October 18, 2021

The MCU Project: Black Widow (2021)

It was some two years ago that we thought we had completed The MCU Project, never to have to return to its often-incomprehensible kablam kapow blah de blah storytelling. We should have known better; even a global pandemic couldn’t save the world from More Marvel.

And so on Saturday night we gathered with some excellent takeaway Indian streetfood, to watch Black Widow, one of only two Marvel movies to centre a female character. The approach we had originally decided on was to watch the movies in chronological order of the story, however this is now impossible, as back-stories and prequels are going to be churned out as long as people keep paying to watch them. About 10 minutes in, it was established that Black Widow is set somewhere in the middle of the chronology, and tells the origin story of Natasha Romanov through the media of various incomprehensible action sequences and some sort of timelapse/montage to the eerie strains of an acoustic cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

For me the star of the show was a decent appearance from the city of Budapest, as itself [noteable because Budapest so often stands in for other cities in movies, including Beijing in The Martian, and Buenos Aires in Evita]. I happily stopped trying to follow the “plot” and tried to figure out at what point the car/tank chase would take them past Doctor Pockless’ old flat. In fact they took a right around Parliament Square and never quite reached that end of the No 2 tramline.

Eventually the movie coheres into some sort of plot, wherein it turns out that Drakov (some sort of baddie whose megalomania is facilitated by the exploitation of women, just like a real life baddie), is not dead, having died offscreen in an event that was never actually on screen to the best of my recollection. Various family reunions occur amid the general fightiness and a lot of explosions. Drakov dies offscreen again, so that this movie thread can continue indefinitely (or possibly escapes, I wasn’t really paying attention).

Star of the show, other than Budapest, is Florence Pugh, who enjoys some excellent Jodie Comer-like russian accented sarcastic mutterings about the sexist poses struck by her character’s sister Natasha. She also has the best plaits, in a movie featuring generally very good hair, which is what really sets it apart from the rest of the MCU body.

So again, we have watched a Marvel movie so that you don’t have to. You can thank us when you pop in to cocktail hour on Friday – yes, it’s still going, live on zoom, every week.

Karen
October 13, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Thirty-Seven)

(View previous instalments here)

Insel-Brauerei – Snorkelers

This is a sea salt IPA which smells nice and fresh, and fairly delicately hopped. It has an intersesting appearance – very cloudy, with many large white floating particles. They didn’t sink to the bottom like sediment, but seemed to be a deliberate feature. The beer has some head, but this dropped away quite quickly. The flavour is very bitter, and caused Karen to make The Face, which is something that we see less and less of these days. She complained for a protracted period of time afterwards – ah, it’s just like the old days. The saltiness is definitely present, but it’s a coarse sort of saltiness. I felt like I was drinking a fishing village. Borderline on the scoring for this one, but I’m feeling generous.

Guinness 0.0

I’ve been waiting for a long time for this one. This absolutely looks and smells the part. The colour and consistency are an exact match for the alcoholic version. As far as flavour is concerned, it’s very close but not quite identical. Compared to the alcoholic version, I detected a very slight sour quality. On the whole though, I declare this a huge success.

Nittenauer Lola

This is a coffee porter, and is a type of beer that always gets my hopes up, because when done well, it can result in a really complex and hearty flavour. The previous beer I tried from this brewery contained a lot of sediment, so I was prepared for that this time, and poured it slowly and carefully, and left the last little dribble in the bottle as it did look like there might be some sediment coming through with this one too. It pours with very little head, but it has a promising consistency – not watery at all. The smell is dark and rich, and the flavour is equally superb – dense and invigorating, with perhaps a faint whisper of something sour. It’s nearly, but not quite, on a par with the Svart/Hvit, which as you know, is an absolutely gem and one of my favourite alcohol-free beers ever.

Pete
October 4, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Thirty-Six)

(View previous instalments here)

Flensburger Radler

I can’t read much of this can, as it’s all in German, but I can recognise a picture of a lemon when I see one. There was a big hit of lemon smell when cracking open this can, and a very voluminant head which settled down fairly quickly. I passed it to Karen for her thoughts, and she thought that the lemoniness was subtle, but I disagree. It’s very lemony, but with enough beeriness that it manages to stay just short of the bounding line where I feel like I’m just drinking lemonade.

