The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone PS4 Review

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is an incredible game by itself. It’s also a very big game, you could easily spend 100 hours playing and still have more to do. I think this is the reason it took me so long to get round to playing the Hearts of Stone expansion, I was all Witchered out. But I’m glad I finally did because itwasn’t long before I was reminded why I love this series so much.

It’s worth noting up front that to even play this downloadable expansion they recommend that you’re level 32 which is pretty close to end game. There will also be general spoilers for the Hearts of Stone quests in this review.

Once again we take control of Geralt of Rivia, resident monster hunter and all around problem solver of this world. He takes on a seemingly innocuous contract to slay a monster in the sewers. This ends up being a pretty annoying boss fight that turns south and ends up with Geralt imprisoned on ship destined for a far away land to be executed. This is where the real story begins, a mysterious man appears and offers Geralt a way off the ship if he in turn helps this disturbingly sinister man out with his problems. 

A Witcher Always Repays His Debt

You’re tasked with fulfilling 3 requests to repay your debt that take you all over the surrounding countryside of Novigrad. They haven’t added any new landmass for you to explore in this update, instead they made good use of some areas that you wouldn’t visit during a normal play through of the main game. This meant a lot of the areas felt new even though they technically weren’t.

The first quest I embarked on was to show Vlodimir Von Everec one last night on the town, sounds simple enough right? Well it turns out that he’s been dead for quite a while. You end up having to go and resurrect him from their family crypt and let him possess your body so he can go and attend a wedding party. This leads to some great comedic moments where Vlodimir is being his outgoing, womanising self in Geralt’s body which is a complete contrast to his regular stoic personality. This is a great example of how the Witcher subverts your expectation that it’s just another stuffy, self serious high fantasy game and shows that it’s not afraid to get completely ridiculous and light hearted from time to time. 


The next task I embarked on was to retrieve some important documents from an auction house. The owner was less than cooperative so you end up planning a heist mission to get into the auction house’s vault. You even get a choice of which specialists you recruit to breach the vault door and scale the building. I love situations like this where they insert modern story concepts into the fantasy world of the Witcher.

Geralt’s Choice

The final task culminates in a sort of twisted retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, giving you a glimpse of everyone’s dark past. There are some tough choices for you to make along the way influencing whether certain characters live or die. The most important of these giving you a time limit when deciding your answer just to ratchet up the intensity one more notch. 


Other than these story missions (which can take around 10 hours to complete) they do add in a few extra bits and pieces. There’s a new weapon and armour enchanter who can add unique upgrades to your equipment. A snazzy new all black suit of Witcher armor to collect throughout the quests. They do add a new Witcher contract too where you have to try and find someone’s lost friend but it seemed very uneventful, unless I messed it up in some way and missed something (which I have done before).

Overall I really enjoyed this expansion, it doesn’t really fix any of the problems people had with the base game. The item system is still a bit clunky to navigate and the game can still slow down and stutter if there are lots of enemies on screen. They’ve said they would try and make some more improvements to the performance of the game this month when they release the next expansion though. If you were like me and not sure if you were ready to come back to the game I would definitely recommend it just for the new quests alone.

★★★★☆

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Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Rating 12A, 144 minutes

X-Men: Apocalypse is like one of those birds within a bird within a bird that you can get reasonably cheap from Iceland (and most other decent supermarkets of your choice). It’s overstuffed to the hilt, crammed together with little regard for form or presentation that it is hard really get a grip on all the new stuff while simultaneously trying to enjoy the old stuff. Bryan Singer has a habit of throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into his films and Apocalypse is no different.

We open with some Mummy-esque Egyptian tomfoolery as poor old Oscar Isaac is plucked from the masses to be the new vessel for the ‘world’s first mutant’ Apocalypse. For reasons I will not spoil because it is actually a pretty nifty opening sequence, he ends up buried for a 1000 years or so under a heap of rubble deep beneath the city of Cairo. Cut to 1983 and the X-Men aren’t really the X-Men. Charles and Hank are still helping the weird and wonderful mutant children of the world in that ridiculous house, Mystique is hopping around Europe helping random mutants where she sees them (and we get a nice sequence in East Berlin where we are introduced to Nightcrawler (whom i love) and Angel (whom i can live without)), and Magneto is living incognito in Poland with a family. We also get a decent introduction to dear old Scott Summers who, thank god, is infinitely less annoying than his previous guise (sorry James Marsden), and Jean Grey is re-introduced as a sassy loner who the rest of the school is mildly terrified of.

