Category Archives: Reviews

Legend of the Five Rings LCG review

Back in August, I volunteered to act as a presenter for the Legend of the Five Rings Living Card game at my friendly local game store. Throughout the afternoon, I was only able to demo two games but this offered me the opportunity to read through the cards and the rules a few times. People were more interested in the larger group games or more popular card games like Pokemon, Yugioh or Magic: the Gathering.

I used to be very fond of the game. My first exposure was through the 1st edition of the RPG. We played a very long campaign started in my late teens until my early adulthood. At one point we had up to 6 players, 2 more than our regular table. We played through many of the published adventures and the City of Lies boxed set. One of my proudest moments in gaming was no scoping the source of the thefts in the city based purely on speculation. The GM was stunned when I exclaimed to him: “It’s a monkey!”

I played a bit of the original CCG in Jade but only got into it during Gold and the start of Diamond editions. While I enjoyed the parody work of Rich Wulf, his work as the main writer along with Shawn Carman was atrocious. I really loathed the changes and the direction of the story. The release of the 2nd edition made the game very boring for starting players who would struggle to accomplish anything. Combat was even worse as whomever lost initiative would simply go full defensive and nearly make themselves entirely impervious to attacks because opponents would flail helplessly against the increased target number unless they got a lucky roll.

My friends and I both abandoned the game and its horrible story. Although my best friend later purchased the 4th edition of the game based on positive reviews of the gameplay mechanics. When I read the news of the purchase of the game by Fantasy Flight Games(FFG) from Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), I went back and read the metaplot… it’s no wonder the game slowly died. It read like a Wikipedia article on ongoing comic book stories. Lots of things seem to happen but little of it makes any sense to someone going in blind.

Thankfully FFG had the presence of mind to retcon all the nonsense away and revert back to the 1st edition’s time period pre-CCG. However, this was not done entirely without some changes. The Unicorn clan’s foreign aspect appears to be played up while its Kolat connections appear to have been removed with the change of the clan champion for an entirely new character in that role. The Crane clan champion was “gender bended” in what appears to be a transparent attempt to even out the male/female clan daimyo and also throw in some wank material for guys because they kept in a romance with another character to now have it be a homosexual (read lesbian) relationship. When I told my friend who is into hentai and stuff about the change, he immediately approved of the idea because of the raciness. I am not opposed to the inclusion of homosexual relationships in fiction (in fact I invite it) but it removes a subplot centered around their son from the original story line and could have easily been accomplished by making a completely different character or characters fulfill the role of inclusion. Other minor changes are a recent typhoon devastating the Crane clan’s lands along with the consequences and the rise of a religious cult. Overall, I like the changes.


The game comes with base cards for each of the 7 great clans or factions you can play in the game, with some neutral cards that can be used in all decks. Thus, you are forced to buy multiple boxes to do so. This is counter to the whole concept of the Living Card Game genre. It should allow you to be able to actually play from the onset with future expansions granting different play styles or inevitable power creep into the game. This wouldn’t be too bad if the game didn’t come with a slew of additional tokens and some status cards. It feels like a waste of cardboard. I’d rather they charge a more expensive price to include enough in the base  box than the waste we currently have to deal with. Thankfully, there are game rules for playing with just the cards available in a single starter deck for one and two players.

I do appreciate all the clans inclusion in the box so players can pick and experiment with the different cards and play styles to find which clan suits their preferences.


The game’s artwork, with a few exceptions, is fantastic. Each clan seems to have its own art direction. The Scorpion clan characters are often dimly lit or drawn at night to give a very sinister aesthetic. The Unicorn on the other hand are often in movement, or shot from afar with a bit of an impressionist painting style. It gives a lot of personality to each and I think most inexperienced players to card games or the setting in general will easily find one or more clans appealing based on the art alone.

The artists are also far more progressive than previous iterations of the game. There are no overly gratuitous hints at nudity or ridiculous situations where women are wearing lacquered armour directly over their large exposed breasts.

Samurai women in previous editions were so stoic they ignored nipple chafing.

Sadly, one of the elements that gave the previous versions of the game flavour were quotes or descriptions on cards as flavour text. Very few cards contain this and it isn’t for lack of space. Simple and straightforward cards will have large blank spaces below the description of their game play effect. While not part of the artwork, it definitely lacks in the presentation departments.



In comparison to the CCG, the game is far more interactive between players. The interval where you are the active player is much shorter. Back then, I would play my full turn, then my opponent(s) in order. Now, both players take turns playing a card, activating a card in play or resolving an action. This is a definite improvement and makes the game feel more vibrant. I never felt bored or became distracted while playing which can sometimes happen while you wait your turn. Here, the most you might wait is half a minute to a minute depending on the skill and knowledge of the opponent. The mid to late game remains quick because cards put in play are removed at the end of each turn unless players pay additional resources (thus limiting them in playing more cards) for more than a couple of turns. Unless players use a lot of cheap (and usually weak) cards, it doesn’t seem there is any true incentive to have more than 5-6 cards in play.

One of the more rewarding aspects of the original game was the number of different victory conditions available. It’s been stripped down slightly to three: military, honour, and dishonour. Military victories are achieved by crushing your opponents, driving them into the ground and hearing the lamentation of their women. Unlike the CCG, this seems to be the easiest method to win as even clans who are more known for their political acumen can “attack” your provinces using political might as opposed to force of arms. Both games I played, we were nowhere close to achieving a non-military victory.

Honour victories involve raising your honour to 25. the average starting honour is about 10 but making up that 15 appears quite difficult. I am certain it will change once more expansions are released and more cards become available. Dishonour victories involve disgracing your opponent by reducing his honour counter to 0 and thus forcing him to lose the game. Only one clan has this as a viable strategy although we didn’t have a chance to test them out to see if it works in practice.

Each clan does appear to have its own theme to make them very distinct. The Lion clan remain the military powerhouse they were. The Crane are a political power. The Unicorn seem to be built around moving cards in and out of confrontations and being very fluid and unpredictable. Conversely, the Crab are very much a defensive lot and will make you pay for taking aggressive stances against them.



Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about the game. The designers seem to have done an excellent job of making each clan distinct. The mechanics are solid, fast, and fun. The art direction and artwork is superb. If FFG can continue in this vein while addressing the issue of flavour text and continue to have solid writing, I think this game has a lot of potential.


Fantasy Booking TLC to Rumble

My booking was waaaayyyy off from what transpired at Survivor Series. It doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the event. I liked most of it. Here are my thoughts on the show:

-Tye Dillinger needs to move up to main roster. The 10 chant is going to be the next “Yes!” or “What?”.  Bobby Roode can have a brief run with the NXT title before his own promotion.
-Authors of Pain are going to need more seasoning. A few times they looked sloppy and the recent graphic botch seems to indicate they got some more work to do.
-DIY and the Revival are going to elevate the tag division once they come up to main. WOW.
-Samoa Joe re-gaining the title was quite the surprise. Curious to see how he and Nakamura go forward. I, like many others, thought Joe would be coming up to main after a loss.
-Asuka and James was also a good match. I’m hoping James is signed to NXT to help work with the talent there and get a re-match with Asuka.
-Like many, I was stunned by the result of Brock vs Goldberg. It was a positive shocking moment but hurts the rest of the main roster. I don’t see how they book themselves out of this problem as Goldberg is not going to be able to have long matches. I figure he’s going to get booked into multi-man matches (triple threats, Rumble, Fatal Four ways, etc) until the final blow off of Lesnar vs Goldberg.
-Despite the ratings, the crowd at Raw and SS were firmly behind Smackdown pulling the win. I was surprised at how over AJ Styles is even in Canada when he got a reaction similar to Kevin Owens for his entrance.
-The Ellsworth spot with Braun was fantastic.
-Orton and Wyatt’s storyline as a team is far more interesting than their lackluster feud earlier this Fall.
-I didn’t realize how much I dislike Roman Reigns until he was the last man standing for RAW. I, along with the fans at the ACC, were rooting for the Wyatts.
-Going into the event, I was really dreading to see “Super Shane” but I got behind him when he was beating down Reigns and Rollins. The spot with him ramming Rollins’ head into his own knee was lame though.