Pohjala Prenzlauer

This is a raspberry Berliner Weisse, and is unsurprisingly very pink. The head dropped away very quickly. It’s a very tangy and raspberry-forward drink, without much beery quality at all really. Not bad, for what it is, I suppose.

Nirvana Bavarian Helles Lager

You can see the thick head in the photo here. This one smells very pungent and malty. It has a good flavour too – a bit sweet, but not so far as to be sickly. I offered it to Karen for a sip but she declined, as she was carrying a stinking cold at the time and didn’t want to share it with me. I ended up getting it anyway, of course.

Nittenauer – The Wit

I took a few days off of drinking beer to nurse my cold. I often find that when I have a cold, my sense of smell is dulled, which also impacts on my ability to enjoy food and drink. So, it seemed like a waste of time to attempt to review beers when I couldn’t really appreciate them. As my cold receded, I picked back up with this. This is an odd little beer with some orange and coriander in it. The head faded very quickly indeed, and by the time I was ready to take a photo there was basically none left. As I poured the beer, dollops of sediment tumbled out – there had been nothing on the label to warn me about this, so I was stuck with it.

This is a very sour beer. Karen says it tastes a bit like perfumey beer. It reminded me a bit of the Atomic Blonde – it’s sour, but in a sort of undignified way, like stomach acid. As I got further down the glass, it was harder and harder to avoid the whirling sediment, so I ended up tipping the tail end away, but to be honest this was no huge loss.

Coming up in the next instalment of this series will be a beer that I’ve been particularly looking forward to – Guinness 0.0!

Pete
September 12, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Thirty-Five)

(View previous instalments here)

Ceria Grainwave

This is a medium orange colour, and quite cloudy. There was some head when poured, but this dissipated quickly. The smell is very tangy with a hint of orange. I found the flavour to be a little disappointing, as it was quite watery. There was a hint of that oranginess in the flavour, and a bit of beerishness, but really not enough of either. Karen had a sip, and didn’t really know what to make of it.

Rok Soba Lucky

This has a deep brown colour, almost ruby. The head on this is fantastic, and hung around for a decent while. It smells fruity and a bit pungent, like a beer festival. The flavour is equally robust, with a hint of banana. Karen said “this just tastes like beer” but didn’t pull The Face. I could very happily go for this again.

Ceria Indiewave

This has a deep orange colour and is very cloudy. The head is nice, and persisted for a good few minutes. The smell is very strongly of rose, like granny’s bathwater. The flavour is also very floral but also with quite a lot of bitterness. It’s still pretty refreshing though, and hits the spot nicely on a searing hot day.

Rok Soba Voyager

This IPA is a dark amber colour, and is clear with a satisfactory head. The smell is intriguing but well balanced, with a mix of sharp hoppiness and smooth malt. The flavour is surprising and unconventional, like a mixture of citrus fruit with something deep and cereal. Very intriguing stuff.

Pico Nova

This is a West Coast IPA, very clear with a deep colour. The smell is a bit bitter with a striking roasted quality. Karen had a try, and pulled The Face (first time I’ve seen her do that in a long time). She says it’s way too bitter, and yes it is fairly bitter, but my personal experience of drinking this was that it was comforting and quite nicely fruity.

Pete
September 5, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Thirty-Four)

(View previous instalments here)

Nirvana – Elderflower Lager

This is an insanely lively beer, as you can probably tell by the photo. When I removed the cap, it erupted like a silly geyser, and I managed to fill this pint glass up with 1cm of liquid and the rest of it froth. I took this photo once it had settled down to a slightly more sensible level. The head didn’t take too long to dissipate and vanish entirely.

The beer is pale and slightly cloudy. It smells sour, with a fustiness like a cupboard that hasn’t been opened for a while. Karen says “light and crisp, like a sauvignon blanc. Maybe I’m a beer drinker.” Seems to me that that’s the kind of thing that a wine drinker would say, no?

But yeah, it’s sour and winey. There isn’t an awful lot of elderflower in it, but to be honest there doesn’t seem to be much of anything else either.

Hoegaarden 0.0

This is thick and creamy, pale and cloudy, with that recognisable medicinal Hoegaarden smell and flavour, a bit orangey and weird. It’s slightly less dense and intense than the regular Hoegaarden, but you know maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

On the whole, it’s a decent choice and I’d have it again, but there are other superior options in this space.