In Cairo, some nosy CIA agent (hi Moira!) lets the old immortal cat out of the bag and our dear Oscar emerges from his cocoon looking like a cross between Ivan Ooze and Imhotep, and he is not a happy bunny. He spouts some hokum about false gods, the world needing to be cleansed, systems needing to be torn down and all that usual megalomaniacal stuff after putting his hand on a television. He then starts in earnest to locate his four horsemen (Storm, Angel, Psylocke, and Magneto), with each getting their own scene of transformation and change. Magneto’s thread in particular has decent emotional heft which is also aided by the fact Fassbender is an absolutely cracking actor, but some of that heft is dulled by a strangely bizarre scene in a certain famous concentration camp that left me feeling more uncomfortable than anything.

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From here X-Men: Apocalypse heads down that now familiar superhero film route of wanton destruction, bloodless deaths of millions and oodles and oodles of CGI. The whole charm of the first two X-Men films and, to an extent, First Class was the sparing use of full bloodied action sequences. They were there but they weren’t bombastic honking blares of noises and things loudly crumbling and disintegrating. They were neatly positioned and neatly executed, but in the post-Avengers/Marvel throng, it now seems that every superhero film must have these increasingly lengthy and pointless blitzes and the more I see them, the more wistful I become for the good old days.

Apocalypse himself suffers from having a very vague and underdeveloped motivation for wanting to cleanse the world. He’s basically just a power hungry, greedy bastard clown man. Isaac does well with what he gets, some of his lines are undoubtedly cheesy but he delivers them with enough gravitas to get away with it. Fassbender is the stand out of the rest of the cast, though it does help that Magneto has the most emotionally intense character arc of the lot. He and McAvoy, as always, bounce off each other with great aplomb, although there is only so many times in so many different locations i can watch Charles tell Erik that there is good in him. McAvoy himself doesn’t get that much to work with on the whole, but he delivers some nice comic touches in his scenes with Hank and Moira which makes a nice change from the intense Charles that we are so used to seeing. Jennifer Lawrence is a little bit flat here, and there is a distinct whiff of ‘contractual obligation’ in her delivery. Evan Peters as Quicksilver steals every scene he is in. His holler of ‘WE DON’T KNOW BRO!’ got one of the biggest laughs in the screening. The newbies, on the whole, hold their own. Kodi Smit-Mcphee (whose name annoys me for no discernable reason) adds a wonderful amount of levity to proceedings as Nightcrawler. As mentioned before, Cyclops is far less slappable and credit must go to Tye Sheridan for that, and Sophie Turner is pretty decent as Jean Grey even if she does spend a lot of her time gawping (judging by the ending of the film and what the producers/writers/directors have said in various interviews she is going by playing a far bigger part in the future).

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In the grand scheme of things, X-Men Apocalypse is not a bad film but it’s certainly not a great one. Tonally, it’s a mess. Pacing wise it works. Through its reasonably lengthy 144 minute run-time i never found myself bored or disinterested, and in this day and age that’s quite an achievement. The CGI is rather cartoonish when placed in comparison to Marvel’s output, however, even if it wasn’t a deliberate move by Singer et al, I found some of it rather charming. To see a superhero film actually embrace the non-realism instead of going all Nolan and gritty (hello BvS) was a refreshing change.

There is a little too much scraping over old ground in terms of character exchanges (Charles and Erik in particular have the same argument that they had in First Class and Days of Future Past – they should just get married and have it over with) and some dialogue is eye-roll inducing but on the whole Apocalypse is a pretty solid, entertaining entry into X-Men film history if a little devoid of originality.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J. Maas (Book Review)

This contains spoilers for both A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist And Fury.

A Court of Thorns and Roses was forgettable for me.download (2)

Going into A Court of Mist and Fury was hard, I honestly couldn’t remember a lot of what happened in the previous book and struggled to get into the new novel. As I started reading, small things came back to me… Feyre killed what she thought was a wolf but what turned out to be a faerie, so is taken captive to the other side of the wall where faeries live and humans don’t. This is where my mind became very blurry; I remembered her slowly falling in love with Tamlin and something to do with a curse that only she could break…  I remembered that A Court of Thorns and Roses was a loose retelling of Beauty and The Beast and I remember the plot to Beauty and The Beast so I figured reading A Court of Mist and Fury would be like following on from my favourite Disney film.