Smackdown was a bit in limbo in the weeks heading into Survivor Series and the last two weeks have gone in fast forward to set up TLC. I did not like Styles losing thrice to Ellsworth, but the exchange between the three on the go home show was what needed to be done. Personally, I would have had kept the whole bit about Ambrose being barred from the arena without the run ins on the Smackdown following Survivor Series and have AJ destroy Ellsworth there. This week, Ambrose and Styles would be brawling throughout the show.

With Rumble next month, I feel TLC is a good time to put an end to several of the current feuds and maybe begin to tie up a few loose ends before setting up Wrestlemania season.

 Ambrose vs Styles (c) – TLC – WWE World Title: I’d have Styles go over here. Following this week’s brawl, I’d have the story that both wrestlers go over board with wanting to destroy one another. Have Styles yell “respect me!” to the crowd while he’s beating down on Ambrose. Conversely, Ambrose has plenty of opportunities to climb the ladder for the win but opts instead to deliver another devastating maneuver on Styles. Have Otunga sell it with comments like: “Dean, you got the championship won!” and the like. In the end, Styles defeats Ambrose with a Style Clash off a ladder and onto a table. Ellsworth will not be involved in the match.

Bliss vs Lynch (c) – Tables Match – WWE Smackdown Women’s Title: Bliss has been very effective as a heel. However, I feel Lynch has been just as effective a babyface. Personally, I think the money match for Mania on the Smackdown side is Bella vs Lynch for the title. Therefore, Bliss is not going to come out the winner here. However, she is going to hopefully put on a solid performance. I usually don’t advocate for an inconclusive finish, but I think this is an apt one as there will be a few months of TV time to fill out. Ending of the match has both women jostle on the top turnbuckle and both fall onto a table at the same time, leading to a non-finish. Lynch retains as champion to continue the story for Rumble with a twist (see below).

Miz (c) vs Ziggler – Ladder Match – WWE Intercontinental Title: This feud has been the best on Smackdown but has gone on a bit too long due to [lack of] roster depth. Both have had career resurgences this year with Miz’ star shining brightest of the two. Looking over the current SD roster, I just don’t see many options for a Miz title reign:

-Crews has been done recently and he doesn’t connect with the crowd.
-Kalisto cannot carry feuds on the mic. He’s a decent worker and Miz would look good throwing him around.
-Swagger is also terrible on the mic and has been a jobber for a really long time. He’d have to rebuild his credibility to get to that point.
-Kane is getting long in the tooth. Could be his last hurrah with an IC title run I suppose.
-A demoted Dean Ambrose?
-James Ellsworth shouldn’t win any titles unless he really begins hitting the gym and start turning himself into a legitimate worker at the WWE level.
-Slater & Rhyno: both are ok if they drop the tag titles. I’d prefer Slater since he has more to offer long term. Rhyno can be used to put over some of the heel talent like Corbin. As a tag team, they could also allow the Spirit Squad to stick around a while longer.
-Zack Ryder is a decent singles competitor. Plus, seeing the interaction between Maryse and Mojo would be hilarious. You can also have Mojo counter the Spirit Squad.

Conversely, Ziggler seems to have better options for challengers:

Baron Corbin: he’s the logical choice here on the heel side to see if he can handle a high profile feud. He doesn’t need to win, but put on a good showing.
-Curt Hawkins is at least competent on the mic compared to the face choices. He could be used to give Ziggler a successful title defense to solidify his position.
-Breeze & Fandango: The fashion police schtick is mildly amusing but they are both solid in ring performers. I think they could play off well against Ziggler personality wise and deliver a decent or even breakthrough match.
-Luke Harper: He could go after the title to prove he’s still a valuable member of the family. Having Ziggler get involved in the Wyatt and Orton story would also build that story and could involve the tag team division.

Based on what transpired at Talking Smack, I say the ending should have both Ziggler and Miz laid out. Maryse climbs the ladder to pick up the title for her husband. Ziggler is the first to come to and threatens to push the ladder over if Maryse doesn’t climb down. Miz, not seeing his wife, charges Ziggler who “accidentally” pushes the ladder over. Maryse falls to the mat and Miz looks up at the title, then to his wife, the title, then goes to help his wife. Ziggler stops and allows the EMTs to come to her aid before the two resume. Miz shows fire for what happened to his wife but eventually Ziggler comes through with the win.

This gives Maryse the comeuppance for her constant interference while adding some layers to Miz’ character. It also makes Ziggler look to be the stand up babyface who won’t take advantage of the injured woman nor physically attacking her. JBL can crow all about how it was Ziggler’s fault Maryse was hurt, etc and this can give Miz some motivation later on to avenge his wife or even go baby face because the audience can relate to caring about a loved one over the title. He can still remain heel and it works too, if the Enzo vs Rusev teaches us anything. *rolls eyes*

Beauty and the Manbeast (c) vs Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton – Tag Team Title: I think Slater’s redemption story has plateaued with capturing the tag titles with Rhyno. They do have a good dynamic but I think Slater can go back to a singles program. I want Wyatt and Orton to go over clean here. To mirror what transpired at Survivor Series, see Bray take a GORE! for Randy who follows up with an RKO on Rhyno for the title. Luke Harper’s interference will be countered by Kane.

Nikki Bella vs Carmella – No DQ: Although I’ve written Bella will challenge Lynch for the title at Mania, she already has a built in story against whoever attacked her backstage at Survivor Series. Instead, I think Carmella should be able to take advantage of the No DQ stipulation and pull out the win using dirty tactics. You can have Nikki dominate the match 60-40 here so she doesn’t look too bad either. This elevates Carmella on the roster enough to propel her a women’s title match against Lynch.

Corbin vs Kalisto – Chairs match: After seeing Corbin’s work on Talking Smack, I firmly believe he has more upside than Kalisto. His in-ring work is fine and still developing. He is one of the rare guys who seems comfortable in the heel persona; a rare commodity. The use of chairs can allow Kalisto to even the odds a bit, but eventually the size and strength difference is too much. End of Days on a chair for the 1-2-3.

Pre-Show: American Alpha vs Breeze & Fandango: Have the two teams go out and deliver a solid match. American Alpha can have a pre-match interview where they say they are re-focusing after the Wyatt loss and will be going through the rest of the Smackdown tag team division if they have to. After the match, the Usos run in and attack Alpha to hopefully lead to the blow off of their feud before Rumble.

Post TLC to Rumble

Following TLC, the feuds leading up to Rumble need to be established. With no intervening Smackdown PPVs, there will have to be a slow build to get to where we need to be. Here, I’m in favour of stretching out the stories. The Rumble will likely be a 4 hour event with the Rumble match itself taking about a quarter of that.

I would normally want to setup Rumble qualification matches but the sad truth is there aren’t enough singles competitors on Smackdown for that. Excluding AJ Styles and the tag division, there are only 14 wrestlers (I’m including Undertaker here and the Wyatt family minus Eric Rowan) eligible. So I’m going to delve a bit into NXT to shore up the numbers as I dislike throwing tag teams in there.