Insel-Brauerei Skippers

This beer has a dark, orangey colour, and is cloudy with a creamy pour. As you can see, it has slightly novel packaging in that the bottle is wrapped in paper. The smell is fabulous – really malty and warming. The flavour is also a grand experience, though perhaps a little more bitter than I’d like. It’s certainly not lacking for impact.

Brussels Beer Project – Pico Bello

This is a hazy IPA with a pale colour and a reasonable head. It smells suitably fruity and sour, as you would expect from this sort of drink. However, the flavour is far, far sourer than the smell would set you up to expect. Karen is a big fan, and said “if beer was pleasant, that would be a pleasant beer.” It’s great, but for me, it’s not one of my favourites.

Encoder – Doppler

This beer has quite a deep amber colour and is clear with a head that is decent on pouring, but quickly fading. The smell is floral, but also with a dense darkness. The flavour is absolutely fantastic. I’ve remarked before in these reviews that there are loads of great alcohol-free wheat beers and light IPAs, and some decent lagers too, but the offerings for dark, autumnal beers are generally quite disappointing. This one, however, is a real winner in that category, and I can definitely see myself putting a handful of these in with my next order.

Pete
August 26, 2021

Pandemic Legacy: July

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost our second attempt at May, giving us a losing streak of 4 games
  • We have a new character, Pike, whose character class is Soldier and has some useful skills which lend well to combatting the Faded
  • We won our first attempt at June, by a hair’s breadth

On to July! The first thing we did was to open box 8, which we should have done as soon as we lost our second attempt at May. This gave us 3 cards, similar to unfunded events, which would be shuffled into the player deck, and could be played against an epidemic to neutralise it (almost) entirely. There is, however, a cost to playing one of these. For one thing, you have to increase the panic level of a city. For another thing, each of these cards can only be used once, and must be destroyed immediately thereafter. I can envisage a situation where one of these could potentially save us from a late-game outbreak cascade.

Our win bonus for June granted us the choice of either adding some equipment stickers to city cards, or placing some roadblocks. We figured we’d probably go for the latter option, but since we didn’t have to decide until after setup is completed, we set this card to one side for now.

June win bonus

We then unveiled our mission for July. A virologist has gone missing, and we need to search for them in research stations in faded cities. The instructions on the cards here seemed to be incorrect, as we didn’t have all the tokens we were supposed to have. After some online research, we discovered that we were also supposed to open box 5, and indeed the necessary tokens were in there.

The search for the virologist

One thing to note about this is that with each epidemic, the goal token for the search moved on by one. Therefore, it would make strategic sense to try to do this as early as possible. We now had the following objectives, of which we needed to do three in total:

  • Find cures for all 3 diseases (mandatory)
  • Eradicate 1 disease
  • Find the virologist
  • Finish the game with 7 quarantined faded cities
  • Build a military base in each of the 6 regions

We felt that it made sense to prioritise the search for the virologist as we reasoned that this might give us other benefits in future games.

The setup for this game was so bad that we laughed. There was a huge, huge bias towards the Faded cities, with 11 of the 18 initial disease tokens landing in this region.

Lots of starting tokens in the Faded cities

This made choosing our win bonus a no-brainer. We deployed some roadblocks to try to contain the worst of the mess. We isolated Beijing entirely, and also placed a roadblock between Tokyo and San Francisco. While San Francisco is already Faded, we definitely did not like the prospect of Tokyo spilling over and turning North America into a crisis zone.

Initial roadblocks

We played the same characters as last time, but swapped the players:

  • Jonesy the Generalist (Susan)
  • Ewan the Quarantine Specialist (Karen)
  • Pike the Soldier (Pete)
  • Colonel K*D (Gammidgy)

We began the game, and naturally our initial priority was to contain the situation in the Faded region. The first epidemic card came up and was for Mumbai. We were happy with this – it was well away from any other hotspots, and quite close to a research station, so wouldn’t be too tricky to handle. An infection occured in Shanghai, where Colonel K*D had ended their previous turn, so unless we could do something about that, they would pick up a scar at the start of their next turn.

The soldier quickly made their way to the military base in Shanghai, in order to put a grenade belt sticker on one of their city cards. This is an invaluable tool in fighting the Faded, though it’s not going to be so easy next time round, as now there are no free grenade belt equipment stickers left, we’re going to have to wait for one of the the grenade belt equipment cards to come up in the deck. With this grenade belt, they were able to ensure that Colonel K*D would be safe at the start of their next turn.

