Book Review: The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 has only just finished in movie theatres in my local area. I happened to go and see it twice having been a big fan of the original.

Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner left quite an impression on me at around the age of 12 back in 1985, 3 years after the movie was released.

And so it was with some trepidation I stepped into Denis Villeneuve’s sequel.  After all, what’s a Blade Runner movie without Scott and the sardonic somewhat eccentric Rutger Hauer as Batty?

The movie takes place 30 years after the original ( hence the rather imaginative title) and the sad world we saw in 2019 has just gotten worse. Leviathan-like synthetic farms cover great swaths of the landscape. There’s no lush tomato plants or mangoes growing in these greenhouses. Just grubs and algae! Outside of Los Angeles, the rest of this corner of the United States looks like a gigantic rubbish tip with a few scavenger settlements here and there. The city itself has become, if you can imagine it, even more dense, even more dark and more oppressive.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be too far fetched thinking that in another 50 or so years our world might look similar to the world Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve have created.

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How about that! K9 makes an appearance!

Twice I finished the movie undecided as to what I really thought. The second time I enjoyed Blade Runner 2049 a great deal more and I got a lot more out of it and having read the book The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049, I understood more clearly why this was the case. As Michael Green the screenwriter articulates, “the first film was about quantity of life. How much do I have left? This film is about quality of life. How do I live my life? How do I make it meaningful?” Well put and spot on Mike.

And so, for nearly 3 hours (really guys it could have used some editing), Ryan Gosling as the replicant known as K struggles with his existence and the burden of his work which involves taking out earlier generation replicants.

The story is a little too convoluted in some respects but it manages to be more or less a very worthwhile sequel and that is high praise indeed given the almost flawless masterpiece that is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

But what is the book like? Like many movie art books it’s a little thin on information but one expects that. It is after all an art book not a Making Of. But given that, there are some wonderful insights to be learnt within it’s impressive hardback cover.

I particularly liked the page dedicated to the process known as a Baseline that Ryan Gosling’s character has to go through seemingly at the end of each day of operations. Using scrambled text from Nabokov’s book Pale Fire, the company responsible for reconditioning replicants dictates some weird and slightly unsettling prose in an effort to assess and control the emotional quality of their new generation, thus far obedient replicants.

Here is an example: a blood black nothingness began to spin began to spin let’s move onto system system feel that in your body the system have they let you feel heartbreak interlinked within cells interlinked did you buy a present for the person you love within cells interlinked why don’t you say that three times within cells interlinked…

Sinister corporation indeed!

It’s bizarre and unsettling and even as the viewer I felt uncomfortable watching poor K having to go through this. As the movie goes on, one really does empathize with his predicament.

Ryan Gosling seems to go from one completely different movie to another with seemingly no regard  to whether or not the film will have any box office success. I respect that. I also see now that he is quite intelligent in the way he approaches his roles. In the few paragraphs devoted to the process of the Baseline, Ryan Gosling eloquently summarises how this scene helped him to understand his character and beyond that,  in RG’s own articulate words,  “it also provided insight into the state of mind of those who would force this burden upon him.”

Interesting insight into the character indeed.

Beyond character development, the book also does a very adequate job of presenting the design elements of this impressive movie. From urban to natural, although heavily tortured, landscapes, the book gives a wonderful overview of the detail involved in building the world of Blade Runner 2049.

To Villeneuve’s credit, much of the world seems to have been created in real life using stunning physical models and real world locations such as the Inota power plant in Budapest. And then there’s wonderfully crafted locations like an irradiated Las Vegas courtesy of the incredible Syd Mead who was responsible for the futurist design of the original movie.

There is a largish chapter on Wallace’s office building and the quite stunning lighting therein, some nice side notes on the old Blade Runner blaster, a double page devoted to the hologram advertisements that cover the cityscape and of course incredible concept artwork.

For any fan of the movie or movie making in general, this book is a real gem.

One of our favourite parts of the book explains a small device known as the Memory Orb, which was inspired by old analogue cameras and looks like a chunky lens with several different styles. The quarantined and enigmatic Doctor Stelline uses this contraption to create the wonderful memories that comfort the replicants in their brutal existence.

There’s a great deal more to go into and we really enjoyed Mariette’s costume designing as it harkens back to one of our favourite replicants Pris, in fact the costuming in general was top notch, but we won’t spoil everything by giving up the entire contents of this wonderful art book. Denis Villeneuve has done an outstanding job of crafting and styling the movie, the characters, and the world they inhabit and the book does credit to showing the enormity of the project he, his crew and cast undertook.

