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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Fleabag @ Blue Room Theatre

Andrew Ryan

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Originally written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Performed by: Maddie Rice


Fleabag is extremely gross, filthyy, rude, crass... who gives a s**t, it's a bloody f**king funny!

Fleabag is the story of a young, twenty something female Londoner living her sort of life- enjoying a sick, nihilistic joy trapped between meaningless sex, equally meaningless relationships, a dysfunctional family relationship.... all the whilst trying to desperately save a guinea pig themed cafe from liquidation.

This show is not for the faint hearted, as the sex-obsessed Fleabag bares all in one very risque, colorful, dirty and yet utterly glorious monologue, describing each and every one of her misadventures, referencing things that one shouldn't blurt out spontaneously in polite company. The delivery of this monologue, as performed by Maddie Rice, is up-front, expressive and aggressive, showing a side to the modern woman that we often forget exists (some of you may find this repulsive, others may find themeslves a little turned on). The presentation of the play is extremely is minimalist, but this allows the attention of the audience to focus on the eponymous anti-heroine.

Should you watch Fleabag? Only if you don't mind the language.

Fleabag runs until 24 February.

 

 

Barbershop Chronicles @ The Octagon Theatre (Perth Festival)

Andrew Ryan

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Writer: Inua Ellams

Director: Bijan Sheibani

 

Peckham, London. Lagos, Nigeria. Kampala, Uganda. Johannesburg, South Africa. Accra, Ghana, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Across countries and continents, Barbershop Chronicles are the intimate, interconnected stories between men, and each of them sharing their fears, their joys and their hopes- all in barbershops in the space of a day- which happens to the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Barcelona. The barbershop becomes a space where men are allowed to express their emotions to one another, and share jokes.

The performance in itself is full of what the French would say “joi de vivre”, with plenty of singing, chanting, dancing, and in-narrative laughing. The mood is, on overall happy and optimistic, which is a refreshing change from all that navel-gazing, inward looking and generally contemplative, yet shallow. The delivery of the lines and the language has a rhythmic, poetic texture to it, as befits the work of a poet (to be fair, this  is the first time I've experienced the works of Mr. Ellams so bear with me here.) and it feels refined, and is a joy to watch just on its own literary merits.

Barbershop Chronicles is strong and heavy-hitting on the social commentary, referencing colonialization, politics of Africa, and current race relations. Whatever your feelings on the matter, the commentary is on-point but never too heavy handed. Another theme that runs through is manhood and masculinity, and the characters navigate through these rough and heady waters- and the addition of references to the round ball game gives the performance a rather universal feel (though to be fair, I was also the only one in the room to understand them.) to proceedings.

As for the presentation, the scenery is colourful, doing its best to depict so many different locations, and the venue itself is spacious and elegant. Before the beginning of the play, the actors would dance, play and chatter to a score whilst inviting members of the audience to have pretend haircuts with them, which is a nice and friendly touch.

Barbershop Chronicles is a thoughtful and intimate piece of work and is definitely worth watching.

Barbershop Chronicles runs until the 18th of February.

 

Banned @ The Blue Room

Andrew Ryan

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Director: Helie Turner

Playwright: Barbara Hostalek

Production House: Mudskipper Productions

Cast: Della Rae-Morrison, Talei Howell-Price, Kingsley Judd

 

You’ve probably heard it before. It’s a sunny Sunday. The smell of snags on a barbie and baked meat pies wafting through the grounds (which usually bear the name of an honored local scion), the boys with the guernseys and the club song blasting through the jury-rigged loudspeakers. The sun is getting warmer and sweat is forming on the brows. The blows of whistles and the occasional thud of a heavy punt from outside the 50 metre mark. Crowds cheer, crowds boo and hiss, as the game begins to close towards the fourth quarter. A small argument in the stands, and in one moment, voices are raised, fists are swung, and the deed is done.

Banned takes this cultural touchstone as the basis of its narrative. In a kind of reverse (budget, low-key) depiction of that famous play, The Club. The story focuses on two women, Jane (Howell-Price), and Kaarla (Rae-Morrison who hold a grudge against each other for what happened on one day at the footy and the resulting aftermath, and a mediator with a tendency to go off-tangent (in a comical Scottish accent) who tries to work out a hopefully amicable solution.

The play’s narrative is simple, and straight forward- earnest, but nothing out of the ordinary, and delivered in the kind of brevity that can be appreciated on its own merit, and the underlying social commentary is thankfully in the background rather than made into a central point. The comical Scottish accent of the mediator provides many laughs and much needed comic relief. However, the dialogue at times seems to be more aimed directly at the audience, in a slight preaching, moralistic note, than it would make any sense in the context of the story.

Other than that, its a decent, humble and earnest piece, and thank (insert divine being) does not try to be pretentious (which in my opinion, is no mean feat of its own).

 

Banned runs until the 10th of February.

In-Fringe-ing: 19 Weeks @ Como- Treasury (Pool Area)

Andrew Ryan

Tiffany Lyndall Knight portrays the playwright in this performance.

Tiffany Lyndall Knight portrays the playwright in this performance.

Director: Nescha Jelk

Playwright: Emily Steel

Performer: Tiffany Lyndall Knight


19 Weeks is one of the most brutal things you will see at Fringe World 2018.

It is brutal in its simplicity, and in its honesty. And on the opening night, some in the crowd had tears in their eyes by the end of it all.

19 Weeks is the story of the playwright, Emily Steel (performed by Tiffany Lyndall Knight), and her recounting all of her 19 weeks of her being pregnant with a baby diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, her decision to terminate the baby and dealing with the emotional aftershock of her decision.

The story’s narrative is framed in a way in which Emily recounts events of every week of the pregnancy, from inception, to the. The descriptions of the events recounted are so vivid, that they double up as a crash course on the abortion process, as well as being just a purely riveting human story that many in the crowd could relate to.

The choice of using an actual pool as a swimming pool as a stage was incredibly effective. Not only was the front row got to skinny deep their heels, but it was also nice for clean, fragrant and spotless space, a generally refreshing change from the usually sticky stages of other venues (props to the Como Treasury Hotel for opening up the pool for this performance) and Emily uses it to evoke the swirling, chaotic emotions of those nineteen weeks.

In a festive festival that brings out the weird, the laughs, the navel-gazing, it would seem that stark, unremitting, honesty might be competing in a tough space. 19 Weeks is well above pushing its weight in that department.

19 Weeks runs until 10 February (i.e 1 and 1/2 weeks)

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Rivals of Ixalan: The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

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The lost, golden city of Orazca has been found, and the four factions have arrived, with swords and all the panoply of war, to stake their claim and fight one another for the treasures therein- and for the greatest treasure- the Immortal Sun that is gathered.

Rivals of Ixalan is the latest expansion which adds 196 cards to the existing metagame, and completes the Ixalan block as a whole, and contains no special collectible cards. The set introduces one new keyword- Ascend, which gives an irrevocable bonus to cards with the relevant keyword, if you control ten or more permanents; which is everything on your side of the board, from lands to creatures, artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers.

The Ascend mechanic is very fun in Limited, where games go on for long enough (but not long enough to drag out to the never-never) for it to become relevant, and more often than not might just be enough to break a deadlock. For Standard however, the keyword becomes quite tasty for decks that want to go wide and flood the board, though in these formats, the merits of gaining a bonus late in the game when games are won and lost on early decisions seems rather questionable to me.

The Ixalan block was something that had a lot of appeal to casual and social players- a set with pirates and dinosaurs was always going to sell no matter what, and it was an opportunity for fans to dig/loot/rummage/draw through their wardrobe for their finest dinosaur or pirate costume (no love was ever given to vampire conquistadors, and costumes depicting fish folk are not easy to find), some of whom turned up at pre-releases all over.