Ewan made good use of their character upgrade to check the top cards in the infection deck at the start of their turn. We gave them this upgrade back in March, but because of the 15 month interim period between games, we had forgotten entirely about it. It turned out to be very useful – they were able to predict when both Tokyo and Kinshasha were due up next, and both were on the cusp of outbreak already. With this knowledge, they placed quarantine tokens on both cities and averted a double crisis.

The search for the virologist proceeded extremely well, with both the Soldier and the Colonel contributing. We had a research station in Tokyo, so this was the location where it happened, and the presence of a quarantine token there also contributed an additional bonus to searching. Within a matter of minutes we were within one spot of our target. An epidemic occurred in Miami (again, this was a fairly lucky draw, as this wasn’t close to any existing danger areas) which pushed the search target back out one square, but as long as the quarantine in Tokyo held, it was still achievable on the soldier’s next turn.

Found the virologist!

And indeed, we found them. We now have the gene sequence of COdA! We are utterly baffled as to the implications of this, but surely it will all become apparent at some point in the near future.

Meanwhile, we’d been gradually funnelling city cards into the hands of those who could make use of them. The Soldier can’t cure diseases at all, and the Colonel requires 2 extra cards, so it fell down to Jonesy the Generalist and Ewan the Quarantine Specialist. The yellow disease was the first to be cured, and at this point we had a general feeling that the board was mostly under control.

It’s not as bad as it looks

Yes, it’s true that LA looks a bit shaky. But that pink pawn is a soldier, and they’re about to swoop in with the grenade belt and clear out that city in one turn

At this point the time taken for us to take each turn increased significantly. We could sense that we were at a sort of tipping point, where victory was within our grasp, but we had to play smart and weigh up the options. By working together, we eradicated yellow entirely, giving us a second optional objective completed.

The next epidemic card came out two minutes later, and it was for the yellow disease, the one we’d just eradicated! Gammidgy was heard to utter “I think we’re gonna win”, as the blue cure dropped into place.

In the closing stages of the game, an epidemic in Delhi occurred, followed by the Delhi card coming up immediately thereafter. This was pretty bad as neighbouring Karachi already had 3 cubes in it, causing a double outbreak in these two cities. Their panic levels have increased accordingly.

Double outbreak

Had we been able to cure the black a turn or two earlier, this could have been avoided, but to be honest it’s tolerable. The state of the board, on a whole, looks okay. We’ve done a decent job of constraining the spread of the Faded, and there are only 3 Faded cities beyond the original ones. We feel like this is a pretty good showing. And while there are a few Faded cities that are now in a state of rioting, most of the cities don’t seem to have degenerated too much.

For our game-end actions, we did the following:

  • Applied a positive mutation to the (eradicated) yellow disease, so we no longer need to spend an action to cure it.
  • Gave a character upgrade to the Generalist. They now have “Veteran” which allows them to use the military shuttles. We’ve decided to start flinging more character upgrades at the Generalist, as they have space for 4 (whereas most characters only have space for 2)

The Generalist is now a veteran

Which rules have we been getting wrong this time?

This seems to happen every time, so I’ve decided to make a dedicated section at the bottom of each blog post. Back at the start of May, a new rule was introduced. I wrote about it at the time:

There is a small increase in the infection rate of the Faded – now, whenever a player draws a city card that corresponds to a Faded city, one Faded figure gets added to the relevant city.

It’s a long time since we’ve remembered about that rule, if indeed we ever have. Oops. Next game’s gonna be a bit tougher, I guess.

 

Pete
August 25, 2021

Deep immersion

I have a tendency to take up a hobby, and take it up hard. I buy all the stuff. I read all the websites, and any books available. I find like-minded people on the internet, or in real life if I’m lucky. I buy more stuff. This is fine when it’s a cheap and not particularly time-consuming hobby like learning to draw, or something that I will continue to do for a long time, like running. Fortunately I have not yet taken up driving sports cars or anything too mid-life crisisy. But there is some evidence that open water swimming is my Next Big Thing. Look how ridiculously pleased with myself I am:
Me in the sea, looking really pleased with myself

Swimming is not so much like running. To run, you need a good pair of shoes, a sports bra, and comfortable clothing that you don’t mind being seen in. You leave the house, you start running, you run as much as you feel like, then you return to the house and get a shower. You feel smug for the rest of the day.