I do not remember Feyre dying… No do I remember much about any of the trials she went through Under the Mountain.

This was a slight problem at the beginning of A Court of Mist and Fury but I soon realised that this book was so much better than the first. If you struggled with A Court of Thorns and Roses and are unsure about continuing onto the next book?  Honestly, you will not regret continuing.

Where do I even start with this book? The story was great, I found that it was really easy to follow and unlike a lot of 500+ page books, I never once wondered where it was going with the plot or when it would end. I often read big books and after 100 pages, I feel like everything has already happened and the rest of the book is just filling pages. This was different, after 100 pages I was hooked.

In this follow up novel we see Feyre unhappy and struggling to find peace with previous events which happened Under the Mountain. (I still can’t really remember those events.) Feyre is living with Tamlin who is trying hard to protect her so won’t let her leave the house or grounds fesring for her safety, much to Feyre’s annoyance. After making a bargain with the enemy Rhysand, she is swept off to his court (Night Court) for one week a month. This soon becomes a blessing as she feels trapped at home feels more like a prison since she can’t leave. After a day when Tamlin leaves Feyre locked in the house she is saved by Rhysand and goes to live with him in Night Court deciding that Spring Court (Tamlin’s home) is no longer her home.  Once in Night Court she realises Rhysand isn’t all that bad and she soon begins to find herself with him and his close friends.

Now let’s talk about Rhysand, or Rhys for short… I’ve always classed Luke Brandon, from the Shopaholic series, as my ideal book boyfriend but since reading this book that has all changed. Rhys is perfect. He’s your typical bad boy who everyone hates but when you get to know him you realise he isn’t all that bad and in fact he’s actually a really nice guy. I fell in love with Rhys so bad, throughout the whole thing I was just waiting for Feyre to realise that he is perfect and he’s everything she wants in a man and when it eventually happened (and things got VERY explicit) I was overjoyed.

As I mention, the book is very explicit, especially considering it’s written for a young adult audience but Sarah J. Maas writes it just so perfectly. The sex scenes never once made me laugh or cringe and I felt it was written in a good way for young adults who are perhaps reading about sex for the first time. It didn’t say that you have to be married before you have sex but it did bring out the message that sex is better with someone that you care about and love. Considering the age of the target audience, I found this aspect very important.

The characters were all so well written throughout the entire book. I loved Mor and found Amren sassy and strong. Cassian and Azriel were very macho but they cared about their friends more than anything else and I found myself wanting to be part of their friend group and I wanted to live in Velaris with them all.

Throughout A Court of Mist and Fury we find out that when Feyre was brought back from the dead by the leaders of each court, she was given power from each of them and I loved finding out what Feyre was able to do. Her struggle with understanding her power and the slow realisation that she was actually able to master them was brilliant. I specifically loved the wolves that she made out of water and the way she was able to control them.

The ending got a little bit muddled for me. This was the only thing I wasn’t 100% with in the book. After spending most of her time writing about Feyre and Rhysand’s relationship, the end felt somewhat rushed. Feyre had successfully collected both parts of a book which they needed to use in order to destroy The Cauldron (which was going to be used as a key feature to the oncoming war where mortals would all die or become slaves to faerie) and  so they went to do so however Feyre gets distracted and fails in her goal before Tamlin and Lucien (Tamlin’s right hand man) turn up and explain that they had agreed with the king that if he brought Feyre to Tamlin, Tamlin would allow faerie to pass through his court and enter the mortal realms thus starting the war. This bit all happened within a couple of chapters and I honestly felt like too much was happening all at once. The book was already 600+ pages so why not add 100 more to tell the story properly?

