Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My wife had finished reading Gone Girl on the same day that I picked up a copy of Old Man's War from the Humble Bundle program. She was insistent that I read it so we could talk about it (she didn't want to give anything way) and so I read through the first two chapters. I immediately found that neither Nick or Amy appealed to me, so I set it aside and spent the next couple of weeks leisurely reading Scalzi's book. Once finished with that I felt I should take another stab at Gone Girl.

First, I'm not typically a fan of relationship drama or crime fiction. I recognize that there are good works in this genre out there, and I can read them and appreciate them, but it isn't my go to genre. So I was already biased against this book. Secondly, the first few chapters of the book are very slow. Amy's diary entries are frustratingly wimpy and Nick narrative is very self-absorbed. We know from the dust jacket that there is some excitement coming, but we need to pay our penance of getting acquainted with our characters before we get to the fun.

Then Amy is gone, and I'm learning new things a bit at a time about each character. Unlikable things about people I already didn't like. Then, around 200 pages in, whammo, major shift.

In the end, Flynn is to be commended on some exceptional writing here. The characters are extremely well done. So my rating here is less about the quality of the book (it is quite good) but a reflection of my own tastes. I wouldn't read it again, because it isn't the type of book I enjoy. On the other hand, for fans of crime dramas, I would highly recommend it.

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Over the past year I've fallen back in love with board gaming in a big way. I've always enjoyed table top games, but finding a group to play with has been a struggle. Fortunately, I've met several locals that also enjoy games, and I've befriended the owner of our local board game store, which has led to lot better opportunities to game.  I have had a chance to play quite a few games that were new to me, and picked up my own copies of some games that I've particularly enjoyed.

One such game is Munchkin, a Steve Jackson game.  Munchkin is a card game for three to six players that condenses a Dungeons and Dragons campaign to the core elements of defeating monsters and grabbing treasure.  Each player begins as a level one plain old human and is dealt four "door" cards and four "treasure" cards.  These cards might allow them to become a class of hero, such as a Cleric or Thief, or change their race to something like an Elf or a Dwarf.  In addition, some treasures provide armaments that increase the power of the player.  On each player's turn they first setup their items, races, and classes as they like, then they "Kick in a door".  This means the top door card is revealed.  If it is a monster, the player tries to defeat it by using a combination of levels and items to have a higher power than the monster.

Of course, it isn't that simple.  Other players can get involved in combat too, and not just to help you out.  The other players can offer to help you defeat the monster by adding their own power to yours, but often they will want a bit of the treasure in return. Defeating a monster awards a level to the player who kicked in the door, and the game is won by reaching level 10.  This gives the other players an incentive to mess with you, and the game provides plenty of opportunities to do just that.  There are cards that allow players to curse one another and demote them a level or steal items.  There are powerful enhancement cards that can either make a player more powerful or make the monster more powerful.  There are cards that allow springing additional monsters into combat when they are least expected.

The game is given a light feel by the humor found both in the art style and the flavor text of the cards (i.e. Pantyhose of Giant's Strength).  In the box you will find door cards, treasure cards, and a dice.  It would have been nice if it included something for tracking player levels, but that is reserved for the Deluxe version of the game.

I've had the occasion to play several games now, and it has left me with a distinct impression of the game.  Given the right players, this game can be a lot of fun.  The right players are people who have been exposed to the concepts of role playing games and likely have spent time, if not actually role playing, at least playing video games with role playing elements such as item management and leveling.  The humor is geared towards players familiar with role playing and fantasy tropes.  These types of players will quickly pickup on how the game is played and will likely enjoy themselves quite a lot.  On the other hand, playing with the wrong players can be a miserable experience.  The wrong players are folks who have never been exposed to role playing or fantasy games, rules lawyers, and jerks.  A jerk is going to be painful to play with in any game, but this game intentionally provides opportunities to harass each other.  This can bring out the worst in people, especially if two or more of your players have some issues with each other.  It can be painful to watch them hate on each other during what can sometimes be a two hour game.  Rules lawyers are also painful to deal with because the rules of the game are intentionally terse and open to interpretation.  A lot of time can be lost quibbling over how cards might interact and timing elements that the rules simply don't cover.  This distracts the focus from the fun of the game and leads to constant refereeing of disagreements over mechanics.  Finally, players with no background in role playing or fantasy can feel like the entire game is foreign.  I've played with three folks who fit this mold, and I felt bad watching them play because it was clear that everything in the game was alien to them and they were having absolutely no fun.  These aren't problems with the game per se.  Instead, it is best to know your audience when you consider breaking out the Munchkin box.  Be sure the players are going to be right for having a fun time.  If in doubt, pick something else.

I've enjoyed playing Munchkin, and while I have had some bad experiences, the good experiences will keep me looking for the right group to play this game with again.

Jade Mason