WWE WORLD TITLE: The first segment on SD following TLC will have John Cena return (if filming of his TV show and possible movie role permit). If not, it will be fit somewhere during the 8 week build. He will come in challenging AJ Styles, 1 last time, 1 on 1 for the World Title. AJ, still hurting from TLC blows him off. “I beat you at Money in the Bank, Summerslam and No Mercy. You don’t deserve to face me.” This brings in Dean Ambrose who is also selling his injuries from TLC. Here, Ambrose agrees alluding back to their build up to No Mercy. “You can’t just come and go as you please, part timer, and demand a title shot.” The Wyatt family stinger hits and Orton and Wyatt are standing in the middle of the ring. With everyone circling Styles. Miz’s music hits, it’s immediately interrupted by Daniel Bryan’s theme to Miz’ annoyance. Bryan acknowledges Ambrose’s point and decides to set up a fatal five way with all those in the ring to determine the #1 contender. Before leading to commercial break, AJ blindsides Cena with the title sending him stumbling into Ambrose. This starts off a brawl. Styles immediately escapes the fracas.

Later in the main event, Wyatt and Orton are working as a team throughout, forcing the Miz, Ambrose and Cena to work together begrudgingly. With Styles at ringside running down the faces and giving respect to the heels on commentary. As Cena sets up to get the win, Styles runs in and hits him with a chair. Then a chair shot for Wyatt, Ambrose, and Orton. Miz’ smartly, scurries away. Smackdown ends with a non-finish with Styles smarmily proclaiming himself the “Face that runs the place”.

Week 2: The next week, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan call out the competitors of the previous main event. As the group argues their case, shoving commences which leads to blows. Daniel calls for them to stop and declares that the Wyatts have some unfinished business with the tag titles. They’ll face Rhyno, Slater, and Kane in a 3 vs 3 tag match later that night. As Daniel faces away from Miz, he seems to want to grant another shot to Ambrose or Cena. Shane interrupts and tells Bryan he will make the decision as his conflict of interest with the Miz is affecting his judgement. In the mean time, the main event will feature Miz vs Cena vs Ambrose so they can settle their problems and their performance might sway him to decide a number #1 contender.

Backstage Styles is speaking to Bryan and McMahon. He runs down Bryan in front of Shane for not doing his job by failing to keep Ambrose out of the building two weeks ago. Ambrose, still incensed rushes in and attacks Styles from behind. Once more they get separated.

During the main event, Styles comes out focuses his attack on Ambrose for revenge while Cena and Miz brawl in the ring. As Cena once more gets the upperhand, Styles pounces with a springboard chair shot to Cena. Again, SD ends with Styles on top. Miz wisely rolls out of the ring to avoid Styles. This plays into his “I never get injured” talking point.

Week 3: Styles is out first, crowing about how there seems to be no clear #1 contender. Ambrose comes out once more. Styles bails out of the ring. On the mic he yells out: “You had your re-matches and chances and you came up short.” Ambrose agrees but points to the entrance. James Ellsworth’s music hits. “He has a match though.” AJ is fuming while he stares daggers into Ellsworth. Ambrose capitalizes by attacking Styles from behind and leaving him clutching his shoulder after being thrown into the steel steps.

Styles is in the trainer’s office complaining he’s hurt badly. Daniel comes in to assess Styles’ condition. He claims if Styles cannot compete, he will lose by forfeit to Ellsworth. Faced with going down 4-0 to Ellsworth, Styles is irate and claims he’ll be ready and can beat Ellsworth even when injured.

The main event transpires with Ambrose once again at ringside causing mischief. However, the Miz intervenes and attacks Ambrose. Enraged that Ellsworth gets a title shot ahead of him. Furthermore, Miz would be mad about Ambrose claiming to be THE workhorse of the WWE. Styles, now free of distraction, can dominate and take out Ellsworth once more.

Week 4:  Cena, Miz and Ambrose are gathered in the ring. Shane announces the Wyatts are too busy with the tag title scene at the moment and with the Rhyno-Slater re-match, have been removed from contention. Bray, ominously says “this isn’t over Shane. I have tasted gold and it is ambrosia…”. This brings out Styles who wants to know who among these “losers, no offense Miz” he will be facing. Ambrose and Cena have had enough and attack.

This leads to a main event tag team match. If Ambrose and Cena win, they both go on to face Styles in another triple threat match. If Styles and Miz win, Miz gets the title shot. Thus, the heels have a legitimate reason to work together. Styles would prefer the 1 on 1 match to the triple threat against the faces and Miz to get the World title opportunity.

During the match, the heels work together more effectively and double team Ambrose. Eventually, he gets the hot tag to Cena who runs roughshod over first Styles and then Miz. As he prepares to defeat Miz, Styles throws a chair into the ring. Ref bump ensues etc, and the heels use the chair to take advantage. Just before the ref recovers, Styles hits Miz with the chair, betraying his partner. He lays the arms of Miz and Cena on top of one another. This leads to a double pin.

Week 5: At this point the story of Styles trying to avoid having to defend the title has reached its end. Now we have to deliver a match. There are two scenarios based on availability.  The first is a fatal fourway between Miz, Cena, Ambrose and Styles for the title. This certainly plays into the whole babyface authority figure wanting to punish the heel champion for interfering in the #1 contendership. The other option as rumoured, is more intriguing to me though. Assuming the latter goes through, here is how I set it up:

It’s announced Shane will deliver his decision on the #1 contendership “later tonight”. In the lead up, Ambrose, Cena and Miz will try to talk to Shane to plead their case but Daniel intervenes. He states Shane is in deliberation and he’s making his decision based on the body of work  of each competitor. Cena argues what better moment for the 60,000 strong crowd at the Alamodome to see him winning his 16th world title. Ambrose wants revenge for what Styles did to Ellsworth. In a very tense moment, Miz claims he stepped up and were it not for Maryse’s injury he’d still be IC champion. He brought prestige to that championship and would do the same for the World Title.

In the ring, as Shane is about to announce who will face Styles at Rumble, the three principals interrupt. Finally, Styles interrupts Shane reviewing each of their accomplishments. Styles runs them all down before finally stating: “It doesn’t matter who Shane picks. There is no man alive who can take this title from me.” GONG. Undertaker’s music plays. Shane announces: “At Royal Rumble, it will be The Phenom vs the Phenomenal One for the WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPSIONSHIP!” Styles should be selling the announcement as if he were shitting his pants. The show fades to black as the Undertaker stalks towards AJ. For the live crowd, every competitor can take turns attacking AJ.

Week 6-8: This will be devoted to the build between Styles and Undertaker proper. If Undertaker is planning to retire at Mania, have him announce during the build he’s looking for one last ride with the title over his shoulder. Styles can repeat the motto: “I’m a winner. Winners find a way to win.” to psyche himself up.  They could even tease the previous rumour of Styles vs HBK with Styles saying: “The closest you’ve ever come to face me was Shawn Michaels, but I am younger and out to prove I am the best in the world.” (also alluding to CM Punk here).

Down the road, HBK could make an appearance and help fuel the build by saying he’s been following Styles’ career and has been impressed by what he’s seen. But fighting the Undertaker is nothing like Styles has done before, etc. You could throw Styles vs Kane out there as a tune up match while Taker plays mind games with Styles. I’d keep this to a minimum though so it doesn’t dilute Wyatt’s schtick. In fact, I’d have Styles be paranoid with the Undertaker playing this very straight. Give Taker a squash match or two along the way to see how he holds up and to allow some physical confrontation between Styles and Taker where the deadman prevails.

Inevitably, I think Styles should go over clean if Taker is retiring to set up the retirement match between Taker and Cena. I don’t think Cena vs Taker, particularly a retirement match, requires a title to be involved. If he is sticking around, a disputed finish to continue the feud.