All told, the book was amazing; it had everything I look for in a good novel. It has great romance and a great friendship groups.  I loved the plot and I even loved the rushed plot twist. My only issue is that I have to wait for the next book to be released and I don’t think I’ll find something that I loved this much before the next book in the series.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

My Life in Film: Why I Love Movies

Ever since I was a kid I loved movies. When I was really young I loved Disney movies. The delightful animation and catchy songs with a dollop of lovable characters captured (along with a whole host of pre-schoolers) my imagination. I remember proudly proclaiming that ‘Ariel had turned into a fewman’ when I was about 3 years old. Though I would say that Alice in Wonderland was my ultimate favourite.

alice in wonderlandThe story of a girl who is not interested in what the grown ups want her to do, who retreats into her own fantasy world populated by white rabbits, dodos, smoking caterpillars, and ruddy faced queens spoke to me. I wanted to retreat into that world and away from the one where I was constantly told what to do, and how to behave. I found it hard to understand the world in which I lived, and so Wonderland with it’s bright colours and nonsensical ways made much more sense to me. It was a world where anything could happen and was not constrained by convention, something I never really got along with.

As the years progressed so did my knowledge and taste in movies. I bawled my eyes out when Littlefoot thinks his mother’s returned, only to find out it was his shadow all along. As I grew up in the 90s there was a lot of classics from the times, Cool Runnings was always popular. I think my grandmother can still recite the entire scripts of Home Alone II, Look Who’s Talking 2, Three Men and a Little Lady and Sister Act II: Back in the Habit from them being on repeat whenever my brother and I were at her house. I used to make her watch Mr Nanny with the brilliant acting skills of Hulk Hogan, right until the end when I would get scared and make her turn it off. I think she’s still annoyed about that.

During this time my parents were getting a divorce, and as would become a pattern in my life during tough times it was to films that I turned for comfort and support.

mrs-doubtfire-1993Mrs Doubtfire was timed just right for this maelstrom in my life. Like everybody else I was entertained by the antics of Robin Williams drag act, the scene where he has to seamlessly switch between himself and Mrs Doubtfire for an inspection from the comically dour Mrs Selna in particularly entertaining and a great example of the physical performance Robin Williams became famous for.

Seeing a story about other kids going through the same heartbreak that I was brought a great comfort in the sadness that I was feeling in that time. At a time when I felt along in the world with no one to turn to, Robin Williams, Sally Field, and Mara Wilson were there for me to let me know that I wasn’t alone and there are others out there who have experienced similar emotions.

As the 90s gave way to the 00s and adolescence started rearing it’s head the movies I was watching also started to mature a little. Along with the usual teen fare of the time like American Pie, She’s All That, and Mean Girls. It was at this time however that my tastes starting diverting away from the mainstream. I had an old television in my room, so I was able to easily sneak up late at night and watch all manner of movies I was far too young to be watching. I saw Stand by Me at 11 and cried like the little girl I was. It was these late night television sessions that I credit with really helping to shape my view of the world. I was able to explore the worlds of the weirdos, the strangers, the eccentrics. People like me.

On the night of my 13th birthday Channel 4 screened Trainspotting, the second feature film from Danny Boyle who would go on to be an Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire.

This was the first ‘grown up’ film I really, truly loved. I watched it at least once a week for at least a year.

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, Trainspotting is a story of outsiders, not just that, but outsiders who don’t care about and actively reject the mainstream ‘ I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you’ve got heroin?’. As a teenager who from a young age had struggled to fit into the tiny town where I was raised this spoke to me. I’m not saying that I rushed out and tried heroin (to this day I have never stuck a needle in my arm, that bit seemed kinda yucky) but it was here that I learnt that it was OK to go against the grain and choose your own life with it’s own rules.

trainspotting

When I was eighteen I packed up my bindle and waved goodbye to my mother as I set off to find my fortune in Sunderland. After quickly finding out this is not possible in Sunderland I settled on plan B and decided to study media production. Though I watched many new movies, studied them and was even a member of the film soc. I began to feel my love of movies wane a little. I still watched as many as possible, but I found that they were being used for as a distraction or something to have on in the background as I did work or looked at cat pictures on the internet (this was the naughties, it was still funny back then). This movie slump lasted through graduation and taking my first tentative steps in full time employment. I thought my movie spark was gone.

Then one night, when I was in my mid 20s I decided to watch Tommy, the rock opera penned by The Who about a deaf dumb and blind kid, who can sure play a mean pinball.

I don’t know what it was, it could have been the blindingly brilliant visual feast, it could have been the wonderful songs, it could have been any number of things. Whatever it was something clicked inside of me and my love of cinema came back with avengeance.