This set primarily fleshes out the tribes that were previously established, and completes them to a point that they could function as decks, albeit at a casual level. Decks focused on tribes have the unfortunate side effect of being very linear, in that you either get to do your thing undisrupted and coast to victory, or fail to fire and simply get stomped by efficiency. Decks focused on dinosaurs now have some additional tools to ramp their mana faster, in the form of Thunderhead Migration (which lets you find a land and put it tapped, whilst Vampires and Merfolk function as a streamlined aggressive decks that synergise with a critical mass of their respective tribe. Pirates have gotten additional aggression at the lower end of the curve, but little for the long game, giving them a lot of potential to catch players off guard with speed and trickery.

***

Overall the set is a little unexciting for competitive players, with no pieces that catch the eye. But for players of the casual breed, especially Commander players (a very fun, random format where you have 100 cards, with the stipulation that you can only have one of each), there’s a ton of fun cards that have no impact but extremely wacky and polarizing payoffs, or requiring an entire deck to be built around it.

So I did a few simulated pre-release packs and over the course of those simulations, the Limited format of this set looked actually rather entertaining. It was entertaining in the sense that you could build functional decks without having to rely on certain powerful cards. So I decided to do one for real.

To start off my day, I opened the worst possible pack, having to work with things that I would normally not even give a second thought to. All the rare cards that came in my set of six (4 of the new set, 2 of Ixalan) were dedicated to really useless situational stuff, such as a singular Raptor Companion and two Dusk Chargers that could never be played. I had to examine my pool nearly thrice over deciding that my only route to victory was through playing a ton of removal- I had seven in all, two in the form of Ravenous Chupacabra (who adds a body in addition to its extremely busted ability to destroy anything- pros of this game and other personalities rate it the best card in the entire set), and only rely on a single Shining Aerosaur as a genuine threat to close out the game.

Sealed pool l'terrible (the same could be said for photo quality, as is my ability to present things in neat, orderly lines)

Sealed pool l'terrible (the same could be said for photo quality, as is my ability to present things in neat, orderly lines)

The most memorable game on that day was me staring down a lethal flying dinosaur on board and on a 35 life to 2 deficit. Needing to topdeck like mad, I drew the one exact thing I need- a Pious Interdiction, to stave off impending doom, played the removal in my hand to counter my opponent’s follow up play and then attack all the way to the end.

Turns out having that much removal was a lot more effective than I bargained for, as I managed to make it all the way to the winner’s corner and end the day undefeated, going 4-0.

(You're probably tired of my gaming adventures for now, and I want to take a break too, there won't be anymore for a while as Fringe / PIAF season rolls in.)

Adventures in Cardboard: A Heart of Kiran

Andrew Ryan

Heart of Kiran (Aether Revolt), by. Jaime Jones

Heart of Kiran (Aether Revolt), by. Jaime Jones

As 2017 enters into end step, there’s one more tournament to cap off- Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan Store Championship (formerly known as game day).

The morning schedule of that day ended looked a little like this

 

8:30, Wake up, half-groggy from the humid sun.

8:35 check the internet for the latest metagame lists- sees one that I like.

8:36 re-build my deck’s mainboard and sideboard in that morning.

8:40-9:00 Breakfast, which consisted of a triple mix of cereal, coffee- caramel latte flavoured.

After that, it was time to roll down to my local card shop to actually play the game. Bringing an aggressive three-colour Vehicles deck into a metagame expected to be hostile to me was in most respects a bad idea to begin with.

So much for that, as the store was packed with a large turn out, with a couple of competitive players who made their way north from other parts of town, clashing with the locals who brought decks that were more likely to be fun than anything you saw at top tier tables.

The opening round I got matched with a guy who had just found out where this store was, but brought a decent second-tier control deck, called Blue-White-Black Approach, where his game plan was to cast Approach of the Second Sun twice and win the game on the spot. Let’s call him Jarrad, and he has a babyface like the kid from that movie Baby Driver. Aggressive vs control decks generally favour the aggressive player as the control player has to find an answer for even our smallest threat, never mind the top end of our decks. I get to bulldoze him in the first game, then losing the second game to being starved of one colour for the most part and him getting to resolve his win condition twice. Then for the decider, I got to attack for a lot, then resolving a Chandra, Torch of Defiance and using her ability to simply burn my opponent for the last few

Always good to start off the day with a win.

Next I was paired against Kim, who brought what was probably the best deck in the room- a four-colour Energy deck tuned to win the mirror match. This was a very bad matchup for me even if I did get to play the game normally, but it was over in less than five minutes, as I got bad hands in both games and didn’t even get to play. Not perturbing, given that this happens often enough that I accept it as a fact of life.

Round 3 was against Dion- a very Australian man, complete with akubra and motorsport-related collar shirt but with a love of true-blue spellslinging, who was playing the same deck as Kim, except he cut one of the colours for a more consistent manabase and a more aggressive strategy. I lose game 1 due to having keep a sub-optimal hand, and then virtually locked out of the game through a series of really good draws on his end. Then on the play, I do a real doozy sideboarding in a very cute, silly plan and got punished for it as I draw all of it in order.

At this point, I was like: “Okay my day’s pretty much over, let’s just have fun for the rest of the day.”

Round 4 was against Michael on Ramunap Red, but we never got to play as he was already out of contention and generally lets me have the win, and he pulls apart his other deck. Extremely fortunate, and perhaps it was a sign of things to come.

Now it was one of those dreadful matches- where if you win you’re in, you lose and it’s lights out. Thankfully it was against a good mate of mine, Rowan who was on a deck that won by generating an inordinate amount of tokens and stall forever, and the Rowan-Clayton Classic never fails to entertain, and entertain it did in the first game where both of us flood like no tomorrow, and I draw two Hazoret, The Fervents in the hope of racing him but it was met with two Cast Outs to remove it, and then I die to a single Marionette Master, who normally wins through sacrifing artifacts at you, but in this instance, simple beatdown proved a far more effective weapon. Second game, I directly attacked his tokens strategy by playing Rampaging Ferocidon, which burns for 1 everytime a creature comes into the field, turns off any attempt to gain life, and proceeded to die from his own tokens. To win the final one, I got to draw an extremely aggressive hand against a very slow one on his end.

The top 8. I am the one in plain white with that grin.

The top 8. I am the one in plain white with that grin.

I sneak in into elimiantions and just. Eat a banana, and a snack bar. Keep nutrition up and mind laser-focused. The obligatory photo for top 8 was taken.

First elimination round was against Matt on a combo-aggro deck in the form of Blue-Green Pummeller, whose gameplan was to get the namesake card to a power above usually 30 and then smash it one in big attack for the kill. Since my opponent had gone undefeated for the entire day, he got to go first, but never got to assemble the combo kill as I stole his thunder and attacked turn after turn. In game 2, it was my erstwhile opponent that got to pummel me ‘til I was green and blue. The deciding match was very much like the first, and I was lucky to pull through after making what would have been a tournament-ending mistake.

With one down and one win closer to the beautiful playmat, I had to overcome Michael’s Blue-White Eternalize deck, which wins on the virtue that his creatures can return on the field again, much stronger than before. So I had to race it fast. I got to win the first game with a very fast aggressive draw, and losing the second because I drew land turn after turn. For the decider, it was very entertaining, as Michael decided to keep a very risky hand, which turned out to have no blue sources and 3 Authority of the Consuls, which would tap down my creatures and give him life. My hand was 3 Rampaging Ferocidons, and he never saw a third land as I munched for large amounts of damage each turn.

Down down the Temur river I go, I hum as I face the final hurdle- naturally the worst matchup, Red-Green-Blue Energy splashing black piloted by Josh with a very spicy sideboard card. In the first game I manage to draw the aggressive hands that my deck was known for, and despite having some removal thrown my way. Game 2, I managed to see my sideboard plan on the draw, which involved a board sweeper. But turns out the plan doesn’t work when there’s only few on board and your opponent still has a full hand. Game 3, I decide to do something unusual, and bringing back in some of the lower to the ground creatures I took out. That plan worked as I got to draw and pull off the perfect sequence of draws that was unstoppable.

