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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

I don’t think it’s possible for “The Incredibles 2” to be as good as the first, and that worries me 05/12/2018

Tickets went on sale for “The Incredibles 2” today.

I don’t think it’s possible for I2 to be as good as I1. I think “The Incredibles” is one of the greatest movies ever made, and I’m not limiting that to animated movies. I’m saying “The Incredibles” is up there with “The Shawshank Redemption” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

“The Incredibles 2” is set up for failure, though “failure” has a different tone in Pixar’s world. People said “Brave” was a failure, but the reviewer’s line I remember best was: “You can’t punish Pixar like you can’t punish an A student for doing B- work.” (“Brave” was better than B-, we should agree.)

“The Incredibles” already used the best themes. Superheroes curtailed by government interference (a theme that worked for “Powers” comic books, and “Captain America: Civil War”), the celebration of mediocrity while simultaneously subduing the truly remarkable, toxic fandom, kid supers growing into their powers, kid siblings fighting each other before fighting together, insurance companies favoring shareholders over policyholders. Many folks think Edna Mode stole that movie, but what’s she doing in “The Incredibles 2”? Surely not designing new suits.

Oh, the wonderful detail. Bob and Helen arguing about freeway exits, that fabulously overdone island hideout where the mooks wear uniforms though there’s no one else around and spend their time after work… where? Out-of-shape Bob stuck in the chute. Bob rescuing a cat in a tree. The trials of Jack-Jack’s babysitter. (Three things that made me laugh until it hurt: “Jack-Jack Attack”, the DVD short that showed what was going on at home while the Parrs were on Syndrome’s island; the fight between Mark Wahlberg and his stuffed bear in “Ted”, and the brilliant professional comedy in “The Aristrocrats”.)

That movie was perfect. What can they possibly do as an encore?

All three of the “Toy Story” movies are on my list of favorites, but initially, I didn’t care much for “Toy Story 2” because I didn’t think the real world should intrude, with its abandonment issues, its unscrupulous collectibles dealers, and the purchase of ttoys for display cases instead of play. I thought “Toy Story 2” sort of spoiled the sense of wonder brought on by “Toy Story”, but when “Toy Story 3” completed the circle of Woody’s existence, I embraced 2 as strongly as I did 1.

Even so, I don’t think they ever intended a “Toy Story 2”, and when they got around to it 18 or 20 years later, they did it with “Toy Story 3” already in mind.

“The Incredibles”, like “Toy Story”, doesn’t give a hint of sequel. Even though John Ratzenberger emerges from the ground at the end like he would in the last panel of a comic book, I just don’t see where they could go from there that wouldn’t be a disappointment following the incredible greatness of the first movie. (While we’re on that subject, I never thought “Star Wars” needed the Empire to strike back or the Jedi to return, though I won’t complain about where the Star Wars universe has gone in the past couple years.)

I mentioned “Ted” parenthetically, but “Ted 2” illustrated exactly what I’m talking about. “Ted” was great partly because Ted was just another schlub working in a grocery store, and no one gave a shit that he was a teddy bear come to life. There followed the unnecessary sequel in which Ted’s state of being a teddy bear is the crux of the matter. That movie sucked. I so very much hope Brad Bird had ideas in reserve when he made “The Incredibles”, anticipating the demand for a sequel.

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I finished Black Widow: Forever Red and Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 on the same day 04/13/2018

screenshot-from-2018-04-13-02-20-30By coincidence, I finished reading the collected Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 a few hours before competing the audiobook Black Widow: Forever Red.

I began reading Daredevil comics off the drugstore spinner rack with #113, late in 1974. By 1977, I had worked for two different comic book dealerships, and completed a Daredevil collection #1 to the mid-140’s.

That done, I sold ’em to buy a tennis racket’and a bicycle. That’s what Daredevil was worth in those days, because Frank Miller hadn’t come along yet (that happened in 1979) to turn the character into something great.

In the mid-’70s, Daredevil was such a C-list Marvel Universe character— with a gallery of enemies like Stilt-Man, Man-Bull, and Leapfrog— that they paired him with the Black Widow for a few years, putting her in the masthead: “Daredevil and the Black Widow”, though teaming them up didn’t do anything to help either hero. Look at the cover of #106: They tried guest appearances by the great Jim Starlin character Captain Mar-Vell, but nothing helped that book. On most of those covers, Natasha is a hostage. Not Joss Whedon’s Natasha, you bet.