I had seen Tommy before as a teenager, and though I always enjoyed it, it was not until the viewing on this fateful night that I well and truly understood what I was looking at. It was genius in movie form.

Thus began a renaissance  for my love of movies, I was able to enjoy movies even more than I had when I was younger and on a much deeper level.

tommy

As well as being amazing for so many reasons Tommy will always have a special place in my heart for reigniting my passion for movies. Before I was very selective about what I would watch, and would randomly take against certain genres but now I’ll watch and (mostly) enjoy everything and anything.

So, why do I love movies? I love them because they’ve brought me worlds I can get lost in, they’ve brought me characters that have helped me through tough times. They have helped me to bring more of an understanding of our world through the stories they bring. We all have that one form of art that speaks to us, that we can turn to when we need it. It can be used to express yourself in ways you never thought possible. For some this is artworks, for others music. For me, it’s movies.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review 

Rating 12, Runtime 100 minutes

In 2007 Michael Bay broke my heart with the release of Transformers. He took characters that I’d been in love with since I was a child and turned them into unrecognisable walking piles of scrap metal. So when I heard he was going to tackle the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles next what was left of my inner child’s heart sank again, so I just ignored it. Then I see an announcement for a sequel and that they’re adding Rocksteady, Bebop and Krang who’re my 3 favourite TMNT characters. I just had to know, everything in the universe was telling me not to watch this movie but I did and guess what? I liked it.

TMNT Begins

As you can probably imagine I was watching this movie with a very critical eye, trying to find faults. I was initially worried they were trying to do a gritty reboot and in doing so would lose TMNT’s charm. The first warning bells started going off when I saw this movies version of The Foot Clan. Instead of ninjas they’re more of a masked private army with assault rifles and grenades. They probably thought people weren’t ready to accept a criminal ninja group in a realistic setting (luckily that didn’t stop the guys over at Netflix’s Daredevil).

We get our first glimpse of a Ninja Turtle at the docks as a bunch of armed thugs are taken out 1 by one by a shadowy figure amongst a bunch of shipping containers (just like Batman Begins). This is witnessed by junior reporter April O’neil (Megan Fox) who’s the only one in town trying to get evidence on the evil ninja gang apparently. She’s followed around by Vernon played by Will Arnett doing a low key Gob Bluth impression. She eventually meets the turtles on a rooftop as they celebrate successfully stopping our heavily armoured Foot Clan again but she faints once she realises what she’s looking at.

The turtles look hideous, which I think is great. Honestly that’s what I would expect a bunch of mutants who grew up in a sewer to look like. Their individual characters were pretty much spot on too. Leonardo leads the group as he always did and tries to enforce Splinter’s (the turtle’s radical rat father) teachings. Donatello is the tech nerd of the group, he does machines and helps them with any computer problems they face. Raphael is cool but crude (gimmie a break), he’s the tough guy who always wants to run headlong into battle and is constantly butting heads with Leo. Lastly we have Michelangelo the resident party dude, he’s the baby of the group and is usually more concerned with cracking jokes and eating pizza than fighting. One thing that weirded me out was that Michelangelo was always trying to hit on April. It would have been fine as a throw away line here or there but he just didn’t let up, even in the face of grave danger the bad pickup lines just kept coming.

Turtle Soup

Speaking of danger, we do have a classic TMNT villain in this movie too. The Shredder!

And he’s got a giant robot suit made of knives! This was another part that worried me about this movie when I saw early pictures. He kinda does look like a Transformer but in the actual movie he’s pretty terrifying. There were actually times I thought he was going to murder Splinter, some of the fight scenes were pretty brutal which I wasn’t really a fan of. I get that they want to create suspense and real life consequences but I didn’t ever want to see Splinter get beaten half to death or see Shredder step on Raph so hard that his shell starts to crack.

For the next movie I hope they let us see a bit of Shredder’s more goofy side that we saw in the 80s cartoon. Krang and Shredder were great together, they would bicker like an old married couple that were stuck with each other forever. Shredder does actually say his classic “Tonight I dine on turtle soup” line but it’s in Japanese and without a hint of levity.