A fitting and final hurrah for this deck of mine as I get to take home the playmat, and this time round, took the store credit as I was uninterested in opening more cardboard, and acknowledging that it could have easily gone south. Sometimes, it’s just the heart of the cards, so the saying goes.

Eww, that lazy eye.

Eww, that lazy eye.

A Late Opinion About Star Wars- Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Andrew Ryan

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(This piece assumes you have seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Come on, it’s been a week. But fear not, no particularly major spoilers here.)

 

So I finally got a chance to sit down to the biggest sci-fi phenomenon (in terms of pure market value, given Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox Media’s entertainment properties) to a largely empty cinema.

Star Wars Episode VIII picks up some time after Episode VIII ended, with the Resistance on the run after a fierce, brutal counterattack by the First Order, which leaves the good guys on really dire straits, first losing their main base, then most of their fleet. Anyone familiar with real time strategy games would have just hit the concede button at this point on and move on to the next game.

First off, comparing Episode VIII to Empire Strikes Back, is way off. Like as much of a miss like the first proton torpedo shot. Whilst there are superficial trope similarities (and definitely a few scenes that evoke it) between both movies, VIII is less about the conflict but more about the whole Jedi/Sith thing and whether it needs to stick around. If I’m using any comparsion, it’s actually a whole lot closer to a classic video game, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (set thousands years before the events of the Battle of Yavin IV, which is used as an unofficial calendar), which is more talking about the concept of the Force as a whole, of Force Bonds between one Jedi to another (and sometimes Force Bonds doesn’t care which side of it either represents), and the whole ‘letting go’ theme that thankfully holds the film together. Speaking of action, the film gets better all the way to the end, combined with the incredibly loud (I.e awesome) battle sounds.

In regards to racial and gender representation behind the film- as far as I’m concerned, the Resistance and the First Order have completely subscribed to being Equal Opportunity Employers, although the First Order is still off limits for the universe’s non-human species. Chinese and Indian (casted) members of the First Order have had the honour of firing many a mega death laser, causing the untimely demise of billions of Rebel scum. At the very least Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran gets a lot of screen time and gets her own chance at personal heroics (but not sure if it's worth celebrating to the high heavens over it). Vice Admiral Holdo on the other hand, counts as a pretty poor admiral by any stretch of the imagination.

Star Wars Episode VIII is a good movie, even though the sheer power of the brand would make back its buck even if it was as bad as the prequels. (and that’s not much of a high ground, so to speak.)

Knightfall

Andrew Ryan

I can't even a good enough image so this will have to do.

I can't even a good enough image so this will have to do.

The medieval setting has always been a treasure trove mined by movie producers all across the world, and the brave knights of the silver screen go off in search for the holy grail that is a good story, and more often than not, the object of their desire eludes them.

And speaking of holy grails, that is the focus on what Knightfall is all about. This History Channel production is set in the 13th century, and follows a small squadron of Knights Templar, led by Sir Landry, a knight of somewhat mixed virtue in their search for the Holy Grail (or the cup in which Jesus held as he broke the bread at the Last Supper) in which they lose at the siege of Acre (about 100 odd years after Richard The Lionheart took the damn city), thanks to the forces of the Sultan of Egypt. 15 years later, the Holy Grail somehow surfaces again, conveniently in the fair, beautiful country of France.

The premise is distinctly average, with as much appropriation of the Arthurian legend incorporated into a historical setting, that as far as the first episode goes, seems to be more window dressing than a central plot device. The main character, Ser Landry, played by the totally-not-French Tom Cullen, is almost as interesting as watching paint dry. The rest of his entourage are equally British in cast, and just as dull. But then again dull zealotry is probably something one ought to expect out of knightly orders anyway. As with every show set in this period, there’s the obligatory scandalous sex scenes, as well as the obligatory feasting, splendor and that scheming Littlefinger-wannabe.

Visually, it's pretty cringeworthy- ramping is used time after time for every quarrel, sword thrust, and couched lance. Then there’s the baffling choice of a shot of the character’s speaking inside their helmets. In addition to this, the CGI isn’t clean, and you can see it on the image.

If one thing the showrunners are ambitious, with plans to add novels and comic books into the franchise, in their words, to expand the rich world of the series. To give credit where credit is due- but the show is highly unlikely to be captivating enough for more than a few novelty comic issues and limited run paperbacks.

Knightfall isn’t even bad enough for it to be ‘so-bad-that-it’s-good’- it’s that its distinctly average; it fails to inspire any sympathy for its heroes and just feeling like an exercise in box-ticking. So far it seems like it is manning the battlements for a real series that never quite emerges. The only reason I had the chance to watch it, was that I was curious enough to see what sort of historical fiction shows were on offer (that isn’t the Vikings).

 

 


Historical Context: The Knights Templar

 

The Knights Templar's rise and fall and their legacy have been the staple of many books, games and movies from many writers and creators across the Western world. Their rise from humble and impoverished origins, to their glorying peaks of wealth and riches, and their swift and fiery fall thanks to the machinations of European politics makes for great drama.

The Knights Templar were initially founded under the name Poor-Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, but the use of the "Knights Templar" became common parlance for the many common soldiers and the occasional noble scion who would end up in its ranks- and those who joined swore monastic vows. 

Their initial duties were simply to serve as watchmen and safeguard the passage of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, who were vulnerable to the highwaymen and bandits of the desert whilst they made the long overland journey from the port of Jaffa to the holy city of Jerusalem. 

However, their reputation as tireless and reliable defenders of Christendom grew back in the mainland Europe, and they had an influential advocate in the person of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (who is best known for his aphorism "the road to hell is paved with good intentions") and he praised these knights in the same way that music journalists today would at swoon and gush at emerging superstars. Soon they were inundated with donations and high-born volunteers who had their own cash. And tireless and reliable defenders they were, as they engaged in the Muslim Saracens in various battles, and scoring many a victory through the fearsome, heavily armored warriors who rode on equally armoured horses.

With this new-found wealth, they bought farms, vineyards, got involved in manufacturing and trade, whilst building great stone castles across the Outremer (the part of the Middle East that is now Israel). At one point in history, they even claimed ownership of the island of Cyprus. They would also accidentally become bankers as pilgrims would often deposit valuables in the treasury of the Templars, who would in turn issue promissory notes worth equal to the valuables stored. The Templars, thus can lay claim to being the world's first multinational corporation.

However, the riches, glory and praise were not to last long as the 12th century loomed. The Saracens, now united by a skilled and charismatic (and likely blonde, blue-eyed) leader in the form of Saladin whilst the Christian princes who held titles and lands in the area were engaged in behaviour they knew well back at home- fighting and bickering amongst each other. Meanwhile, the Knights Templar had to contend with new rivals, such as the Knights of St. John (or better known as the Knights Hospitaller) and the Teutonic Knights. In the end, at close of the 13th century, they would lose all of their holdings in the Middle East.

The wealth of the Templars was to bring their downfall. The King of France, Phillp the Fair (as depicted in Knightfall by Ed Stoppard, son of the famed playwright), who was in heavily debt to the Templars, and decided to find a way to get out of this prickly situation. An arrest warrant was issued towards the Templar's grandmasters, and several confessions (under duress) later, they were all charged with all sorts of trumped up charges and sentenced to burning at the stake. As for the property of the Templars, they were passed over to the Knights Hospitaller, who would go on to do a much better job at fighting, holding out until the 18th century as Napoleon, the famed French general, besieged Valletta on the island of Malta.

Today, the Templars are best known as fodder for conspiracy theories- not helped by their depiction as a secret New World Order organization in the Assassins' Creed video game series.

 

Loot-boxes and Gambling: The Legalities

Andrew Ryan

SHINY.

SHINY.

Yes and no. No one can agree whether buying digital lootboxes constitutes a form of gambling and should be treated and possibly prosecuted as such.

What is a lootbox?- A lootbox are in-game items that you purchase (with real money) in video games, usually games that involve multiplayer, where it contains x amount of random digital objects, which range from cosmetic skins all the way to in-game abilities, and consequently an edge over those with not as much disposable income. Sometimes these objects are assorted in the order of rarity in which you get one ‘rare’ item guaranteed.