Was the movie as stylistic as the original? In some ways it surpasses it, particularly in the grandness of the scale in Blade Runner 2049. This is seen nowhere more fully than when K find the belaguered Rick Deckard, now a hermit, living in an abandoned and irradiated Las Vegas.

One has to keep in mind too that this is a world 30 years in the future and things change. Ridley Scott’s vision feels rightly antiquated but also slightly more stylized with a great deal more emphasis on detail. For example, there is a major difference in stylistic detail one can see in Deckard’s original apartment compared to K’s more spartan apartment. I wish they spent a bit of time on his apartment in the art book, oh well!

But then we see this dystopic future becomes more and more brutal, less stylistic and more functional ( I mean everyone’s eating grubs and algae for heaven’s sake! So much for noodles!). So we can see the impact upon the way people must live in their environment and it ain’t pretty or stylish!

We are still going to tip our hats in favour of Ridley Scott’s original, but Blade Runner 2049 is an exceptional sequel and The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 is a very worthy keepsake!

If you’re a fan of the movie, get yourself a copy today. Thanks to Titan Books for a review copy.

Burgle Bros Review

Since the introduction of games like Pandemic, the cooperative game has become more popular amongst tabletop hobbyists. They provide a chance for teamwork, productive and funny table conversations and sometimes it’s nice to change gears from your typically competitive games night.

Well, another cooperative board game has hit the shelves and this time it’s by Tim Fowers and it’s called Burgle Bros. In a nutshell, it encapsulates the heist movie genre almost perfectly!

Tim Fowers is what you might call a boutique game maker. He’s not particularly large-scale to my knowledge but his output so far seems of very high quality. One might call him a board game artisan. We also had the opportunity of playing Paperback, which is another of his titles, and were also impressed. That review will come shortly…

We don’t bore you or ourselves with lengthy rules explanations on this site, but to give you a brief idea: this game plays out with a modular board made up of tiles that build levels of a skyscraper you have to stealthily work your way through whilst avoiding the ever-present guards. On those tiles, which are generally kept hidden from the players until they enter the room, you will find an assortment of rooms with puzzles to crack and solve and traps to avoid. From safe rooms to frustrating keypad rooms and boring old foyers, there are chambers designed to equally frustrate and delight you.  There is plenty going on here, including the genre-specific laser room! Just think of a svelte Catherine Zeta Jones in the movie The Entrapment… Give me a minute…

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I bet she doesn’t know that laser stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

Right then!

Though this game can be played solo, which will be a chief criticism shortly, it’s a lot more fun working with other mischievous thieves to find the loot and escape the building. It’s a wonderfully modular game that accommodates short or long play times and enables players to setup 1, 2 or 3 building levels in the skyrise your burglars will navigate their way through. We will say that with 4 players on three levels it did outstay its welcome a little bit but only with some of us.

The artwork, as with Tim Fowers’ games generally, is absolutely fantastic. It looks like 1950s or ’60s cartoons.  It’s a little bit Mad Men and a lot of Hanna Barbera and the quality throughout is fantastic!

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There were some rules that were a little clunky here and there (but write to Tim and you will actually get a response, which is very impressive. Tried getting a response from Fantasy Flight Games? Then you know what I am talking about!) But for the most part, the rulebook is super clear and I had a couple of novice board game players up and running in no time. This is novice and family friendly indeed without becoming a soon-to-bore-you, one hit wonder.

Now on to our chief concern… This isn’t a peculiarity to this game but it is to the cooperative genre. Like any cooperative game, you are meant to work as a team. However, there is always someone who has more knowledge than the others or, as is sadly sometimes the case, an alpha player who insists on making all the decisions for everyone. We did not experience the latter but there was no doubt that I had more knowledge of the game than the other players and it was, on occasion, difficult not to dictate the best course of action. But that’s where the player must imbue a sense of patience and team spirit. Who cares if the decision by a less experienced player spells capture and a lengthy jail sentence for everyone!

But for people who take their games seriously (yawn!), a word of caution is advised. Generally speaking if I see a game that calls itself cooperative that can be played by one player I’m always a little hesitant. If it can be played well solo is it truly a team game? That is to say, are other players’ involvement vital to the success of a game? In this case it’s not and in the case of most cooperative games it is not. For that very reason, I am not really a fan of cooperative gaming. But this is one game that is light enough to not bother me in that area so much.

It’s a keeper. Bunyip Kingdom thoroughly recommends trying this game out!

We were kindly supplied a review copy by Tim Fowers. But spare him not from criticism shall we!