Out of the Shadows

I genuinely liked this movie, it was by no means perfect and you won’t see any oscar worthy performances here but there is some fun to be had. The fight choreography was pretty good as well, the highlight for me being when Splinter got involved, never has he looked so cool beating people up and using his rat tail to throw people around.

I can only hope that this movie was them getting all their semi-serious backstory out of the way so they can focus on stupid fun in the sequel. I want to see all the dumb stuff from the cartoon in live action: Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang and his robot suit that looks like a giant baby with sunglasses, Baxter Stockman as a mutant fly, Casey Jones, alien triceratops people, mouser robots, the turtle blimp, mutant pizza monsters, the Technodrome and anything else they’ve got the rights to. 

★★★☆☆

Board Game: Scoville

Ages 13+ 2-6 Players 60-90 mins.

I have lost days to farming games. I love building my little town and growing my crops. It makes me feel at one with my pastoral upbringing without having to actually get muddy or smell the general aura of animal muck that comes with the country.

When I heard about Scoville I clapped my little hands with glee and did a little on the spot dance. Farming AND a board game. It was looking like my life was going to get that bit hotter.

So I toddled down to my local board game shop paid my money, bought bandages for my singed fingers from handling the hottest game in town and took it home to drink in all the beautiful elements and wonderful rules.

It even has a little back story. The residents of a small town loved Wilbur Scoville (who invented the Scoville scale, the hotness scale for peppers) they named their town after him and have an annual pepper festival where the hottest peppers are the most prized possessions.

scoville contents
So many pretty components

What you get in the box

  • 1 Game Board
  • 65 Auction Cards
  • 48 Market cards
  • 12 Award Cards
  • A load of coins
  • 18 Bonus Action Tiles
  • 4 Breeding Charts
  • 6 Player Screens
  • 6 Farmers/Player Discs
  • Many, Many, Many Peppers

 

I just want to take this moment to talk about the pieces you get. They are so well made. From the little coins (which are super tiny) to the board, which is super clear and has an area for all the cards you’ll be using. You even get little pepper meeples. Pepereeples! You don’t feel like the manufacturers skimped on anything during production.

farmer meepleIn fact, this was a kickstarter originally and some of the stretch goals were to upgrade from coloured cubes to actual peppers, and to have the hottest of the hot peppers become plastic see through sparkly phantom peppers. They also upgraded the farmer tokens to little farmer meeples for the harvesting phase.

 

It’s so bright and colourful you’ll feel like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction opening the briefcase of fun. Only this time you’ll get to see the hot stuff inside. 

How to play

scoville set up

Each player chooses their colour, and gets a player board for hiding your hoard of peppers and points cards. You also get a counter for the turn order track and a farmer meeple for harvesting the crops.

The aim of the game is to get the most points, points are represented by a number within a flame and can be found on some of the market cards, the recipe cards and your bonus action tiles.

Scoville is played in rounds, and there are three phases to each round.

The round starts with a silent auction, you place how many coins you want to bid, you all reveal at the same time, whoever bids the highest gets to choose where they go in the turn order, the second highest goes next and so on.

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Turn order track

It is here that we come to one of the first great things about Scoville. You see, in this game choosing your turn order can be very difficult. In the second phase (planting) whoever is in the number one slot goes first, two goes second etc. In the second phase (harvesting) whoever was last during planting goes first to harvest. Then for the third phase, (fulfilment) back to number one going first. It’s the hardest decision you have to make sometimes for reasons that will become clear.

Once the turn order has been established it’s onto the first phase of the round. Planting. Ooooo, I hear you collectively say.

farmers scoville
Peppers in the field

The player going first chooses which pepper they would like from the auction areas of the board and puts it in their inventory. They then choose any pepper from their inventory to place onto the board. You can place it wherever you like so long as it’s horizontally or vertically adjacent to a pepper already in the field.

After the last person has planted it’s time to harvest your glorious produce. This is the really juicy part of the game for me. It’s where all your plans from the first phase come to fruition, and can be worth going last to plant to go first to harvest.

scoville chart
Breeding chart

You grab the farmer meeple of the appropriate colour and start off in the little star in the middle. you get to move up to three steps, always going forwards. Every time you land between two peppers, you consult your breeding chart, see what colour they make and you get that colour pepper in your inventory. So for example if you land between a purple and a green, it would make a white that you get to place in your inventory. Wherever you land on your last step you stay until the next harvesting phase.