The purchases of lootboxes and other digital items- are collectively referred to as microtransactions- and they add up to quite a fistful of dollars.

The most egregious examples of lootboxes would be the recent game Star Wars: Battlefront 2, where the lootboxes contain items that give you an absurd edge in multiplayer games. Another game that is known to have lootboxes is the popular Overwatch, though the contents of said boxes are only purely cosmetic. Lootboxes could, with some technicality and a pinch of chutzpah, also be applied to online card games like Hearthstone or Gwent, with their booster packs as well their analogue equivalents for (children’s) card games such as Magic, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh.

Whilst in itself, a product, the psychology of the lootbox, and the act of opening one is very similar to the behavioural patterns often associated with pokies and slot machines- the brief, high-pitched sounds and bright sounds that are often played as you open these, induces a certain stimuli in the brain that induces you to keep repeating it, and the ever-advanced innovation to keep the cycle going- or to put it less politely- chase the next high. There are plenty of unboxing videos out there on YT. There are enough stories (salt ought to be taken) of aggrieved parents wondering what happened the next time they checked their bank balances, because their children sneakily ‘borrowed’ their credit card.

Legality (Australian context)- in the context of Australia, Gambling laws vary from state to state. Queensland’s gambling regulator- the Office of Liquor and Gambling Regulations, have stated that loot-boxes don’t constitute as a gaming machine under their Gaming Machine Act 1991 (a hefty 566-page document) Victoria, or rather the Victoria Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), on the other hand, seems to have a different mind- that whilst lootboxes constitute gambling, under the context of adding gambling functionality to non-gambling games- the VCGLR can’t actually prosecute the game developers, since they are a non-Victoria based entity but however the Victorian laws could be enforced if say, the game decided to market a specific lootbox deal towards Victorian-based players.

The Western Australian counterpart, the Department of Racing, Gaming, Liquor, has their equivalent regulation the Gaming and Wager Commission Act 1987/88- in the form of the Gaming. Examining the relevant clause- under Division 5- section 84, which covers on our government’s definition of what constitutes a gaming machine-

a) constructed, adapted for used for playing a game of chance by means of that gaming machine

b) a player pays (except where he has an opportunity to play without payment as the result of having previously played successfully)

      i) by inserting money or money's worth in the form of a token, ii) by in some other way

c) by the chances inherent in the action of the machine, determines the outcome of the game.

Considering this, my hunch is that lootboxes don’t particularly constitute gambling under the eyes of the law, using the QLD’s Gaming Machine Act 1991 and the regulator’s opinion.

But then again, I’m not a lawyer here.

***

Wordy legal-ese are aside, I do find the timing of the debate about lootboxes a little late and much of the language is couched in moralistic terms (which brings back memories of the early 2000s about violent movies and games). Lootboxes and pay to win have been quietly operating in the background for quite some time but are now in the spotlight.

That said lootboxes, and the way its pushed out, is in itself predatory. But in the end it comes down to players making the decision whether they want to buy or not buy. That’s where the law stands as far as it goes- the law doesn’t quite cover whether that the buyer in question is vulnerable to this subtle psychological manipulation- such as children and young adults (and you could say the same about the lonely and elderly when it comes down to slot machines and roulette).

To be able to stamp out lootboxes as part of the gaming experience would require new legislation, as the state of Hawaii in the United States, worded precisely against the sale of lootboxes to minors, as well prohibiting the mechanisms that encourage gambling. Further abroad- re-interpretations of the law could apply, as per the case in Belgium, where if you are paying real money with no clear idea of what you are getting, it could therefore be ruled as… gambling.

Say hypothetically lootboxes are in the gunsights, what about the analogue counterparts- you’d have to target them as well, as laws, by nature indiscriminatory and context-free. To use a familiar example- Magic: The Gathering has a format called Draft, and a format called Sealed, which are reliant on blind boosters to create gameplay. The gavel comes down and you’ve just wiped out two of the ways people can enjoy Magic.

The key takeaway point is that laws can never quite (and never will) match the speed in which technology evolves, as well as the social adaptation to the technological evolution; along with the fact that humans sometimes enjoy rolling dice or punting on horses; and that services that cater to this need are going to keep expanding, innovating and skirt the boundaries of any legislation.

In the end it’s all about self-control and being conscious and alert on how you spend that money, and keeping the impulse in check. Or a lesson for the young, with some reflection, to learn the value of saving money and delayed gratification after having wasted it on digital items.

 

*this read is not intended as a detailed and exhaustive analysis on the topic. For that it is worth checking on other sources on the mysterious thing that is called the internet.

Crusader Kings 2: Jade Dragon

Andrew Ryan

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From atop the porch of your keep, you survey the lands that you have claimed. The Silk Road, is indeed a dangerous place to be- Turkic raiders to the north, the settled Sogdian princes to the south, and to the east, the armies of the Heavenly Kingdom stand at the border, and you have done well to carve a small slice of it, and live to tell the tale.

Ruling is hard and age has begun to weary you- you hope that your physician’s treatments are working, and that your brother hasn’t slipped a few silvers in his purse. A cool breeze is fine weather to enjoy a much-needed rest.

The sound of heavy, rushing footsteps breaks you out of your reverie. His panting and the look on his face indicates that it is urgent, so you wake up, take a deep breath and follow your servant. At your court, which is thronged with various relations and other obsequious courtiers.

A man stands before you, in fine green, gilded silk, depicting dragons and other exotic, mysterious wonders and his hat is quite ostentatious. Behind him are men dressed in much plainer robes and donning. He bows in a way that you are not familiar with, but you let that go. One of his entourage hands him a scroll, and this emissary begins to announce extremely loudly in your mother tongue, in an accent that you find annoying, and wishing you could just put this insolent fellow to death.

The Emperor wishes for you to come to the Capital and demonstrate your subservience under Heaven. It would be wise for you to attend, and we will give our utmost hospitality.” he announces and then bows.

You are quietly fuming, putting your mind to imaginative ways of punishing this weasel. But your right-hand man, a man of low birth but loyal and honourable, soothes your temper.

I would advise it. From what I hear, the Emperor of that country does not hold insult lightly. Besides, I hear it is a beautiful and wondrous land.”

Ultimately you relent, and begin to think of how to enjoy a vacation to this foreign, strange land that you’ve only heard tales of, and bow to this mysterious sovereign. Ruling is hard, and perhaps you could use a good rest.

***

Crusader Kings 2: Jade Dragon is the latest expansion pack to the sweeping (a)historical epic that is Crusader Kings 2. The expansion adds the presence of the Heavenly Kingdom into the game and players may interact with China in many advantageous ways, or conversely China may interact with you in many disadvantageous ways should you somehow to contrive to wake the dragon.

Forging a good relationship with China is bound to bring benefits- measured by Grace, which you can acquire through the sending of gifts such as concubines, eunuchs (China’s a very good place for that annoying brother of yours who plots to take over your throne everyday) or your family’s precious heirloom handed down for seven generations. In return for such fine gifts, you can petition the Emperor for a boon, which can come in the form of weddings, or highly skilled leaders that can turn the tide of a battle, or scholars and governors that endeavour to enrich your realm for generations- or if you are feeling particularly devious, politely ask for an invasion on a nearby kingdom that’s about to gobble yours. However friendship is just an option. If so you choose, you may raid the Middle Kingdom for fun and profit, or to declare a real war against China to place one of your brothers (or other relations) on the Dragon throne, which will pit the might of your entire realm against theirs in a true clash of titans.

The addition of Jade Dragon makes playing the game outside of the bread and butter of Medieval Europe a more interesting experience, but not all realms can send letters to the Emperor. But for the meat-eaters and the bread-dipped-in-gravy types, war is a much easier affair as you no longer need to forge dubious documents to claim so-and-so’s lands; dispense the formalities and just march in with your men (historically- this is legally invoked as the ‘right of conquest’), though important people across the known world might not be so keen on adding you to the invite list for their next banquet after this- who cares about some feast when you got a nice, new tract of land?