WOMEN’S DIVISION: On the women’s side. Nikki confronts Carmella backstage once more who is harping about her victory at TLC to Alexa Bliss. Alexa is still fuming about the result of the tables match. Again, Carmella claims she was not responsible for the attack at Survivor Series but wishes she had. Bliss also proclaims her innocence saying “Nikki, you weren’t worth the effort. I was busy with more important matters like winning the title.” Nikki takes exception to this and attacks Bliss and Carmella. Natalya eventually comes in and suggests the women put aside their differences plagiarizing inspirational song lyrics. This sets up a match between Bliss and Carmella vs Nikki and Natalya. However, once more, Nikki is attacked backstage and Becky comes out to replace the fallen Bella. the match ends with the heels getting the win after a miscommunication between Natalya and Becky.

I’m trying to throw the scent off  Natalya here. Besides James or Asuka, no women on NXT seem ready to make the jump to the main roster. I don’t want to turn Naomi nor Becky heel either. So that leaves only Natalya and a returning Eva Marie as culprits. However, I do want to plant the seeds for an eventual Nikki heel turn. I feel she is better suited for that role. To accomplish this, Natalya will be “investigating” what happened. As the weeks progress, she will have segments with Daniel. Saying there was “dark hair” at the scene of the crime. He can dismiss this as it being Nikki’s hair. Natalya thinks otherwise and points to Naomi. Later she can accuse Becky Lynch who would have been jealous as champion not being team captain. When called on her hypocrisy, she’ll claim she was happy to be team coach.She could then accuse some of the Raw women which might lead to verbal exchanges or Nikki “invading” Raw.

The eventual culprit will be either Natalya or Mickie James. Natalya is the obvious choice here but I want to create some doubt of a potential swerve. If Mickie is signed by WWE, I’d have a similar story to  The Brian Kendrick. Mickie desperately wants to get back in the WWE and losing to Asuka she knew she had to make her mark. She was hoping to get into the match but Natalya intervened sooner than expected. Or you could have them both be complicit with James being the attacker but Natalya the benefactor. That should carry Nikki until the lead up to Wrestlemania.

SD Women’s championship: The inconclusive finish between Lynch and Bliss will push for another match. However, Carmella inserts herself into the mix to make it a triple threat. This prevents repetition of the Bliss vs Lynch feud by adding an additional actor to spice things up. Leading to Rumble, the heels will take turns or team up to beat down Becky every week until Becky manages to stir enough trouble between the pair (along with the “who attacked Nikki?” saga going on throwing itself occasionally into the mix).
SD Tag Team championship:  As I wrote above, the tag title scene will be thrown for a loop when Orton and Wyatt capture the championship at TLC. The Wyatts and the more serious Usos and American Alpha’s gimmicks don’t mesh well at all with the rest of the goofy Smackdown tag division. Only the Hype Bros aad Slater and Rhyno blend the line of serious/goofy to mesh between the upper and lower card tag team acts. With the Cruiserweights and the “big names” in the women’s division on Raw, I think Smackdown should be the destination for the more serious tag division. Ideally, I’d prefer to see the Club move over to SD to be paired with AJ Styles, call up DIY and the Revival to SD and move the Vaudevillains, Tyler Breeze and Fandango, and the Ascension to Raw or down to NXT. Later down the road, TM-61 and a more experienced Authors of Pain can jump to SD. Spirit Squad is really a novelty act around Miz and Ziggler. With their feud over after TLC, I don’t see them sticking around in my scenario with Ziggler reclaiming the gold. That said, I will book to keep things “as is” as much as possible.

I’d have the champs get their re-match sooner than Rumble, I think there is some time to at least build to said re-match seeing as there was hardly any for the first match. Two weeks after TLC, the feud is renewed with a 6 man tag match between Rhyno, Slater and Kane vs the Wyatt family. The faces will prevail here as Harper visibly opts to not save Orton when he has the opportunity. The story will be Harper is loyal to Bray but not Orton.

For the next couple of weeks, you can throw in permutations of the members on each team in singles’ matches with all the shenanigans on the outside. Kane and Harper will also be included. Besides, seeing Orton reverse a GORE into a powerslam will be a thing of beauty. The final singles match should be reserved for Wyatt vs Slater. Slater should be freaked out at this point as his team is being outmatched in singles competition and he falls to Bray. This would be similar Xavier Woods act during the brief New Day vs Wyatt family feud just before the brand split. Slater overcomes his fears to face off against Wyatt but the cult leader proves too much for the One Man Band allowing Wyatt and Orton to retain with a clean win. After Kane or another nullifies Harper.

Meanwhile, American Alpha are still angry about losing to the Wyatts and hope to become the new #1 contenders. They ask Daniel Bryan to allow them to prove themselves. Each week, they will have a match against every tag team in the division. If said team beats Alpha, they get the #1 contendership. If Alpha goes through them all, they are the contenders. Have them start with the Spirit Squad before the cheerleaders are sent off. Next should either be the Vaudevillains or Ascension, followed by Breeze and Fandango. Up next would be Hype Bros and finally the Usos (because obviously). This covers 7 of the 8 weeks of programming between TLC and Rumble. The final week can have a showdown between the Wyatts and Alpha.

Intercontinental Title: With Ziggler on top we need to build a heel program. Personally, I’d save Corbin for a Wrestlemania match if SD isn’t getting any call ups. Nevertheless, I’m calling up two guys for SD to be revealed later but saving Corbin for now as I’d rather his break out take place in the Rumble.

The first week following his win over Miz, Ziggler will call out to the back to see who is man enough to face him for the title. Out comes Curt Hawkins who counters if Ziggler is man enough to “face the facts!”. During the match, Corbin interferes, causing a DQ. The heels take turns beating on Ziggler before Apollo Crews runs out for the save to a likely tepid response, but we have to start somewhere.

The following week, Hawkins states the facts. He would have won the match were it not for Corbin’s interference. Bryan, annoyed by Corbin interrupting another match decides to suspend him for 2 weeks without pay. Punishing Corbin by forcing him into a match is silly because as a wrestler his job is to have matches. Corbin’s character is about beating people up and getting paid to do so. Preventing him of both is a far better punishment.

Hawkins does get his re-match but this time, Luke Harper (now trying to curry favour with Bray), goes after Ziggler during the match. Again, the pair of heels beat Ziggler down until Kane intervenes (as part of the on-going Tag title saga). Crossing storylines here gives the feeling of a shared “universe” of sorts and helps fill out time while providing action.

In week 3, Hawkins again blames outside interference for the result of the match. Another match is booked, this time Jack Swagger joins in the beatdown, wearing Ziggler down. Kalisto, returning from his injuries at TLC makes the save. By the end of the show, Ziggler will go up to Daniel and express his frustration of all these attacks, saying he’d fight all of them at once than face these sneak attacks. Bryan says he could do that at the Rumble. Ziggler agrees to be included. However, as it pertains to the IC title, he’ll have something planned for next week.

Week 4: Has a 4v4 faces/heels tag team match pitting  Ziggler, Crews, Kalisto and Kane vs Harper, Corbin, Hawkins, and Swagger. The heels implode during the match when Corbin gets bumped by Hawkins after a drop kick from Kalisto. He slams his partner, then lays out Kalisto as the illegal man on the outside. The team loses by DQ but not before a brawl between the teams gets out of hand. By the end, Ziggler apparently stands tall but gets clotheslined by Harper as he is turning to head to the back.

Week 5: With 7 would be contenders, and Royal Rumble approaching, Daniel Bryan has them compete in a Battle Royale to determine who will face Ziggler for the IC title. Harper eventually prevails.. After the match, Ziggler returns the favour from the last week with a super kick to Harper’s face.

