the recommend; at least if I win, you can tell me if it holds up.
Counter-recommendation: Hmm, it was my understanding that all science fiction from Britain in the 70s is Doctor Who. It seems I was mistaken. Also, Sapphire is Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous! How can that not color a viewing of Sapphire and Steel? Still, I was astonished at how much I liked The Sandbaggers, another 70s British TV show. So it wouldn’t surprise me to discover more quality waiting to be mined from 70s British TV. So my counter-recommendation is The Sandbaggers for 70s British TV, and religion for “interdimensional operatives protecting the universe from evil forces,” which is the description of Sapphire and Steel from a Google search.