Gameplay aside, aesthetic touches in the form of portraits to depict Chinese and Tibetan characters as well as some additional Oriental inspired musical tracks (that seems to have been inspired by wuxia epics), and the map got an overhaul, with the addition of Tibet as a playable region (I wonder what the modern Chinese would think) and the Orient being a much bigger and more dangerous playground for the budding horse lord or Silk Road prince. Jade Dragon is a wonderful addition if you’re a die-hard Crusader Kings fan (like me).

***

Historical Context: The Silk Road

The Silk Road has a long history that dates back for over at least a millennia. Kingdoms and empires come and go but the road keeps winding nonetheless.

The Silk Road dates back to around 317 BC, during the time of Alexander The Great’s conquests. Contact between West and East tentatively began at this point. Major expansion and boom occurred under the Han Empire in 130 BC, with routes being opened across the Tarim Basin and the Fergana Valley after defeating off barbarians in the region. With the expansion of the trade routes, merchants began to trade with the kingdoms and principalities of the area. Goods such as glass, horses were exchanged. Evidence was uncovered that Roman pottery could be found as afar as the Korean peninsula.

A second boom in trade occurred when the Roman Empire had taken over where the Greeks left off, around 30 BC, after the conquest of Egypt. Amongst the citizenry of Rome, there was high demand for Chinese goods, silk in particular (this is where the origin of the name would come from). As Rome fell, it was the Byzantines that followed. Contact between the Byzantine and Tang dynasty was common, if sporadic. The Silk Route would also come to contact with the Islamic world, exchanging cultural ideas along with coinage.

The Silk Road would reach its apogee at the height of Mongol rule (1207-1360). Safe within the largest Empire (by landmass) in the known world, trade flourished extremely as the Mongols valued the skills and arts of the settled peoples, despite being from a traditionally nomadic culture. It is around this time that Marco Polo would make his travels into China (though there is significant debate that he lied about all of this).

A French fresco dating back to 1380 depicting a caravan on the Silk Road.

A French fresco dating back to 1380 depicting a caravan on the Silk Road.

The decline of the Silk Road coincided with the decline of the Mongol rule, as the routes began to be separated by the warlords that the Mongols previously put down, and the powers of the area being culturally cut off from the rest of the world. Whilst the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Safavids salvaged some of its former splendor, it would never reach the heights of its past. A final death would occur in 1720 as Safavid Persia fell.

Even if the actual Silk Road as it existed died off, the cultural legacy of this long and winding route remained at large within the modern mind. The Eurasian Land Bridge- a railway that stretches from China to Russia via Kazakhstan and Mongolia is often referred to as the ‘New Silk Road’. There are currenly economic agreements between various nations to open a new overland railroad between Eastern Europe all the way to Asia. As of 2017, services are extended all the way to London, Paris and Milan.

Let The Right One In @ State Theatre Centre 14/11

Andrew Ryan

Sophia Forrest as Eli having a rare dinner. (Photo Credit: Daniel J Grant)

Sophia Forrest as Eli having a rare dinner. (Photo Credit: Daniel J Grant)

Director: Clare Watson

Original Story by: John Ajvide Lindqvist

Cast: Ian Michael, Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Rory O’Keeffe, Clarence Ryan

 

Let The Right One In has once been described as Romeo and Juliet… with fangs.

After all, two movies and a novel, and a TV series that didn’t pass the pilot stage can’t entirely be wrong. Now, it is told once again, on the stage.

For those who aren’t familiar with the source material, the year is 1981, and somewhere in the suburb of Blackeberg (though in this instance inha, a serial killer is loose, leaving a trail of cold bodies in the wake. Everyone is terrified, including Oskar, a shy 12- year old (played by a very much adult Ian Michael) who is constantly tormented at school by bullies. One night he has a chance meeting with a young girl named Eli (played by a very much adult Sophia Forrest, and they begin to grow incredibly close to one another.

The staging is unique, with the performance taking across 9 mini-stages designed to look like an apartment block, which is a nice, aesthetic touch. The apartment block stage also doubles up as a screen for the performance’s audio-visual elements, so the economist in me really appreciates it. The performances are decent at best- functional, if unremarkable. The on-stage violence did elicit more laughter than it did a sense of terror, although this may have nothing to do with the performance entirely. The play’s limited use of lighting grounded the scene with a sense of tension simmering throughout.

Why certain plays insist on having dance sequences to loud blaring 80s soundtrack eludes me, but the number of these in between scenes is very detracting to the foreboding mood that the play spends most of its runtime setting up (I know it needs to establish a 1980s setting, but I don’t think specific time and dates are necessary for this story- as the American adaptation attests)- and also would save some time. That said for the rest of the moments where effects are used are well done, and elicited some gasps of approval, such as the underwater scene.

Is it right to Let The Right One In into your heart and savour the theatre like it was pure, clean blood? It really depends on how hungry you are for theatre. The meal may sate, but may also not fill, so it’s worth thinking before you tuck in.

 

Oriental Treasures: The Promised Neverland

Andrew Ryan

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It’s not often that I enjoy Japanese manga (oddly for someone who grew up with an Eastern persuasion- the things I enjoy from that part of the world can be counted on my digits). But when I do, I burn through page after page, from start to the latest chapter (or to the finish), usually in the space of half a day.

The Promised Neverland is one of those rare few. This series largely features on the weekly magazine Shonen Jump (marketed towards the 13-15 range in Japan), and is a breakout success for its writer Kaiu Shirai and artist Posuka Demizu- this series has been picked up for an English language release by Viz Media (who exists to bring the best of Japan’s cultural exports to the West).

The series follows the tale of Emma, Ray and Norman, three children amongst the many who live happily in an orphanage, until one day, their curiosity gets the better of them and witnesses something that shakes the core of their idyllic existence- that they are simply bred as premium quality, (free-range) food for demons that live outside. With that grim knowledge in mind, the three plan to break out from a place that has always been their home, and brave the unknown.

The most intriguing part of this simple premise (that could have been squandered by YA authors) is that the story is allowed to go at a very slow pace and the reader gets insight into the mind of the various protagonists, and even the side characters, as they set our their plans and counter-plans- there’s a whole Great Escape vibe that goes on, planned and led by pint-sized Steve Mcqueens. The suspense and word-building builds up slowly, as the reader (and the protagonists) find out about the strange and eerie setting, and any twists and turns the story takes are logical rather than left-field.

The Promised Neverland isn’t light on the philosophical themes- the story and pages are heavy on the concepts of existentialism- about what it means to be ‘living’ than merely existing, the battle between one’s idealism, pragmatism, and reality. All of this philosophy is often in the background to be unpicked by the reader and meditated on, rather than explicitly obvious.

The series itself is still ongoing, having only started August of 2016, but I'm liking the direction that the story is going, so I'll leave it here.

Where to read- Mangafox- a nice little portal for fans of the medium to enjoy works that aren't available in the West, translated by enthusiasts. Alternatively, an English release is expected in December 2017.

I Am My Own Wife @ State Theatre Centre 13/10

Andrew Ryan

Brendan Hanson in I Am On My Wife- photo credit: Daniel J Grant

Brendan Hanson in I Am On My Wife- photo credit: Daniel J Grant

Director: Joe Lui

Original Screenplay: Doug Wright

Cast: Brendan Hanson


I Am My Own Wife is a captivating and entertaining larger than life story about Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde, who, as a transvestite, lived under two of history’s most brutal regimes- Nazi Germany and the communist German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and manage to survive it all through to the 21st century, long after the country’s reunification.

On its own, it’s already amazing, and that’s the essence of the tale that holds the whole thing together, regardless of how you may feel about gender politics- which whilst of some import, but doesn't entirely focus around it. Brendan Hanson does an impressive 36 different characters, from the eponymous subject, to that of the playwright, and of other minor roles, switching from one (mildly exaggerated) accent to another without catching a breath- whether or not you like that form of theatre- there’s no denying effort and talent here.