The Art of the Ghost in the Shell Book Review

The Ghost in the Shell…the cyberpunk soaked storyline that has captivated it’s audience for nearly 30 years. It has moved from manga to anime to the big screen. It’s a creative property that most of the fan base are quite rabid over.

Understandably so. In its earliest form it was part science-fiction part philosophical text. It questioned what it was to be human,  very much like it’s progenitor Blade Runner and The Matrix that followed.

In an age of recent and burgeoning A.I. hysteria The Ghost in the Shell is even more topical now.

The movie became its own thing and faced its own set of contentions, weathering claims of white washing (possibly deserved) and not doing justice to the property.

We disagree with the latter at least. At 1 hour and 47 minutes it was really never going to scratch the byzantine surface of this remarkable cyberpunk world but it did a damn good job in trying and we enjoyed the film greatly. But what is the art book like?

We’ve opened the covers, had a good look and we share our thoughts here.

Initially the impression is outstanding. This is a Titan Books production and it is quality throughout. The cover is a wonderfully bold detailed image of a cyber geisha as seen in the movie.

The introduction by WETA workshop founder Richard Taylor is promising for what lies ahead. He and his crew clearly have a great deal of love for TGITS universe.

The image quality is astounding throughout with very little exception.  It is wonderful to see the development of Kusanagi and the world she inhabits and the book does justice to how much work and effort occurred behind the scenes.

There are fascinating insights on location scouting. The final location for the majority filming was Wellington, NZ or as it is called in the book Wellingkong. It seems the budget couldn’t afford London or Berlin and so more power to the Kiwis who’s show not just great creativity in the cinematic arts but fantastic entrepreneurship!

There is nothing new about the ‘sologram’ or so called solid hologram that the movie uses to adorn it’s cityscapes but nevertheless that is also an interesting chapter.

What we absolutely loved in the book is the way it details the integration of old school physical modelling, coupled with modern computer imagery. It’s nice to see that the director in his own words prefers ‘shooting amid the textures and details of real streets.’ This artistic philosophy carries through on every part of this movie and in this book. We can see a beautiful integration of prosthetics models and CG which is very welcome in a movie market saturated with almost solely computer generated over-the-top affairs with very little substance.

The concept art is also wonderful. It is excellent to see the evolution of the robot geisha, one of our favourite things about the movie. In particular, we were delighted at the attention to detail in their costumes. But not only costumes designed for the robot geisha but for the citizens of the so-called Wellingkong.

Hats off to Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller. It seems to be getting particularily rare to see such imaginative costuming. But Swanson and Mueller put their flare on display with every thread and stitch.

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Does this look like David Bowie to you?

 

The book covers characters, constructing the future, locations, cinematography, action sequences and is capped off with a thoughtful conclusion.

Our one and only criticism,  common to books of this type, is that we would like to have seen some more detailed writing backing up the subject matter, though text is not as scarce as in so many similar books.

We thoroughly recommend you purchase The Art of the Ghost in the Shell by Titan Books. It goes beyond a meer coffee table book towards something fans of science fiction will truly appreciate for years to come!

Stay tuned over the next couple of months as we look at more titles from Titan Books including the new Blade Runner 2049 art book!

Coming Soon! Blade Runner Special!

We are more than just about games! Soon we will be taking a look at the new Blade Runner movie, including a review of a number of related books and how this seminal piece of work has influenced so many films, books and games! Massive thanks to Titan books in advance!

All these moments coming to you soon…

Ripper Roller Coasters!

Roller coasters are great fun! I remember enjoying my fair share of them as a younger fellow. The fear of riding the demon at Wonderland, the joy of the wooden roller coaster at Luna Park, cannot be beat!

I always marvelled at their design and wondered what it would be like to build my own…

Well, wonder no more! Having purchased K’Nex Double Doom, I excitedly dived into the world of K’Nex for the first time and enjoyed every moment of this build.

Instructions are for the most part very clear and the pieces of very high quality with the majority of this product being manufactured in the United States of America. The unit was so good I purchased Electric Inferno and will be posting that shortly.

The system allows for great adaptation and I look forward to eventually designing my own roller coasters. Not since Technic Lego have I enjoyed a toy this much!

K’nex also has a superb customer service system whereby in the unlikely event that your set is missing a part you simply contact them and they send the missing part out.

These sets can be purchased in Australia but also very easily from Amazon.

We at Bunyip Kingdom thoroughly recommend the Doubke Doom roller coaster and stay tuned for more on K’Nex Thrill Rides!

Captain Sonar Review

I’m a bit of a jaded gamer. I look at a lot of games and I have been playing games since the nineteen eighties and usually I’m seeing a game with similar mechanics to hundreds of other games just with a different coat of paint.  If you’ve been a tabletop gamer for awhile,  you’ll know what I mean.