With week 6 concluding the tag team title feud, I’d have ZIggler lay out Harper. The Wyatts still win, as described above, but it sets up Wyatt family beatdown of Ziggler in week 7 backstage. The final week can show a six man tag between American Alpha and ZIggler vs the Wyatt family. Alpha and Ziggler win after dissension between Randy and Luke cause the team to lose. This would tease Harper not getting involved during the match at Rumble.

Elsewhere on the card: If given time, I’d move along Jack Swagger’s heel turn by setting him up as a “gatekeeper” for new talent for SD Live. I’d call up NXT guys like Orney Lorcan a few weeks ago, face Swagger for a spot on the roster. Swagger will be seen as “keeping down” the young talent. He’s a decent worker and it’s a role that doesn’t require a lot of mic work. Eventually, he will lose to Tye Dillinger who “breaks through” and earns a SD live contract. Livid, Swagger demands a re-match, stating it was a fluke victory. Bryan agrees and sets it up for the Rumble pre-show. However, Swagger’s spot in the Rumble will be on the line. This helps introduce Dillinger to the audience. Post-match, Tye would be given Swagger’s draft ball. Pleased, he utters: “Perfect.”

Royal Rumble

Now, not having written down the Raw side, I’ll focus here on the SD entrants and the few little tidbits of stories leading into the Rumble which can fuel the next PPV which appears to be Elimination Chamber.

My entrants are:

John Cena: After being passed over by the Undertaker, Cena has a sitdown interview with Todd Philips (much like Cole does for Raw). He explains his recent absences by putting over Styles and Ambrose slightly. Explain he’s been at top for so long, it takes a toll but he’s still pushing himself. “Maybe I’ve lost a fraction of a step. It’s a testament to the strength of the roster that slight drop means the gap is that much tighter. Have him show a humble side and vulnerability. Humanize him some to where he can elicit sympathy.

He can even throw some barbed comments to the Raw roster to make himself look strong: “With all due respect to Raw. The only thing that is next, is me becoming WWE World Champion at Wrestlemania.”

Dean Ambrose: I started the seeds of an Ambrose vs Miz feud but it won’t culminate at Rumble yet. I want Ambrose to be the Smackdown “ironman”. To allow that, he won’t have an undercard match to keep him fresh.

The Miz: Excluded from the world title picture, Miz blames Daniel Bryan. In a Talking Smack confrontation, Miz demands what he has to do to get the support of management. Daniel, as the babyface acquiesces he might have been hard on the Miz but if he wants to prove himself, he can enter the Rumble as the first entry for SD Live. Miz, frustrated and in the heat of the moment, barks out “fine! I’ll go in first and I’ll be the last one there to have my arms raised up as the winner.”

Slater and Rhyno: Following the loss of the titles, the pair have parted for singles careers on amicable terms. Rhyno would tell Slater he’s proud of him for overcoming his fears and standing up to Bray even though they lost. It gives a slight rub to Slater. I don’t think all tag teams should end in a feud. With the Rumble approaching, both will enter and can have a moment where they team up one final time to eliminate someone physically imposing like Kane, Titus O’Neal, or Corbin who isn’t at the main event level yet.

James Ellsworth: At #30 because it will get a huge pop as a semi-surprise entry and it would be different to have the #30 be a joke rather than one of the main contenders.

Baron Corbin: As the guy being built up for bigger things, I’d have Corbin go in and have a decent run of eliminations; the most among the SD roster. He won’t make it to the final 4 though.

Tye Dillinger: He defeats Swagger on the pre-show and is the #10 entrant in the Rumble. I’d have him get eliminated by Corbin to set up a feud between the two before Mania.

Apollo Crews: Right now his character is extremely fragile. He has all the physical talents to succeed but he needs more of a character than “happy to be here”. I’d like to pair him with Shelton Benjamin who is slated to recover from injury sometime around or post-Rumble. I’d have him put on an ok showing but get eliminated pretty quickly. This would be the impetus for Benjamin’s return where Daniel Bryan has the veteran mentor Crews. The two are very much in the same mould and so it would be a natural pairing. They are teamed together post-Rumble. I think  having Benjamin there to interact with Crews will develop his character. The two would be amazing in the ring  and do well on the tag scene by replacing  the loss of the Spirit Squad and Heath and Rhyno going to pursue singles careers.

Wyatt family: The Wyatts make true on Bray’s ominous warning about wanting more gold. The three join the Rumble and working together can be a force to be reckoned with. Bray or Randy would be my pick to win the thing under the premise Taker is retiring. Ideally, I’d have both be the last men standing. The face-off between the two would be energetic as the commentators beg Randy to betray Bray. Instead they both jump out at the same time to setup a triple threat.

Dolph Ziggler: The IC champ will be a late entrant. I’d have him come in the 20s. He’s an amazing bump and selling machine so he’d make the top contenders look fantastic before he is ultimately eliminated.

Kane: For nostalgia’s sake. Kane makes what might be his final Rumble appearance.

With 14 spots taken up by SD, that leaves one spot which I think is best to reserve for surprise entries. In this case, my pick would be… SAMOE JOE. His arrival should be met by surprise by the commentators who announce they don’t know which brand he represents. This could be a mystery leading into the first two weeks post-Rumble.

Match results at Rumble: 

AJ retains the World title over Undertaker cleanly if Taker is retiring or via hook and crook (Club run in, low blows, etc) if he isn’t. Either or, this can set up an amazing Elimination Chamber match with AJ vs Undertaker vs Miz vs Ambrose vs Cena vs Samoe Joe. Or you  keep the Chamber for a #1 contender’s match (with Orton and Wyatt not winning Rumble) to determine who faces Styles at Mania. If the latter, replace Styles and/or Undertaker with Corbin or Wyatt and Orton.

I’d prefer Lynch retaining, but Bliss pinning Carmella also works. If Lynch retains, have her get a win over Carmella. Lynch could finally defeat Bliss before Wrestlemania. At Mania, Nikki can get the title which leads to a natural feud of Carmella vs Nikki into the late spring.

Ziggler retains the IC title over Luke Harper who does not receive any help from the Wyatt family after Orton convinces their leader that Luke must win it on his own.

Harper is barred from ringside in the tag team title match as an additional stipulation following the loss in the 3v3 tag match on the go home SD Live show. Alpha uses this to their advantage to capture the titles. With Orton and Wyatt winning the Rumble, I feel they can drop the tag titles for now and allow Alpha to shine. Besides, Wyatt and Orton could have a re-match scheduled at the Chamber which could then be used to finally tease the break up of the two.

Video game review dump

I’ve had a chance to play a few video games over the course of the Fall. I’m going to try to keep these concise:

Civilization VI review

I have a long history with the Civilization franchise. My first experience goes back to the first game back on the SNES. I was 9 or 10 at the time, so the game was a bit out of my depth. In fact, it was the first strategy game I played. I did not get into it as I didn’t understand the game as there was no tutorial and it was a game I rented from the local video store which lacked the instruction manual. Instead, my first real experiences with the series came with Civilization II on PC. By then, I was far more into strategy games due to such gems like Ogre Battle on SNES, Sim City (also on SNES) and a few others. I enjoyed the game tremendously; so much so my friends and I leaped at Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. To whit, it remains one of my favourite strategy games of all time.

The newest iteration of the game does clean up quite a few issues I’ve previously had with the franchise but introduced other ones. As a whole, I find the game one of the best outings of the series but I’ll focus on the things done wrong to encourage discussion on solutions. Note this review includes changes following the first patch.

Diplomacy system is still bad: It never ceases to amaze me how Civilization still continues to fail at diplomacy. The agenda system is a nice attempt in theory to fix issues and works well with some leaders. On the other hand, the hidden agenda often having a random seed can lead to conflicting agendas or making it impossible to be on good terms with a civilization. Frequently, the AI would offer me trade deals which were laughably one-sided in their favour. However, unlike in Beyond Earth, I did find myself making more trade pacts than in that game because eventually I could please the agendas of the rulers to where the deals were fair for both parties.