Once you have quite a few peppers on the board you can really start to plan out your route, and you plan what peppers you want to plant to get the combo you want for the colour you need. The other really great thing about this is the player interaction. This mechanic allows you to block your opponents from getting to certain peppers, you can’t go through another player’s farmer and you cannot occupy the same space, so if you choose to land between two colours that make a hot, hot, hot pepper, nobody else will be able to swoop in and take it. Likewise it means that you can spend a few turns building up a great route full of brilliant combos to get the peppers you want, can be usurped by another player, if you’re not first to harvest that is.

recipe cards
Some of the recipe cards you’ll be vying for

When we’re all grinning with glee or frowning in frustration at not getting the peppers we wanted we can move onto the fulfilment phase. This is when you can exchange your peppers for chili recipe cards, market cards, or you can just sell up to five peppers for coins. Remember, the turn order goes back to number one going first, so someone else might be able to get in before you and swipe that recipe card worth 24 points from under your nose. 

See why it’s so hard choose your turn order? You need to go first to make sure you get that red hot recipe card, but at the same time, if you go last you’re more likely to get the peppers needed to get the card.

 

I love this game. I’ve played it many times since I bought it last year, and it has been a big hit with everyone I’ve played with.

The theme is just… Lovely, it makes you smile with it’s colours and the farming aspect. Everything looks and feels like a lot of love went into it. It feels like a local village fete. All it’s missing is a WI tea and jam tent.

The game play is simple, yet complex enough to create a beautiful puzzle for you to solve. This ticks a lot of my boxes for the game play. There’s not much, but just enough player interaction, you can plan out your moves way in advance, but can still have it all scuppered by another player’s plans so you have to re-calibrate.

bonus action tilles

The bonus action tiles can be really useful for planning a massive pepper harvest, they get you the ability to go back on yourself once, move one extra step or to plant one extra pepper. You can use more than one during a turn so you can really have a pepper blast! If you decide not to use the tiles, they are worth 4 points each at the end of the game.

You have to make simple, but tough decisions.

The little player screen makes for an exciting finish. The main aim of the screens is to keep the winner a secret until the end. You keep all your pepper stock and any cards you pick up along the way behind there and then tote up the scores at the end. Which is great because you realise you’ve been doing better than you thought. Someone who you thought was definitely going to win might have been bluffing and will come last. It’s the games last hurrah.

A great advantage of Scoville is that it plays up to 6, a lot of other games of a similar calibre tend to be 4 or 5. So the extra player space can be pretty neat if there are a lot of you.

My main criticism for Scoville would be that once you find a strategy you tend to stick with it, there’s not too much scope for trying out new techniques. Which can limit the re-playability a little. The recipe cards start to get a little dull after a while and you start to learn which ones are the best and what is needed to obtain them.

scoville labsThankfully, an expansion has just been kick-started, called Scoville Labs. I received mine a couple of weeks ago. The expansion doesn’t change the main rules, but it does bring up the heat a little more. As it allows you to plant a pepper (after planting on the main board) in your very own little lab. You reap the benefits of any combos made immediately, but after that they just take up more space in your lab. This helps to combat some of those ‘he stole my planned pepper route’ situations and allows you to be a little more selfish with the pepper hoarding. Included are also more recipe cards and market cards that also helps to refresh the game a little.

I liked Scoville labs, I think I’ll need to play it a few more times to really get the scope for what it can do, but it does work well, and I really liked being able to quickly get some of the peppers that I needed without worrying that one of my fellow farmers was going to steal my prize.

scoville by night

I wholeheartedly recommend this game. As part of the Scoville Labs Kickstarter you could get the base game too as one of the rewards. This was to measure the amount of interest in it for a new print run. So, it might be hard to get at the moment, but hopefully it will be winging it’s way to your local board game shop soon!

 

All you need yo do now is ask yourself. Are you ready to feel the burn?

 

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – Ultimate Evil Edition Review – Ps4

I am very late to the Diablo party. It’s a video game series I’ve always heard talked about in high regard but I didn’t have a PC good enough to play the older titles. Thanks to it making it’s way to consoles I was finally able to see what I’d been missing out on.