Then along comes a game like Captain Sonar that blows me out of the water!  See what I did there?…

It is the odd occasion I walk away from a game and think about it for days afterwards. It’s also quite rare for me to be immersed in the atmosphere of a game usually being taken out of the experience because of components, clunky rulesets, or something else. Not since Twilight Struggle have I felt so ‘in the moment’ during a game.  So it was to my great surprise how immersed and reflective I was upon playing Captain Sonar by Matagot games. I’ve never heard of this company before, but man what a surprise!

Captain Sonar is an intense, competitive experience where two teams face off against one another in unstable, prototype submarines. The flavour text tells you something about militarised corporations fighting over rare earth materials, blah blah.

The rulebook itself is a little bit of a strange beast. At first I looked at it and thought this isn’t very linear. It seems I have to learn four games in one. The role of the radio operator, engineer, first mate and of course the captain. Additionally, I’ll have the dreaded responsibility of having to teach others but then I read the rulebook and realised it was one of the best written and illustrated rule books I’ve come across in a long time.

I don’t do lengthy rules explanations. I like to get to the point and that’s what this rulebook does. You will quickly find out that there are four roles for you to play as above and that you can play either in turn order or real time, both having their pros and cons.

The captain really does have to know all the roles and carefully co-ordinate with his or her crew. The radio operator has the rather tense task of finding where the enemy submarine is on the map. The first mate has to record systems as they come online and are used and has some autonomy to engage drones and sonar, which are vital to finding your enemy submarine. And of course there is the beleaguered engineer. A funny thing about this particular title is that they have chosen to model damage in these prototype submarines by having the engineer pick which system he will take out and then which system he will try to get back online. He does this by coordinating with the captain and advising him what direction the submarine should go in.

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It’s a little clunky and counter-intuitive but on the scale of it all it is only a minor criticism. It does the job of representing an unstable prototype submarine quite well. You are not just taking damage from the enemy submarine you are battling with a new computer, weapons and engine system. Likely the submarine was built by a company that also came well under the required budget and I would say that is not too much of a stretch given that the world you are fighting in seems to have been taken over by capitalists.

Boring ideology aside, this game shines in so many ways. It is an over-simplification to call it ‘battleships on steroids’ but in so many ways it is. Yes there are a lot more bells and whistles and yes there are a lot more things to learn about. But it is worth it and it develops such a deep competitive game that I’m longing to get it back on the table already. That’s actually quite rare. At least for this jaded seadog!

I will also have to say that as it is a team game played with up to 8 people, the fun factor will also be determined by the quality of the players. In fact, it is possible to play this game without having a traditionally good time.  It could be rewarding enough for you to have a quiet intense battle of  minds: one captain versus another! Can anyone say Das Boot?!

In our first game we saw people who had never played a board game before struggle with some of the new ideas and struggle with the idea of having to work as a team. The rule book itself does not talk about protocols that clearly and we were struggling for a little while about who gets to do what and when particularly during a real-time game. It would take very little to clarify this with some basic house rules. Essentially a little bit of submarine etiquette would have gone a long way in the rules book.

People like structure. They can also feel a bit stupid when they have to pump their fist in the air to call the stop even though they secret and desperately want to get into their role. It’s just the nature of humans particularly wallflowers and we did play with people who weren’t that extroverted, which presented some communication challenges. But that is the beauty of team games. Just as in a submarine (I’m guessing!) the captain is dealing with varied crew members and he or she must be able to balance their performance in an effort to identify the location of and destroy the enemy

And atmosphere!  Did I happen to mention the atmosphere of this game! We ramped things up to 11! We played with some wonderful submarine sounds off YouTube that just added to a game that already drips with atmosphere.

Few games will grip your attention and immerse you so fully in their universe. As I mentioned, Twilight Struggle was certainly such a game but they are far and few between.

We can not give a better recommendation for you to go out and buy this game. As long as you are prepared for the dynamics of team gaming we have very little doubt that you will enjoy this title.

Well done Matagot!

 

 

 

 

Sekigahara Review

Sekiga-WHAT?!

Sekigahara was a decisive battle that took place in the year 1600 and helped to establish the Tokugawa shogunate.

This is an interesting and seldom approached premise for a war game in a market that is often saturated with games about World War 1 and World War 2. No bad thing but change is good. I love Japanese themed games too but I will try not to litter this review with my biases!