The staging of the play is rather economical, using a single stage to reproduce the feeling of different places, but the overall mood is intimate, fitting with the subject matter, and really engaging the audience with the core story. Narrative wise, everything feels compact, no loose and superfluous ends left hanging, and ultimately presents the eponymous person as a human being with all their virtues and flaws, and the more unsavoury parts of von Mahlsdorf’s history are highlighted. Whilst it’s a good play and well presented, it just meets about the bar of good, not anything special or particularly memorable- with the exception of Brendan’s performance.

On a tangential note, the play also serves as a nice ‘101’ class to modern German history, from the Third Reich to the days of the communist GDR and a glimpse of the tumultuous, uncertain years after the reunification- it offers a decent enough summary, putting in relevant details and leaving out ones that aren’t. It does rely on a bit of the audience’s knowledge of life under both regimes to fully appreciate the tale though.

Nonetheless if you’re looking for a warm, uplifting, inspiring story, on a night out in the city with not much else to do, than I Am My Own Wife will be right up the alley.

I Am My Own Wife runs until Sunday 29 October.

Blade Runner 2049

Andrew Ryan

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Director: Dennis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoek

 

How do you talk about movie like Blade Runner 2049, a film that exists in the shadow of a classic?

Rave critical reviews and modest box office returns aside for a film of its ambition and grandeur, aside- Blade Runner 2049 is a great film that sets its own slow-burning pace. Whether it is cerebral or extremely pretentious can be entirely up to you.

Blade Runner 2049 is set 29 years after the original film (when Harrison Ford was in his prime), in which the world of the BR universe has changed greatly, but still very much the cold and bleak urban jungle which influenced the cyberpunk genre irrevocably, with works such as Ghost In The Shell, Cyberpunk 2020 among others.

Replicants have now been integrated into society, though they still suffer from discrimination by humanity at large, as a result of past history and conflict. KD-6 (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the LAPD’s Blade Runner division, tracking down those like himself and forcibly retiring them. A chance discovery on a routine case unlocks something buried deep in his memories, sending him on a personal mission to get to the bottom of it, and deep into a revelation that could possibly shatter the fragile co-existence between humans and replicants.

Regardless of whatever you might think of the film’s somewhat compact plot in which not really all that much goes on- but its presentation (both visually and aurally) alone is worth the cinema ticket- every scene and shot is painstakingly composed down to the tiniest edge, using lots of dark lighting and chiaroscuro, and in some instances flashes of extreme brightness. The music, by Hans Zimmer, spiritually harks back to that of Vangelis’ work in the original. The 180 minute runtime may be an issue to some viewers though, as is the pace. Gosling and De Armas provide their strongest performances, especially in scenes where both are present. Gosling’s portrayal of KD-6 humanizes 'him'- we get a sense of him as an individual who experiences the lonelness and alienation of his world. 

Blade Runner’s presentation of the future is always what makes it stand out from other works of science fiction- this is a city that feels lived in and yet at the same is dreadful to live in- and one that looks like it could be plausible in real life. The product placement that appears in every major film is made seamlessly part of the scenery, presented in all its neon glory in contrast to the grimy surroundings- and tiny details in worldbuilding, delivered in both picture and syllables is what sets it apart from tons of other universes. And as an echo to the first film, a scene in which KD-6 enjoys some rice in a poorly lit eatery (for those who’ve never seen Blade Runner- it’s the scene in which Harrison Ford’s character goes and eats some ramen). 

Blade Runner 2049 is a great film, if however not as ahead of its time and ground-breaking as it is the predecessor. You may want to watch the original film first in order to better fully understand the second though.

 

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Andrew Ryan

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Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascual, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum

Runtime: 141 minutes

 

Normally, you would shake a tequila, not stir it.

The Kingsman franchise takes that martini and spins it multiple times like a fire poi wielder, and then serves it.

Mixogical adjectives aside, The Kingsman franchise riffs on the much more well known 007 / James Bond franchise, and does so with style and swagger, but a lot less serious than its counterpart, and the world the Kingsman resides in is more entertaining, colourful and larger than life.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is very similar in the vein of Kingsman: The Secret Service, with an equally high-flying plot- Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), callsign Galahad, is once again called upon to save the world from the charming yet utterly ruthless drug baroness-cum-1950s housewife Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), who leads a secret organization called the Golden Circle that has a monopoly on the world’s recreational drug trade. To make matters more difficult, the Kingsman organization is eliminated violently, forcing the remnants of the Kingsman to team up with their American counterparts, The Statesman (who by day brews the best goddamn whisk(e)y in Kentucky) in order to stop the Golden Circle’s diabolical plot.

Half of the fun of the Kingsman is the extremely over-the-top flavour that favours the rule of cool and this film is never short of the outlandish; from the crisp gentlemanly suits and the fanciful gadgets that Kingsman go to action in (and likewise for the statesman with all their cowboy paraphernalia). The performances are serviceably entertaining, with Pedro Pascual (who you may have seen as Oberyn Martell) is a whipper-snapping cowboy doing his best Southern Drawl. Julianne Moore plays a very weird kind of villain that switches between an extremely ruthless supervillain and then into a housewife persona at the drop of a hat (or sometimes in the same breath). Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges on the other hand feel barely used at all. The plot is delivered in a reasonably paced, easy to follow manner, and it stays at the same pace pretty much all the way, and to top it off, there are plenty of explosions and decent sequences (though not memorable in any sense of the imagination).

The film’s soundtrack is a non-stop jumble of hits, some of which are by Elton John (who himself features in the film as a fictionalized caricature of himself), and usually out of place in more serious spy films.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a film you’ll enjoy, but it’s a decent fun caper at best, nothing special even within its genre. You’ll get your money’s worth, but exactly just that. No more, no less.

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Cardboard: Clayton Doesn’t Quite Win A Tournament But Comes Rather Close.

Andrew Ryan

The professionals to the left. The first-timers to this journey down the rabbit hole on your right.

The professionals to the left. The first-timers to this journey down the rabbit hole on your right.

To battle through all the way to the end and then fall at the last hurdle must be the most cruel, no matter what the endeavour.

Even if this endeavour is a card game that sometimes gets taken a little too seriously for its own good.

Prior to this tournament, I had to play a separate qualifying event, racking up just enough to wins to merely sneak in to be able to play.

Fast forward a fortnight, that seemed quite agonizingly slow- in truth I just wanted to get it over and done with, expecting to be torn to shreds, and leave me to enjoy a break from Magic: The Gathering.

Elsewhere, 3,000 kilometres away, two Aussie rules football teams battle one another for the Grand Final. But then I care very little for that kind of football anyway (The round one, on the other hand, sign me up!).

To start the day off, I got paired against Ciaran, decked in an Eagles guernsey ready to do battle with a Red/Green/Blue Energy deck that has become all too common in the tournament metagame. The first round was a tight battle but eventually he was able to stick a couple of a Bristling Hydra and a Glorybringer dragon that I knew I had no answer for, so I immediately packed up all my cards and moved on to the second game, opting to sideboard aggressively. In the event, I played my things, and my opponent got stuck on a two lands for a very long time and I won in short order. In the third, decisive game, I had to keep a hand full of lands and my own Glorybringer, and was punished for it and I wasn’t able to draw anything that could help me win the game.

To begin the day with a loss meant I had an uphill battle for the rest of the day. Fortunately I was given a bye round, which meant a longer time to get lunch. At any given Magic tournament, nutrition is the no.1 key to success- and the best kind of meal is anything packed with proteins, either in healthy forms (please let me know what these are), or more often than not, in unhealthy ones. Two pizza breads from the nearby Baker’s Delight, and I’m ready for round number three.

In the third round, I was paired against Ben, who doesn’t play the Standard format much, and it showed as I ran my Vehicles deck into a highly favourable matchup against a control deck. He draws nothing important and was forced to tap out for a board wipe the one creature in my field out of desperation. I win two back to back in the space of five minutes.