It is particularly glaring when comparing the early game to the rest. The AI is war happy until the classical age and then rarely launches any wars at all. The few times it does declare war, the other AI controlled civilizations will call me the warmonger even though I was the target of declarations of war.

The AI extremely rarely respects your wishes regarding spies and missionaries when they agree to do so. Furthermore, breaking such promises do not trigger casus belli conditions or warmonger type penalties for the AI the player or other AI can exploit. Your only recourse is denouncing the AI which often triggers other Civs to repudiate you in response for doing so even if you have just cause.

Removing the World Congress also reduces what can be accomplished via diplomacy, making it feel stripped down. To be fair, it is the only feature that has been removed from previous incarnations of the game. I’m hoping it does get included at some point; hopefully free but I won’t hold my breath on that.

AI is lacking: The AI really struggles with the new district system. Only 1-3 cities in any civ will have more than 2 districts even when playing with abundant resources. Often times I’ll see Civs like Russia or Greece (Pericles) hoard great artists, writers and musicians but no buildings to house great works. The AI will build cities extremely close to one another and not exploit ideal land utilization. This is particularly meddlesome to me who likes getting the most out of every city.

On the warfare front, I never feel challenged by the AI except on the higher difficulties and only in the early game where they’ll utilize their huge early advantage to send 3-4 warriors against my only city before I’ve even had a chance to build my first unit. If played smart, 3-4 units can turn away four times their number without issue.

Barbarians are a different beast. They are relentless thorns in your side even until the later periods if you so much as allow enough room for encampments to spawn. Further, the AI almost always has barbarians target your civ ahead of the AI if your units, districts or improvements are within range.

The UI is not optimal: To a veteran of the CIV franchise, it took me a while to figure out where to find some information. You find yourself having to often switch between the newly introduced lenses to find what you are looking for. Further, I often encounter issues where scrolling over a tile won’t reveal the yields. The game also doesn’t warn or prompt you when enemy units are in proximity of your cities. There are times I have units fortified in the area to act against these or enemy units within my cities bombard range but I fail to notice until several tiles have been pillaged or my units have been attacked when I could have reacted sooner if it worked like in Civ 5. Speaking of bombardment, it can be difficult to click on the icon to bombard an enemy unit if your city or encampment has a unit on that tile.

I still haven’t found how to raze cities ceded to me in a peace deal. This annoys me on a personal level more than most, granted.

Building up your cities is more difficult: The designers really wanted to emphasize small or specialized cities and it shows. Every subsequent construction of any building or even unit has an increasing cost. Thus, to “optimally” play the game, you want to avoid duplicates. Nevertheless, the costs still increase as you progress through each age as a sort of weird inflation. Wouldn’t things become cheaper if you’ve already built examples earlier?

The big change of districts and buildings being outside your city is the biggest change in game. I like the new strategy element it introduces as you try to optimize city and district placement to get the most out of your constructions. However, once you lay down a district you can’t remove or halt its construction to replace it elsewhere. You are stuck with that initial decision unless you load an old save. I also dislike that there is no method to hasten repair times of pillaged districts whether it be cash or though another method. You can build buildings through cash or even faith but repairs is a no-no.

Wonders need tweaking: Some wonders need to be re-balanced. The Great Library offers little benefit because by the time you finish building it, you are extremely likely out of the classical period and thus would gain no benefit from the boost of increased research for ancient or classical technologies.

Despite my criticisms, I give the game a solid 8/10. With tweaks, the game has the potential to be the best of the series and close to matching Alpha Centauri.

Hand of Fate

A fun little game by a small developer. I really liked the atmosphere and while I do find some of the random chance in the game to be highly frustrating, it is a fun game. The game reminds me of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, in a good way. Sometimes the cards screw you, other times you can breeze through. Good for 4-10 hours of play.

I give it a 7/10.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

I was really looking to like this game but as I progressed through the campaign, I quickly felt disappointed. The game appeared straight forward enough as a call back to classic RTS games. However, the game has far too many different units with special abilities you have to manage in battle. Perhaps it’s just me getting worse at video games now that I’m 34, but it makes the game feel more twitchy like an FPS than the RTS games of my youth.

My main complaint comes in the game interface. The setting of the world is in the title: a desert world. Thus, level variety is severely limited to desert landscapes with differing rocky outcroppings or ruined starships. It does help create a certain atmosphere. Think Dune crossed with Battlestar Galactica. However, most of your units are a colour similar to the sand which makes it difficult in a high paced situation to pick out the right units for the job. It makes sense within universe to camouflage against the sand but your enemies don’t seem to care (they are a bright red) and neither do their targeting systems. Additionally, the basic or visually representative UI is limited in how far you can zoom out. This makes it easy for the AI to try to ambush or flank you if you don’t frequently jump in and out of the “radar” UI. This UI resembles the stick figures models of the old Mechwarrior games. By the end of the game, I found myself exclusively in the radar UI which made for a very bland experience. The game has a lot of depth but it feels very much like playing a war game as a general at the Pentagon. If it required micromanaging every single unit.

I give it a 5/10.


Every gaming group goes through a phase of playing evil characters. It was interesting to see the take of playing a bad guy in a CRPG. I found the game to be fairly fun and interesting. Sadly, I found only one NPC really stood out and it was hard to feel any ownership of the world. Like Pillars of Eternity, the designers started a world from scratch. Instead of keeping to a simple story, they wanted to create a very complex world which leaves a lot of dialogue to be expository. At other times, the game simply gives hyperlinks within dialogue trees to explain what the hell the NPCs are referring to. I’d liken it to Wikipedia: the RPG.

What stood out for me in the game was we could craft our character’s backstory and importance in the world and these decisions play out over the course of the game. Unlike Dragon Age: Origins, the game doesn’t pay lip service to this decision and it offers a lot of potential replay value for completionists. I do feel the game is a bit short but I feel it is worthwhile compared to what else is out there.

An aspect of RPGs I don’t usually care for but did come to my attention in this game was loot progression. I was never really awed by the gear you could earn in game. Pillars of Eternity did a far better job on that front. Further, the skill system favours using the same weapon types over and over again. Thus, if you made a bad decision or split between close and long range fighting, it felt like a detriment. You wouldn’t want to change weapon type for a character as you would be wasting the progression they earned using a different weapon and would be “behind the ball” with new weapons. The way the game gets around this is by allowing you to upgrade weapons but I found myself only upgrading the characters with fixed gear and never on my own and I completed all but 1 side-quest.

I did like how I never felt I had more money than I knew what I could do with as I constantly was low on cash divided between upgrading characters’ gear, purchasing magical customization or going to skill trainers. This made your purchasing decisions matter. As the gear was lack luster in my view, I spent most of my character’s money on character improvements.

A solid effort and I’m intrigued with what they do with it if anything going forward. I’d rather see them stick to one world and flesh it out fully through multiple games like Bioware with Mass Effect and Dragon Age. 8/10.


Life is Strange review

I recently played Life is Strange as it was on sale. While I’m late to the review period, I didn’t read the professional reviews beyond the scores. It was generally well-received by the gaming press and I can certainly understand why. From here on out, I will be entering mild spoiler territory. You have been warned.









The game’s protagonist is Maxine “Max” Caufield. An eighteen year old photography student attending a pretentious art academy in Washington state. Max favours polaroid cameras and like many millenials, she enjoys “selfies”. A lot of the game play emphasizes taking photos of the environment. At some points in the game, this becomes important to the plot but also serves to scratch the achievement whoring itch.