To swim, you need a swimming costume you don’t mind being seen in, a brightly coloured hat and a tow float to ensure that you definitely can be seen, a pair of water shoes if you don’t know what it will be like underfoot, a towel and preferably a massive changing robe, something to wear afterwards, access to a hot drink, some means of carrying your valuables while in the water, and in my case, a change of glasses so that you can see where you’re going without risking not being able to drive home. Unless you’re very lucky, you need to travel to the water, rearrange your clothing, and talk yourself past the initial cold shock when you think it’s all a terrible idea. If in the sea, you can bimble around a bit and get splashed in the face, which is fun. If in a river, you have to swim up to the point that you have decided is halfway, and then swim all the way back (which is easier because part 2 is downstream, but if you’re already cold, you still have to keep going). If in a lake you have to book and pay money and swim around a course, but the upside is there are grebes and swans and coots and grey wagtails, which are all excellent. Then you have to get out and it’s cold and you have to take off wet things and put dry clothes on your damp body and drink your hot drink and put your wet things in a waterproof bag and drive home and have a shower. Then you can feel smug for the rest of the day.

In the lake you will also encounter the people that Susan and I refer to as The Triathletes. You can tell these people by the fact that they wear wetsuits when the water is over 20 degrees, and goggles, and they do the crawl, and they don’t notice the grebes or swans or coots or grey wagtails. They render the water choppy as they zoom past. They have very expensive changing robes with zips. They have to make a lot more effort to get the smug feeling. We are hoping not to succumb to any of this.

If you have a nice place to swim nearby, I will come and visit you.

Karen
August 22, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Thirty-Three)

(View previous instalments here)

Binary Botanical

I dropped into a new shop in town and picked this up on a whim as it was their only alcohol-free beer. I talked to the guy behind the counter, and to be honest it didn’t really sound like my thing, but in the interests of satisfying my own curiosity, I bought it anyway.

This has a deep golden colour and is thin, clear and bubbly. On the bottle it claims to be “the wine lover’s beer” and it does smell very much like white wine, with a grapefruity aspect too. I wasn’t terribly enamoured of the taste either – to be honest it tastes like a fairly musty and cheap white wine, with perhaps a slight beerishness mixed in there, albeit very subtly.

Leffe Blond

Heading over for our regular Pandemic Legacy sesh, I stopped off at the supermarket to stock up. I saw this on the shelves, which I’ve never had before! I was fairly optimistic that this would be a good beer, because it’s Leffe.

It has a deep colour and the slightest of slight heads. The smell is good, very well balanced, with hops and malt and a bit of biscuitiness. Karen had a little sip of this one and remarked that it “tastes like a haystack” and I’m not sure what to make of that. For me, I was very pleased with this beer, it has a nice full flavour and a good mouthfeel.

Lowtide “Are Wheat There Yet”

This (and the next two beers) were purchased from the Twelve Ounce Bottle Shop in Crouch End, and consumed in a Best Western hotel in Suffolk.

This beer is clear and pale, with a nice head plus a steady bubbling in the glass. The smell is fairly sour and hoppy, and the flavour had a somewhat surprising savoury nature to it. Karen took a sip, as she so often does, and said pretty much exactly the same thing, so we were both pleased about that. There is some coriander in it, which could be a large contributing factor.

Big Drop “Rush Rider” Pastry Sour

This has a pinkish colour and very little head. The smell is of raspberry and vanilla, which ironically enough matches the shower gel that I’m using at the moment. This could get confusing if I don’t keep my wits about me. Karen was very enamoured of this drink – she said “that is a fruity taste – peaches or strawberries – and I would drink that!” For me, sadly it falls into the category of something that’s fairly nice as a soft drink, but doesn’t satisfy my desire for a beer.

Lowtide “Atomic Blonde”

By now it was getting late in the evening and the light was poor, so I was worried that the photo wouldn’t come out very well. The head on this one faded very quickly. Karen took a sip of this one and exclaimed “Basil!” which I couldn’t tell whether it was a reference to the flavour of the drink, or a cutting remark upon the nature of the hotel that we were staying in.

This is an apricot beer, and to me, the flavour combination just didn’t work. Sometimes you throw together two things that shouldn’t work, and they do, but sometimes you throw together two things that shouldn’t work, and surprise surprise, they don’t work.

Pete