Friday, June 21, 2013

Miscellany: CRKT Williams Pen review - The Non-Tactical Tactical Pen


 
 
The CRKT Williams Pen is, as the box states, a "gentleman's tactical pen." Rather than looking like something the Klingon Navy would issue (as Tam put it), the Williams Pen is all sleek and smooth, with no flanges, crenellations, or "DNA Catchers" to speak of. It's so benign-looking that I was able to hand it to a partner at my law firm without incident:
 
 
 
The Williams Pen takes Fisher Space Pen cartridges, and writes about as smoothly as any other ballpoint. The pen's weight and balance take a little getting used to, but it's really pretty usable.

 
The pen cap is a simple snap-on affair, which I find much more practical than a screw-on cap. The Willams design also allows the cap to be posted on the pen while writing, which means you're much less likely to lose the cap.


Of course, in the end, this is still a quote-unquote tactical pen. Taking inspiration from bo shuriken, James Williams basically designed a tough six-inch aluminum spike that you can use as a semi-improvised weapon:



All in all, this is one of the best tactical pens on the market, considering the $40 asking price and the benevolent appearance.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tech: Tomb Raider review



A video game reboot is, in many ways, even harder to pull off than a film reboot. After all, a game reboot doesn't just have to tell the same story in a different way; it usually has to play differently, too, while still remaining faithful enough to the original that it's recognizable. Some games succeed in this effort ("Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," "Metroid Prime"), but many do not. This year's "Tomb Raider" is one of the good ones, and it provides a lavishly produced re-imagining of Lara Croft, gaming's answer to Indiana Jones.

Lara's been in need of a makeover for awhile now; her cold bravado felt out of place among today's more lighthearted adventure gaming heroes (cf. Nathan Drake), and adventure games themselves have come a long way since her debut in the late '90s. So how did Crystal Dynamics fare in rebooting her story?

THE GOOD

Exquisite controls - Lara runs, jumps, and climbs as well as any of the protagonists in the "Uncharted" or "Assassin's Creed" games. Lara also automatically takes cover behind obstacles when you move close to them, no awkward button presses needed.

Triple-A production values - The whole game takes place on one mysterious island, but somehow there's a huge range of beautiful environments on display here. You'll traverse everything from dense forests to frozen mountaintops to grimy shantytowns, and each level is littered with fun stuff to see and collect.

THE BAD

Ludonarrative Dissonance - Believe it or not, this is one of the most common gripes with the game. Crystal Dynamics does a great job of presenting Lara as a vulnerable, unsure young woman in the cutscenes and backstory, so it's pretty jarring when Lara starts slashing dudes in the face with a climbing axe or casually mowing them down with an assault rifle.

Too much fighting, not enough platforming - Sort of the same problem, I guess. The game's third-person combat is generally pretty good, and exceptional at times (in one memorable level, Lara stalks a team of flashlight-wielding baddies in a dark forest, Rambo-style). There's way too much of it, though, and the focus on fighting means the platforming and puzzle-solving elements are undercooked.

Rating: 88/100

Miscellany: Lords of Waterdeep review

 
"Lords of Waterdeep" is a Dungeons & Dragons-flavored board game set in the city of Waterdeep. As one of the titular Lords, each player competes for influence and power within the city by hiring adventurers (i.e., fighters, rogues, clerics, and wizards), creating buildings, and completing quests. At the end of the game, a player gets a victory point for each hired adventurer, victory points for completed quests, and a special victory point bonus depending on which Lord they are playing as (which is kept secret from the other players). The player with the most victory points wins:
 
 

 
 
 
At first glance, it seems fairly odd to graft a European-style boardgame design onto the D&D license. After all, D&D is all about exploring dungeons, fighting monsters, and looting treasure. These concepts typically don't work inside a Eurogame framework, which eschews player elimination and direct competition. "Lords" avoids these pitfalls because it's really a resource management game. Though the D&D stuff isn't exactly ignored (each quest, building, and card is appropriately flavored), the game mechanics boil down to who can accumulate resources and spend them in the most efficient way.

To this end, each player gets a limited number of actions and makes interesting choices each turn: do you spend your time hiring new adventurers? Grabbing new quests to undertake? Building stuff that'll make it easier to hire more adventurers later? Hindering your opponents? This is all cerebral fun, but it's maybe not the bloodletting or treasure-hunting some people expect from a D&D-based game.



Bottom line: if you like Eurogames like "Settlers of Catan," you'll probably like "Lords of Waterdeep." There's a certain satisfaction in completing big expensive quests (like raiding the Undermountain), and you seldom feel like you're losing so badly that you can't recover. Plus, the components here are excellent, with a nice gameboard representing the city, good artwork on the cards (hey, it's Wizards of the Coast), and even a great box insert that keeps all the little tokens and cards organized. However, if you're looking for a game with hitpoints, armor, damage, or even monsters, look elsewhere.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Guns: The Drought


 
A lot of people realized that ammo would be hard to find after the Newtown shooting. Six months into 2013, though, it's still nearly impossible to find a box of 9mm on a store shelf, at least in my neck of the woods.
 
I considered myself fairly well-stocked - a few cases onhand for every caliber I shoot, double that counting reloading supplies - but I'm starting to run dry. More gun reviews are coming, ammo and time permitting.

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