At Bunyip Kingdom we try to avoid regurgitating rules. We just want to give you a very quick idea of what we thought of the game and usually if we recommend something,  we are quite confident the title has longevity, is easily to moderately accessible, and is well presented and thematically rich (unless we’re dealing with purely abstract games).  But is this one of those overall winners?

One might think that a game that has such a specific theme might not have much general appeal but let me nip that in the bud. Sekigahara is a fun and engaging 2 player game that doesn’t require an incredible amount of investment to enjoy and its ability to entertain is not reliant on whether you particularly like Japanese history.

This is a block game produced by GMT Games. GMT has a well respected run of war games but they can also be quite dense and demanding at times. Sekigahara categorises itself as only a lightly moderate game and I would say that is quite accurate. The rulebook is largely devoted to an historical account of the battle with about 8 pages dedicated to the rules.

It’s simplicity though is quite deceptive. Using number and icon driven blocks and cards, much of the games information is clear and at your fingertips.  Cards display things like allegiances and on occasion special actions. The movement system (also derived from card management) is incredibly simple but still manages to create diverse strategic options that make this game easy to learn but…yep, we’re gonna say it…hard to master.

There is also a great loyalty system that can change enemy units into friendly units for battle. Very quickly, a near defeat can become a victory!

There are even rules that govern siege warfare and capturing supply points which adds to the tactical brilliance of this title!

There is some randomness with card draws and if you bemoan that then we suggest you look elsewhere but we feel (with our years of combat experience😂) that such randomness exists on the battlefield too!

Though it is never our goal to recreate rule books in our reviews we will say this is one of the finest rule books with the greatest clarity we have seen in a long time.

Regarding the quality of components: the blocks, board game, stickers (and yes that is my only gripe – I hate putting stickers on things, but that is the name of the game sometimes) right down to the rule book and box are of exceptionally high quality.

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As with many GMT games the popular titles can quickly go out of print (at least for awhile)  so Bunyip Kingdom suggests you get your copy in haste!

On a humanitarian note, if you purchase this game the author Matt Calkins will be donating his proceeds to assist Japan with ongoing relief from tsunami and earthquake damage. What a guy!

GMT kindly supplied a copy for review. That said, we keep it real!

Lanterns Review

So here we have yet another tile laying game and one must wonder how many iterations of this mechanic can be published without there being too much overlap…

Does Lanterns The Harvest Festival do anything new or do something old in an interesting way or is it just another tile game with a different coat of paint?

In the game of Lanterns you are charged with preparing a lantern display on the lake of a nameless palace. The person who lays down the prettiest lantern display gains the most honour.

To do so you lay down tiles with matching sides or tiles that have platforms to create a hand of cards that enable you to buy honour tokens with varying criteria. For example one token might require you to have one card of each colour. The harder the criterion the more you score.

So if Lanterns is different to other tile games it would be in its card set collection mechanic.

If you have read this far you may be starting to get the impression that I was not very enthused by this and you would be right. Admittedly the first few games were enjoyable enough but I got the same impression for this as I did when I played Between Two Cities. Bland. Super bland. The theme does not shine through very well and at the end of the game you are more or less just fighting for victory points like you are in so many other variants.

The components are reasonable with a mix of cards, wooden tokens and quality tiles and the graphics are attractive.

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But do you need this to add to your tile laying collection? If this is your favourite mechanic, this offers something reasonably interesting and engaging that you might not have experienced before but it’s not a game that I would say is essential to have on your bookshelf. Not when there are other games out there doing this better.

I still have Carcassone the city edition and though it is a bit involved beyond basic Carcassonne, I would say that Carcassone is a far more engaging game that actually makes you feel like you are building something and there are others out there doing that better than Lantern. Basically you’ve seen it all before. Move along. Nothing to see here.

This was an unpaid review. We were provided a review copy.

Red 7 Review

A small game.  A small review.
Red 7 is a card game by Carl Chudyk author of the now infamous Glory to Rome card game (get that one out again through another company guys! Or sumfink!😁).

A quick (as in 5 minutes) game where each player has 7 cards with different values, colours and (like Fluxx but WAAAAAY better) game changing rules that you must be winning by at the end of your turn our your out.
The player elimination element does not hurt this game as it is such a short game anyway you can have a few rounds. You will likely want to have a few more rounds to once you get your head around how simple it is. In fact it’s simplicity was off-putting at first but it offers some reasonable thinking time nothing too serious and not ridiculously light where you want to throw it away the first time you play it.

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This is priced quite well for what you’re getting, the components are very good the rules are fairly clear although maybe better examples of play would have helped and there are advanced rules too. As far as short, so called ‘filler’ games go, this is one is definitely one to look out for.
We were given a courtesy copy for this unpaid review.