The most immediate comparison to mind was the Telltale game series. Both are episodic adventure games with a heavy emphasis on binary choices. However, the ability to rewind time does give the players the opportunity to pick and choose based on the immediate outcome rather than in the moment (or without reloading). Your rewind power does remain limited to a single “scene” although later on, you find you have the ability to rewind yourself into previously taken pictures if Max was present in the shot. Like Telltale, the puzzles are few. This is no Sierra Interactive game. Instead, the focus is on the story choices rather than convoluted puzzles or insane game logic to progress. However, where I find Telltale relies on contrived or “in the heat of the moment” decisions to create fabricated conflict and choices, Life is Strange doesn’t feel that way. One example will have you decide whether or not to intervene in a confrontation between Chloe and her stepdad. The consequences appear minor when compared to The Walking Dead however there is far more weight because you don’t feel like the game and story is forcing a conflict for conflict’s sake.

During a bathroom break between classes, Max happens on a confrontation between a punk rocker chick and a preppy school boy which results in the death of the former. Horrified by the events, she wishes it never happened and comes to the discovery she has somehow been given the power to rewind time and prevent the murder. This causes a chain of events where you follow the would be victim Chloe, a former best friend to Max, and try to solve the disappearance of a missing girl she befriended while Max and her family lived in Seattle for five years. To add gravity to the proceedings, a recurrent nightmare serves as a harbinger of doom on the sleepy town where Max grew up and currently attends school.

I found it refreshing to have a primarily female cast compared to most games I’ve played. Max and Chloe aren’t treated as sexual objects except by the villains and only at the climax of the game. The story does rely heavily on implied rape and sexual abuse to give it a darker tone. One would be victim narrowly escaped and contemplates suicide but was too drugged to remember details. Despite the subject matter and figuring out the true mastermind ahead of time, I felt the mystery, story and characters engaging enough to pursue. Although, there are at times a “mean girls” vibe from some of the secondary cast which I was largely disinterested in.

The story does fail a few times in the early going. For example, a large dilemma for Maxine involves outing the aforementioned preppy boy to the school principal . The principal is reluctant to act even in the face of significant evidence because of the preppy boy’s father has significant influence in the town. What bothers me is Maxine chooses not to go to the authorities with additional circumstantial evidence when the preppy boy and his father text her threats or when the boy breaks into her dorm room and writes “DIE BITCH” on her wall.

The game teases the exploration of alternate timelines in its narrative but doesn’t fully explore it beyond one timeline where Max must make a heart wrenching decision on Chloe’s fate; foreshadowing the ending. The episodic nature of the game limits this exploration and perhaps in hindsight it might have detracted from the main story. I’d like to see a future game deal with this more in depth. The writers of the game have proven deft in such a somber topic I feel relatively confident they can handle such a story adequately.

Another point in the game which I found irksome was the final sequences before the ending. In one of the few “puzzles” the options to resolve it are not all immediately available to you. Instead, you have to go through trial and error, then rewind before additional options become available. This is a clever trick, but gets tiresome quickly. Finally, I won’t spoil the ending. I chose the least darkest path but the final cutscene involved characters which I felt should not have been included. I went ahead and watched the alternate ending which reinforced my decision.

All in all, I’d give the game a 9/10 in story, and 6/10 in gameplay. Very simplistic gaming elements except for two stealth sequences but it services the plot.



Game of Thrones Season 5 finale review

Full disclosure before I begin. I read the Song of Ice and Fire books prior to the TV series being announced. The first three books are pretty much my favourite book series. I even liked most of A Feast for Crows and everything not taking place in Mereen in A Dance with Dragons. So obviously, this will be heavily spoiler-laden post. You have been warned. Normally, I look forward to every episode. The day after each one, I’d be bombarded with questions from friends and coworkers who know I read the books. This time, it was different. Going into the finale, I was already in a foul mood for reasons I will explain below. So if you liked the previous episode and this one… to each their own.

Thanks for stopping by! Wait, I need to elaborate further? Fine.

Previously on GoT

The source of my discontent was a growing malaise throughout the rest of the season. The tipping point was of course Stannis sacrificing Shireen to R’hollor or the Lord of Light for those of you unfamiliar with the fictional god’s name. The series rarely used the former but I can understand them fearing people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It took several seasons for many to understand Khaleesi was a title and not a proper name. I digress. From a narrative stand point this sacrifice made no sense whatsoever. The author and TV producers built up the Boltons as villains for a significant amount of time. Their comeuppance was at hand. Ruining Stannis’ character and motivations removed all rooting interest. Your choices were the guy who betrayed and killed Robb Stark, his mother, wife, unborn child, and his deranged son who raped Sansa, tortured Theon, flayed prisoners who surrendered, killed one of his psycho bitches for pleasure, and basically being more competent than Joffrey. On the other hand, you have a guy who just needlessly killed his loveable daughter who the audience was conditioned to be invested (in through incredibly cheap tactics I might add). It’s like rooting that your STD is crabs instead of Herpes. No wait, I forget that we could root for Littlefinger now. Throw in the Clap as option 3.

Stannis Baratheon

What was galling was the terrible characterization and plot holes in this story. Stannis is the premiere commander remaining in Westeros. I’d throw in Randyll Tarly, the Blackfish and maybe Victarion into the mix. Yet, he makes horrible mistakes any green officer would make. He can’t fucking hear half his army leave during the night with all the horses? So is it cannon that Stannis snores? He doesn’t realize Selyse was not only missing but hanged herself? Is he that obtuse? There was fear of starvation even though they had horses? Guess what, you can eat horse meat! 20 “good men” could sneak into a camp of thousands, destroy the camps food supplies and run away without being captured or killed because… they know the land better? Forbes magazine eloquently put it:

All I can say, to HBO and to the showrunners, is good grief what a monstrosity of a writing decision. What a horrible, no-good, very bad, infuriating way to ruin Stannis as a character and to twist the events of these stories beyond recognition in such a grotesque manner. It’s one thing to get rid of Jeyne Poole and place Sansa in her plight instead—at least it furthers the story of Sansa and saves a bit character from a horrible fate. But killing off Shireen this way absolutely decimates Stannis as a character (the show already ruined Barristan Selmy, and now it’s ruined Stannis, too.) It renders his passionate, moving speech to his daughter meaningless. It makes him not so much a hard-to-like good guy struggling against the villains, but a villain himself and one of the worst we’ve seen. Even the ever-deplorable Cersei would never stoop so low. Even Roose Bolton treats his horrible, sadistic son better than this. It’s also a bait-and-switch. We finally see Stannis’s softer side, we finally warm a bit to his character, and then he kills his daughter. It’s terrible storytelling. Surprisingly bad.

I believe all this stems from the producers not understanding the character. When we are first introduced to Stannis, they are quick to go on their Inside the Episode videos and explain Stannis would be a terrible king. This is the same guy Ned Stark was willing to back had he not been betrayed. This is a failure of understanding the context written out by Martin. The individuals who argue Stannis would be a terrible king are doing so for their own reasons and motivations:

  • Robert Baratheon: Although not explicitly stated, Robert treated Stannis unfairly because he didn’t like his younger brother. He and Stannis are quite polar opposites in temperament. Robert didn’t care about ruling; only living his hedonistic lifestyle and extinguishing the Targaryens to avenge Lyanna. How is he a good judge on who is right for the job when he was about to name Jaime fucking Lannister as Hand of the King and Warden of the East before Ned agreed to the job.
  • Renly Baratheon: He tries to convince Ned to back him instead of Stannis. Certainly, he is one of the few who makes any point: No one likes Stannis, therefore he is horrible king material. One could argue popularity can be important; particularly in a democracy. However, Westeros is a feudal society. Popularity is useful to keep people in line, but brute force, respect and fear can serve too. Machiavelli would approve.
  • Littlefinger: Littlefinger knows he will be displaced should Stannis take the throne. Thus losing status, wealth, power and prestige. He’s also the mastermind behind the events which leads to the crisis to follow. He wants and craves power. He demanded to be one of the two powers behind the throne and was denied. He knows he could never rise so high with Stannis in charge.
  • Varys: Varys despises sorcery. He’s also somewhat of a gray character and one that isn’t without pity. Stannis’ association with Melisandre earns his loathing. His absolutism does as well. As no doubt Varys’ head would be next on the chopping block as we learn in the books Stannis wanted Robert to scour the Small council clean. He also fears him. “There is nothing more terrifying than a truly righteous man”.
  • Cersei Lannister: Incestuous, adulterer, conspirator in the murder of Robert Baratheon, etc. No shit would she not want Stannis in power!
  • Tyrion Lannister: As Stannis’ rival commander in the Battle of  Blackwater, and member of House Lannister, he is obviously an enemy. Tyrion’s fondness for whores and brothels, which are outlawed under Stannis, also taint his perspective.

