Watched The Hulk at Ma's Sunday night. {SPOILER ahead!} It shows an almost interesting idea about bad tempers being passed from one generation to the next, but it's all muddled with the stuff about Bruce Banner being adopted, father killing the mother, etc. Unsatisfying ending -- did the Absorbing Man survive? And implausible bits. Why didn't the gamma bomb dropped on the energy-absorbing creature make it stronger? When the Hulk tosses a massive hunk of steel through a NASA-style control room and demolishes nearly everything in it, how does General Ross expect to yell at his underling huddled beneath her desk to carry out some final command, which she hastily types on the keyboard and monitor that happened to also fall under her desk next to her???? Lots of little ridiculous tidbits like that.

Synchronicities between The Hulk and A Beautiful Mind:
1. Jennifer Connelly plays love-interest.
2. Jennifer Connelly cries a lot.
3. In A Beautiful Mind, Josh Lucas plays a rival who tells the hero he'll never win if he doesn't play by The Establishment's rules. In The Hulk, Josh Lucas plays a rival who tells the hero he'll never win if he doesn't play by The Establishment's rules.
4. In one of the most haunting images of A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe spreads blinds and looks for people who might be out to get him. In the Hulk, Eric Bana spreads blinds and looks for people out to get him. I really wanted Jennifer Connelly to walk up behind him right then and turn on a light, so he could yell, "Turn off that light! Why would you do that?"

The Hulk is either a really encouraging movie for budding screenwriters to watch, because they'll realize that even something this crappy can get made, or really depressing, because they'll have to think about how their script languishes while turds like this continue to get churned out.

At least this means that two years from now, we won't have to walk through grocery aisles covered with images of the Hulk on every god damned box of Cheez-its and Oreos and gravy mix and tampons, because there will be no Hulk II to hawk merchandise for.

Excuse me, honey, could you get me that box of Eowyn Night-times with the Steppes-of-Rohan fresh scent? No, not Arwens, I said EOWYNS!

Oh yeah, and speaking of asinine merchandise, figure this out: I got a Lord of the Rings edition of RISK for Xmas from a co-worker. I still like the game, and definitely appreciate it, so don't think I'm trying to be ungrateful if my Secret Santa reads this somehow. But in playing the game, I noticed that one of the dotted lines on the game board map leads from a port city down towards the south of the board and off the map. Why did they bother putting a dotted line there? It doesn't connect to any other port city, so it doesn't affect game play at all. Somewhere in the rules I found that it says this board does not show Gondor or Mordor, because it doesn't cover the last movie or last book. Apparently they drew a full map, which probably leads from the port in Rohan down to some other port in the south near Gondor, but for this edition of the game, the board cuts off just below Rohan.

Sure enough, I looked at the store later and found a Lord of the Rings: Risk TRILOGY EDITION. When you look at the map of the game board on the back of the box, it shows all of my board plus Gondor and Mordor.

Were they afraid of spoiling the third movie for somebody? That doesn't make sense, since the story has been available as a book for decades, and as a BBC radio play for decades, and a cartoon for decades. The only possible motive is that they wanted to sell different designs so collectors would have to buy multiple versions of the same friggin game.

Anyhow, the game is flawed in other ways. It's perfectly amusing if you just want to play a regular game of Risk in a weird territory with fantasy armies. The idea of having two Good factions and two Evil factions even makes sense if you think about the possibility that Saruman might have fought against Sauron if things had gone differently, or the well-intended humans of Gondor might have fought the good armies of Elves to take control of the ring a la Isildur or Boromir.

But the game adds a complication unique to the Lord of the Rings, which is that the ringbearer slowly travels his route across the land while you play. A little pewter ring colored like gold rests on the board, and you move it gradually throughout the game. Cool prop, but it screws up the game. There are cards that let you slow the ring, and it can get stuck for extra turns in tricky areas like Moria and Lothlorien. But when the ring reaches the end of it's path, then the game is over. Players count points to see who wins.

It's way more satisfying for the victor to play this game all the way until the end, totally vanquishing other players. Way less satisfying for everybody to grab pencils and try to calculate how many territories they held, how many missions they completed, blah blah blah, to arrive at some abstract victory. It's like Bush driving Iraq out of Kuwait, then pummeling the country for several more weeks and stopping. Maybe there was some deadline in the game he was playing that kept him from finishing the game all the way and marching to Bagdad in 1991. Oh wait, that's right -- they didn't want to remove Saddam because they were afraid that Islamic fundamentalists might have taken over. Never mind.

Anyhow, if you kind of follow the story, then any amount of struggle between the armies becomes pointless after the Ring reaches its destination, because it's too big a setback to Sauron when part of his soul is destroyed along with the Ring. Evil can't win after that. In game terms it takes maybe 15 to 20 turns before the Ring ends the game, and it seems unlikely that one player could defeat all the others before that point.

Maybe an interesting house rule would be that the Ring reaching the end of its path has some massive effect on all players -- half of all players' armies are destroyed or something? But that would just make the game twice as long. It would also be interesting if the players had a way of permanently stopping the ring, or taking control of it before it reaches the end. Still not quite as fun as gradually conquering everyone on the board.

In actual play, I imagine gamers will tally up their points when the Ring reaches its end, then they'll ignore the Ring and keep playing until one player really wins.

Melinda kept asking "how can there be two good armies fighting each other?" I guess everybody thinks they're the good guys and their opponents are bad guys. How can there be any good guys in Risk at all, when the game is global conquest?


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