The fourth round was against another Energy deck, piloted by Michael, nearly the same as the first match, with some differences in technology (in this context technology means specific card choices that line up well against the other decks in the metagame). The very first game, I come rushing out of the gates and put such a fast pressure, with flying planes to keep pushing damage past. In the second game, siding into a much more slower, controlling gameplan, my opponent floods out and I eventually grind him out the game with overwhelming board presence.

After the fourth round, everyone took a look at the standings. Usually what happens here is that the top players look at the standings and do a little mental calculation if they could all just intentionally draw their games together to freeze out. However in this case, everyone had to play, since I and another were unwilling to risk losing out on being the top 4.

So the final, decisive, intense fell down to a match between Red/White/Black Vehicles vs Mono-Red Eldrazi, piloted by Armayne, who in his spare time alters cards (Card altering is where you superimpose a new image, or paint over the existing card), a matchup that I had in no way expected to be playing against, and was utterly dreading knowing that its faster little brother, Mono-Red Aggro, was the one deck I could lose to. I play out the first game, bringing Armayne down to 3, but then my opponent launched a massive counterattack that brought me down in 2 turns. I go aggressive on the second game, and this time I was just fast enough to bring it to a third game. The pressure is on for both me and my opponent, and the audience behind me got treated to a spectacle of a duel between a Chandra, Torch of Defiance planeswalker on both ends of the table. In the event I won the duel decisively and barely just making it through, putting me in the top 4 at the expense of my opponent, who had played well despite the outcome.

The finest magicians of the North- (L-R): Josh, Ciaran, Logan, some random nobody.

The finest magicians of the North- (L-R): Josh, Ciaran, Logan, some random nobody.

There was a brief moment of respite and celebration was given to the top 4 players- we got the official Good Games Magic Championship 2017 playmat (painted by frequent MTG artist Ryan Yee), and the right to represent the North in heading South at Cannington, in a winner-takes-all event.

The first elimination round was against Josh, who was once again on Energy. The first match ended in a typical victory I got to sequence perfectly. The second match however dragged on as both of us drew land after land after land, meanwhile an earlier Doomfall spell allowed me to know the entire contents of his hand, and had to bait out one of his counterspells in order to resolve a Gideon / Chandra (tournament was a weekend ago, exact details are sketchy) I had in hand, but in the event, it was Josh who made a play mistake as he removed one of my creautres instead of stealing it, and would’ve had a way to clear my Gideon. Not aware that he had made such a mistake, I cleared his last blocker and turned the Gideon sideways for lethal. Tense.

The pre-fight promotional photo.

The pre-fight promotional photo.

Before the final match, both me and Ciaran took a deep breath (and in his case, a durry), and played out the last round- to determine who wins a year of getting to play at the local shop for free. The first two rounds went exactly the way it did in the morning, but at the last hurdle it was a neck and a neck battle, and it came down to me missing crucial triggers (no-takebacks!), and poor decision making.

I block a small attacker with Archangel Avacyn.

Then Ciaran dropped a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to destroy the angel, and from there all hope was lost as I proceeded to draw Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, on the turn I needed a boardwipe of my own.

At least he won a final of his own, unlike hos footy team.

At least he won a final of his own, unlike hos footy team.

Ciaran got to put his name as the store’s first Magic: The Gathering champion (the narcissist in me wanted my name on that plaque). I had to settle for second-place prizes and it was a bit of a tough pill to swallow.

In three weeks time, I’ll have to make the journey down to Cannington and play for the one big prize (whilst possibly being livestreamed)- to be flown to Melbourne to compete against the other State Champions at PAX Australia (the biggest gaming/technology conventions this side of the hemisphere), on the October 27-29.

If I do make it there, I’d like to hopefully flown in a week or two earlier to visit Melbourne’s vaunted cultural hotspots before I go into the arena.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan

Andrew Ryan

All that glistens is... sometimes gold.  (Treasure Cove- Cliff Childs)

All that glistens is... sometimes gold.  (Treasure Cove- Cliff Childs)

Dinosaurs. Pirates. Battleships. Vampire conquistadors. Fish people. Zombies. Robots. Dinosaurs piloting Battleships / Skyships that pilot other Battleships / Skyships. Maybe a Zombie Robot Pirate Dinosaur. Or just a Pirate Dinoasur.

Yarrr, the possibilities are endless.

This is what the Standard environment will look like as soon as Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan drops. This set, the first of the second in this Meso-American inspired block adds a whopping 274 cards (no Masterpieces) to the existing metagame, introducing new types, and new rulings, new and returning mechanics- The new flagship mechanic is Enrage, where you get a generic evergreen effect if a creature with this keyword is dealt damage, and a returning mechanic in the form of Raid, where you get a generic effect if you attacked with a creature, regardless if it was successful or not.

Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan, Standard Format, probably.

Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan, Standard Format, probably.

Compared to Hour of Devastation (the previous set, which was by and large a disappointment), I’m wildly excited for this one, as it also marks the end of four sets’ life in the Standard format- Battle for Zendikar (the set in which I started my journey down this rabbit hole), Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon. Sure I will miss slamming Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, a wildly busted Planeswalker ever since it was printed, but to be fair, I was getting bored of windmill slamming that on the table. Eventually all good things must come to pass, so the saying goes- the format at the tournament tables is a Wild West right now and hands are on holsters.

The story here seems to be set in a fantastical take on the Age of Exploration- so think fantasy Columbus, Pizzaro, Cortez, Blackbeard, and Francis Drake on an equally fantastical Aztec Empire where its people have apparently developed metalworking and the use of cavalry (unlike their historical counterparts). In this verdant jungle world the set’s actual storyline revolves around the planeswalker Jace (the stand-in for the typical M:TG player) who finds himself lost and unable to planeswalk away back home, due to something interfering with the magic.

As for the actual cardboard (let’s be honest- most don’t care too much about the story), the amount of spicy reprints is worth their weight in (metaphorical) gold. Opt and Spell Pierce provide new cheap spells that can be played on your opponent’s turn, whilst Lightning Strike can finish off your opponent who thought he was safe. Duress is a cheap and efficient way to look at your opponent’s hand and possibly strip away a vital piece in their plans- and that’s some of them. The new stuff is full of support for new types of decks that mainly focus on creatures that share an occupation or species- between pirates, dinosaurs, and merfolk, time will tell which one actually becomes competitive. And for those with already existing collections, the new stuff fits like a glove to a hand.

But between now and the release of this treasure trove of a set, I still have one more tournament to play, and then I may do a pre-release, or not, as I’ve been playing non-stop for more than is healthy.

Time to reel up the anchor and set sail!

Magic: The Gathering Ixalan will be pre-released on the 23rd- 24th September, before general release on the 29th.

Switzerland @ State Theatre Centre 22/8

Andrew Ryan

Photo credit: Phillip Gostelow

Photo credit: Phillip Gostelow

Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith

Directed by: Lawrie Cullen-Tait

Starring: Jenny Davis & Giuseppe Rotondella


Switzerland is theatre at its most simplest and refined, eschewing all the bells and whistles in favour of good writing and drama.

The story of Switzerland imagines an alternate version of the real Patricia Highsmith, living in self-imposed exile in the titular country, nestled away in a retreat the mountains, whilst the world passes her by, no longer actively writing novels. Edward Ridgeway, a fan of Highsmith’s novels who works for a publishing company, travels all the way to convince Highsmith to write one final Tom Ripley novel, but gets more than he bargained for when he meets the real author, and finds himself in a battle of wits.

Switzerland is constructed as a simple two-hander, but within this structure, the twists and turns are genuinely engaging, as each character tries to break down and dissect the other. The build-up to the play’s surprising Shaymalan-esque conclusion is the bread and butter (and I suppose, wine?), even though the actual delivery of the final part of the play felt abrupt and out of sync with the beginning and middle parts of the story- a real, rushed let-down to be quite honest. The staging of the play itself is fancy, and luxurious, with every nook, cranny and thread taken account for. Overall, the entire vibe of the ensemble exudes class.