Don’t believe the above arguments make me believe he would be a good ruler. Some of his stances I don’t agree with in real life. I’m a progressive and liberal when it comes to social policy. But again, the context here is a medieval feudal society This misinterpretation further leads them to cut out most of Stannis’ best and profound lines from the source material. He doesn’t get Lightbringer. He rather send Davos away than face him when he is about to sacrifice his daughter. He nearly always defers to Melisandre’s judgement. Is this the man who kept Tywin Lannister up at night? The answer is obviously and resoundingly no. All we got were some scenes of him killing random extras. This episode he killed guys with speaking lines before his lame demise. While his finest moment was his intervention to save the Night’s Watch, the pacing was absolutely terrible as it was not only foreshadowed but laid out explicitly.

Brienne of Tarth

So the pay off of Brienne chasing down Sansa and holding vigil for half the season was her leaving to get revenge on Stannis the moment Sansa called out for help. The showrunners wanted a strong female character who could fight. However, her portrayal in the books was far different. Killing was hard for Brienne. She has not shown any remorse on HBO. She is largely mean and dismissive to Podrick until he admits to killing a Kingsguard which finally leads to a bonding moment. So the way to earn Brienne’s respect is killing. Good to know. As a character, she was the victim of being bullied growing up. In the show, not only does she not seem to acknowledge this but in some ways bullies Podrick by demeaning him.

Jamie Fucking Lannister


The chapters in Dorne were some of the weakest in the series in my opinion. The plot is slow, plodding, and one of the two point of view characters is as interesting as watching pain dry.

You would think being a POV character would make him interesting. You would be mistaken.

Despite injecting two mostly likable characters, they somehow made this whole plot-line worse! There is so much fail in this plot cul-de-sac, it would be worthy of an entire blog post in itself. What a waste of Alexander Siddig, an excellent actor who I fondly remember from Star Trek DS:9. Maybe he and Stephane Dillane can start a “Our characters were horribly written but well acted” alumni club. I would subscribe to their newsletter.

While the actors for Jaime and Bronn did what they could to inject some skill in their craft, there is only so much they could do with the horrible material and fight choreography. The many missteps of characterization from the direction and writing has made Jamie a significantly different character from the books but not one totally beyond the pale of redemption. Until then, I will nickname him Jim Bob Lannister. Jaime Lannister is too awesome a character to have been involved in this shitstorm.

Daenerys Targaeryen

Ok, confession time. She is my second least favourite POV character from the books. Hardly anyone gives a shit about Mereen and most of the fandom wants her to go back to Westeros. Instead, the last book seemed hellbent on dragging other better characters into her story. However, I prefer the show version. Partially because I find it less difficult to my sensibilities reading about her very active sex life as a 15 year old. More so because the author is a 60+ year old man. I would add her carnal lusts are thoroughly described towards:

He is actually described to look like this. Yet, I find his characterization to make him even more difficult to take seriously.

The culmination of the “Mereenese knot” in the books, the only bright spot in her plot and character throughout Dance with Dragons was actually her confrontation with Drogon. You see, in the books the dragon is the real threat in the arena and not the Sons of the Harpy. Drogon arrives and begins roasting people indiscriminately. Daenerys boldly acts to intervene and save the people from the draconic menace. Instead, we are treated with her holding Missandei’s hand seeking comfort in the face of death but being saved by her pet dragon in what is only a deus ex machina save. It’s so saccharine as to make a diabetic reach for his insulin. To further portray the character as weak, it’s heavily implied she needs to be saved by wacky unlikely travelling companions #2324 of the show, Daario and Jorah Mormont.

Saint Tyrion Lannister

While the common theme I’ve described has railed against putting good characters through shitty characterization or diminishing their contributions or qualities, Tyrion instead is glorified in the show. Tyrion is arguably my favourite character in the books (Davos and Jon Snow round out the top 3). He is a flawed character. Many readers have criticized the tone of his journey in the 5th book. He spends a much longer time being depressed. He faces far more obstacles and trials than the show. Even in previous seasons, many of his flaws are whitewashed away. He is far more vindictive in the books. His big mouth occasionally gets him in trouble. In the show, he’s far more sympathetic and his inner turmoil is somewhat skipped as he meets Daenerys quite quickly. The huge buildup for their encounter in the books was a big deal at the time.

And install an anarcho-communist society! Or not and just rule because I have dragons.

When all is said and done, his problems are quickly skimmed past in the final scene when everyone in Meereen goes out of their way to praise him. The cherry on the shit sundae is the appearance of Varys and a cutesy conversation only a 12 year old would find witty. My impression of the exchange was the screenwriters having the characters fellate them for their “amazing witty dialogue”.

Shireen Baratheon

We rarely spend much time with her in the novels. However, Martin does portray her as a sweet girl who was afflicted with a horrible disease. We rarely see her parents interact with her. The show uses her as a way to humanize her parents, before her death and posthumously. There are only two hints which could foreshadow her demise in the books. The first, is tied to the fate of her father should he fall. The second comes from the Wildlings and their fear of her disease. This has lead some of the community to debate what might transpire should she relapse. As opposed to her father’s wishes in the show, Stannis orders one of his knights to fight for Shireen’s claim to the throne in the event of his death.

One could argue, her death’s purpose could have been used to show Melisandre is mistaken in her faith in Stannis. Had the showrunners repeated the story of Azhor Azai, the “chosen one” of her religion and him killing his wife to forge the sword Lightbringer, at least there might be context. Instead, it was a long forgotten line back in episode 1, season 2 uttered by Salladhor San in a dismissive (but well acted) manner. The books do this in a subtle way. The show takes the audience for fools or has too many constraints for time they must be more heavy-handed in their approach.

The sacrifice was rather done for shock value. The show has reached legendary levels for its high profile and gruesome deaths. However, many of these are warranted in the plot. Ned Stark died because he showed mercy when he should have been more ruthless. Robb Stark died because he placed more value on his personal honour than that of his House and those of his allies/subjects. Oberyn Martell died because he was showboating and lost focus. Shireen died… because it would make for headlines on TV. Stannis died because he supposedly dies in the upcoming books. The defense of “we only care because we ‘knew’ her as opposed to Daenerys who also burned people alive” is an interesting one. What the producers ironically fail to realize is their own framing of the scene. Daenerys is shown in a more heroic light and does not get penalized for the act so far. She has little remorse for what might have been a gross act against an innocent.

It strikes me that they wanted to up the ante to provoke discussion and eyeballs. It wasn’t enough to murder beloved characters. Robb Stark also had to lose an unborn child and his wife even though the former does not exist and the second is still alive in the books as far as we know. They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. I disagree. They lost me as a viewer.