Traditionally Diablo games are played with a mouse and keyboard like most MMO’s, you click on enemies to attack them and it helps you navigate the complicated menus. So for the PS4 version that had to adjust the menus and the combat to better fit a controller. The combat side of the game translates perfectly but the menus were quite fiddly. Even after multiple hours with the game I would still mess up and end up on the wrong screen or accidently sell something. Luckily Diablo III is a very forgiving game, if you do sell something by accident every merchant has a record of everything you’ve sold and you can buy it back for only a little more than what you sold it for. 

This was one of the main things that impressed me about the game. They’ve done away with many annoying things you usually have to do in RPGs. Every character can generate a magic portal to take you back to town if you need to sell items and when you’re done you go back through it and continue exactly where you left off . You can sell any type of item to any vendor, no running round to find the armor guy just to offload that crappy shield you picked up. Almost every new area has a waypoint that you can teleport to easily from town. Little things you probably just accept in other games but it’s refreshing to see a developer make these quality of life improvements.

A Family That Slays Together…

One of the big things that attracted me to this game was that you can play the full story co-op, with up to 4 players either locally or online. I wanted a game my fiancée Danielle and I could play together that wasn’t too demanding gameplay wise and this was perfect. The game is played at a top down view so both of your characters can run around independently but you can’t go too far away from each other so no one gets left behind. Each player gets to make their own character, with their own items, gold and experience. Gone are the days of player 2 getting the short end of the stick and having to be Luigi or something.

I chose to make a Crusader who’s a slightly more defensive warrior type with a sword and huge shield. While Danielle went with the Demon Hunter who’s an archer that gets access to a host of animal companions like a bat, wolf or even a hog (much to her delight). We didn’t really plan it but these characters went really well together, I would wade into the hordes of enemies and pull their focus while Danielle rained down pointy death from afar. 

Here’s a picture of our heros after finishing the game:

A Lust for Loot

This game is all about loot. You’re constantly picking up better armor and weapons throughout the levels and it’s never not exiting. Regular enemies and chests will drop a few items but when you beat a boss or uncover a secret chest they explode in a fountain of coloured items. It’s a great complement to your victory over a boss as everyone dances round their corpse collecting goodies, it just feels good inside.

There are a lot of different armor sets to collect so the look of your character is always changing. You can dye each individual piece to your liking and even make it invisible in case you don’t like the way a helmet covers your characters face but still want the bonuses from wearing it. You can even change the way weapons look so if you have a strong bow that looks boring you can give it the design of a legendary one but keep all the stats of the original. They really went above and beyond on these features, Blizzard is the same company that makes World of Warcraft so they probably have a lot of experience with what gamers want for outfitting their characters.

Any Way You Like It

Diablo III really does encourage you to play the way you want to play. Once you get far enough in the game there are 11 difficulty levels to choose from. We played the first 4 acts on Normal but by that point we were steamrolling everything so we upped it to Expert. This made the final battle an actual challenge, we had to come up with strategies and actually dodge the boss’s attacks which we hadn’t had to worry about before.

You can change the difficulty at any time from the pause menu so if you get in over your head you can always fall back to Normal. I love this part about the game because it means even if this is your first ever video game you could still beat it and be finding cool items but if you’re an RPG veteran you’ll be rewarded for playing on harder difficulties with more gold and XP.

Story Bored

The main story mode is made up of 5 acts in this version of the game, each one sees you explore themed areas and ultimately fight a big demon boss at the end. Unfortunately the story was the weakest part of the game for me. There’s just nothing special about it, it’s your standard video game fantasy story you’ve probably heard 100 times before. Your hero sets off on a globe trotting quest to save the world by defeating Diablo’s demon generals before confronting him yourself and your character is the only one in the world who has the power to do this. Granted, they don’t really take the story that seriously themselves because most of the characters are usually cracking wise as long as the world isn’t in imminent danger. 

There were charming characters along the way though. My favourite was Zoltun Kulle who is an evil ethereal wizard you’re forced to bring back from the dead because you need his help. He follows you round on one quest constantly saying evil things and trying to recruit you to help him take over the world while your character politely declines. I really wish we could have taken him through the whole game.

Overall we really enjoyed our time with Diablo III, we played the whole game co-op locally and it worked perfectly. If you’ve been curious about the series this is a great jumping on point and it can be enjoyed by players of any skill level.

★★★★☆