Special mention must be given to the quality of the language used throughout the play. The delivery of each word, and turn of phrase is what makes the entire ensemble very much worth watching. Hell I’d probably want to read the script alone. And with all ears on the words, there are very few aural cues and other sound pieces to distract the audience’s attention, allowing us to focus on every word spoken.

Switzerland is a fine piece of theatre. The sort of theatre that assures you of its future in the current era.

Switzerland runs until September 3.

Adventures In Plastic & Cardboard: Double Tournament Bender

Andrew Ryan

The attacking Space Marines find themselves attacked instead by the evil, treacherous Dark Eldar. Just one of the many action scenes happening at Objective Secured @ South Perth Community Hall on Sunday. (Photo credit: Mine)

The attacking Space Marines find themselves attacked instead by the evil, treacherous Dark Eldar. Just one of the many action scenes happening at Objective Secured @ South Perth Community Hall on Sunday. (Photo credit: Mine)

It was a bender alright. By the time I was finished with it all, I was extremely exhausted, having clocked about 16 hours of gaming.

First off the list was a Game Day for Magic: The Gathering: Hour of Devastation at my local card shop. The event had snuck up on me, being a week earlier than I had normally expected it to be, but nonetheless I spent a lot of time finding the best combination for my own deck specifically, the same one that I took to victory. However I come on to this event expecting a slightly more hostile metagame than the one I rode to success with- in a particular an aggressive deck that is faster than my own, and one that I had some trouble squaring up against- it’s simply a deck that plays one color and whose goal is simply to cobble 20 points of damage.

The proceedings go under not long after noon, opening up my first round against a Green-White deck focused entirely on cute kittens.

These furry friends however could not last against onslaught of jet engines and magical missiles as I finished that match with two back to back wins.

In the second round, came the mirror match against my very own deck. The first game may or may not have happened, as neither me nor my opponent could recall whether it did indeed happen, or things had happened so fast, I managed to steal the second game, and then it came down to a decisive third- and I was already shaking and jittering from having to play extremely cautiously and considering every move not to make a single mistake. In the end, I won the third game on the back of a Chandra, Torch of Defiance that was allowed to simply do its thing and eventually win on her own.

The third round I ran into Mono-Red aggro, my nemesis deck. I won game one by the skin of my teeth, and then my relief was short lived as I simply got run over in the last two. For the fourth round, I ran into a Black-Green counters deck, winning the first round with an extremely busted aggressive draw, and then switching over to my famed planeswalker-based control sideboard strategy, which worked for a very long time but my opponent countered with a similar idea, knocking out all three that I had deployed. In the end I simply lost by miscounting the amount of damage I did, whereas I would have won if I held on for one more turn. To cap off a pretty bad run, the final round was against a control deck, losing the first due to having too many lands on board and no threats, winning the second with an aggressive draw, and losing the third due to a combination of play mistakes and lack of aggressive threats.

In the end, all I had to show was a rather middling record and missing out on the cut to top 4.

With cardboard business done, it was time for the plastic business one. My friend Brian gave me a lift all the way up north of the river to the south to his place. I got in some practice of Warhammer 40k 8th edition, as a warm-up for the Objective Secured mixed doubles event that was being held at South Perth Community Hall on Sunday, and then spent the rest of the night touching up some models to have them in at least a respectable state by Sunday, whilst tuning in to the Overwatch World Cup.

I opened the day commanding a joint force of Space Marines supported by a blob of Imperial Guard infantry (think the doughboys in those World War I movies) against Dark Eldar, in a mission where me and my friend’s forces were on the attack. Well ostensibly we were on the attack, but as it played out, it was the Dark Eldar who surged forward and charged into the ranks of poor, bloody infantry. The tenacity of the infantrymen, with a little help from the mighty Space Marines, drove the Dark Eldar offensive back, but we went to the time, and so it was Dark Eldar who triumphed.

The second round has the alliance laying an ambush for another army of Space Marines with some Dark Eldar ‘friends’. Their objective was simply escaping through the blockade, whereas mine was ensuring that they did not. My plan to win this round was simply to shoot down the fast moving transports the enemy was in, nothing else mattered. A preliminary bombardment before the beginning of the game, helped remove a small infantry squad who happened to find themselves dead center of the blast, followed by an opening salvo from my long ranged artillery that knocked down several Dark Eldar vessels (or as they are often referred to amongst the boots on the ground as ‘cardboard boxes’). The plan was executed well, if not cleanly, and the enemy was slaughtered to a man as they attempted to escape the encirclement, though with many dead on my end as well.

The third round was a scuffle between Space Marines and another group of Space Marines and an Adeptus Arbites army (think Judge Dredd), and the scenario had both armies field only a small patrol from the get go, with the rest coming to join the fight. It was really unlucky for the opponent, a team going by the name Double Doug (both players are obviously named Doug) that my side got all its reserves in on the 2nd turn onward, whereas a full half of their army failed to show up, presumably enjoying too much Imperial-sanctioned adult entertainment. That and some sabotage on one of their flying gunships to ensure it would arrive too late to turn the tide. The brief moments of local superiority was all that was necessary for my alliance to triumph.

The final round’s mission was a classic trench run. A classic Pickett’s Charge against a well fortified Space Marine force, commanded by highly experienced generals packing heavy artillery, whilst a flanking force would slow us down. Initially my plan was simply to move towards the enemy’s deployment zone, running as fast as a leopard, but somewhere amidst the carnage, the plan was abandoned, and the enemy’s counter attack pretty much ended all hopes of victory.

Nonethelss I didn’t too bad for my first competitive event of Warhammer 40,000. My rather boisterous enthusiasm did not go unnoticed as my team was often picked for sportsmanship nominations. In any case, I was busting to get home and get some real sleep.

Coma Land @ State Theatre Centre 21/7

Andrew Ryan

Morgan Owen as Penguin and Kirsty Marillier as Boon in Coma Land. Photo: Phillip Gostelow

Morgan Owen as Penguin and Kirsty Marillier as Boon in Coma Land. Photo: Phillip Gostelow

Director: Will O’Mahony

Cast: Kirsty Marillier, Humphrey Bower, Morgan Owen, Ben Sutton, Amy Matthews


Coma Land is a refreshing break from all those serious, gloomy plays that try to be profound (and then go nowhere near it). Instead Coma Land, is joyous, frivolous, and everyone on both stage and audience gets to embrace their inner child.

The concept of Coma Land relies on a suspension of disbelief- in which people who are in a state of unconsciousness, whether induced or otherwise, enter a whimsical, colourful world which reminds one of early childhood memories (at least as we can understand in an Occidental socio-cultural context- my own childhood primarily consisted of Age of Empires II, Starcraft and Warhammer 40,000 as far as I’m aware of), and in order to return to the real world, they must dig through the snow and find their thing.

The protagonist of this play is Boon (Marillier), as in a synonym for gift, benefit- who is a child prodigy who could master the various masterpieces of famous composers at a very young age, finds herself in Coma Land after an attempted suicide in the real world. Not long after landing in this mysterious place, she meets Penguin (Morgan Owen), a very young cheery, bubbly girl who yearns to fly- and joining this motley crew is Jinny, an overly-motherly party planner and Cola (Ben Sutton), a panda who is undergoing a sperm donor operation who wants to be a human and do normal things like sorting out taxes, and in the middle of all this, is Penguin’s over protective Dad (Bower), who somehow never wants to leave Coma Land.

The pacing of the play is very fast and feels rather short, and not a lot actually goes on narrative wise- no sweeping profound stories rich with drama to be found here. It is rather humble and concise rather than ambitious, which shows the writer’s ability to understand his scope and work within that narrow area. Neither does it try to be anything deep and meaningful, whilst cleverly working Malcolm Gladwell’s philosophy of 10,000 hours in a funny, informative way that doesn’t feel forced. And on a whole, everyone from stage to audience seems to have had fun with the concept.

Whether Coma Land is your thing or not, depends on how far you’re willing, or not, to dig for it.

Coma Land runs until 6 August.