It wasn’t until Frank Miller found the recipe for success by setting Daredevil against the Kingpin in a Batman-Joker kind of relationship that’s been in place for almost 30 years. The Black Widow didn’t come into her own until Joss Whedon plus Scarlett Johansson made Natasha an absolute badass in “Marvel’s The Avengers”.

Now they’re both A-list characters. The first season of the Netflix Daredevil series met with my approval. I have not watched season 2, for I felt like quitting while I was ahead. (I never watched the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie, and never will.)

Daredevil as a good broadcast series, and the Black Widow has two novels (there were two Daredevil novels, one of which was a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and the other — Assassin’s Smile by Christopher Golden — was forgettable).

The first of the Widow novels, “Forever Red” by Margaret Stohl, is aimed at the “young adult” market. As ever, the Disney machine follows the money; the young adult market produced the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” series, which I can’t complain about, since the “Twilight” movies kept the lights on for my future wife Anna Kendrick.

Because Forever Red is designed to appeal to teenaged girls, it did one thing that absolutely smack of cosmic-level reboot: It introduced Ava Orlova, whom Natasha Romanoff describes as her “Mini-Me”. Orlova is such a Black Widow Mini-Me that she has Natasha’s mind inside her head, and a code name “Red Widow”.

I think this says: When Scarlett Johansson is nearly done playing superheros, they’ll introduce the Red Widow in The Avengers’ timeline, and they’re set for the 2030’s.

Forever Red does another thing, one that had me asking: “Is this canon? Is this canon? Really? This has Marvel’s OK on it as canon?”. They gave Natasha a young brother.

I borrowed Black Widow: Forever Red hoping for the Widow to kick lots of ass, but it’s mostly an origin story for the Red Widow with a romantic teenage angle. Natasha spends 1/3 of the book being grilled by the feds, an an expository device.

When I figured out what was going on, I lowered my expectations, so Black Widow: Forever Red was OK. The sequel sends Natasha and Ava out as a team. Maybe Natasha dies. I’m just speculating, but you can see they’re planning for this inevitability.

For a while, I didn’t want to read the comics that comprise Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18. They moved Daredevil to San Francisco, which was an incredibly lame move that also happened in the ’70s. Was it Gerry Conway who wrote those? Matt Murdock belongs in New York, beating up bad guys in Hell’s Kitchen, and running into Spiderman on the rooftops.

The way Mark Waid tells the story, though, it makes sense for Daredevil to move. His secret identity has been completely blown in an arc that took years to develop and unfold, and in celebrity-obsessed California, Matt puts that to commercial use.

Mark Waid’s initial Daredevil stories made him my favorite Daredevil writer, ever. That’s saying a lot, right? I’ve been reading this comic since I was a kid, and this writer has emerged from 500 (or is it 600?) issues as the best of them, in my view.

Before Waid came along, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker wrote some of the darkest Daredevil stories imaginable. Waid said he felt like crying after reading some of those, and he set out to restore the fun to Daredevil. Not only did he make Daredevil fun again, he told good adventure stories, to boot (Waid’s Legion of Super-Heroes stories were also outstanding; that guy writes really good comic book stories).

*And* Mark Waid remembers who Matt Murdock’s real love is: Karen Page.

Frank Miller turned Daredevil from C-list to A-list, but he had to retcon Elektra into Matt’s history, as his college girlfriend— *before* Karen. It’s canon, and I accept it as canon, but I have never believed that the retconned Elektra was a greater love for Matt than Karen.

In Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18, Matt’s got a new girlfriend, a deputy district attorney who’s a badass. It’s critically important for Matt’s girlfriends to be badasses, because otherwise they just die or go insane. That’s a big part of the narrative, Matt worried about having this relationship because his girlfriends always have unhappy endings.

Also, Foggy Nelson has terminal cancer. In Daredevil #1 back in 1964, there was Matt and Foggy and Karen. In the late ’60s or early ’70s, Karen was “put on the bus”, written out of the book. Then Frank Miller and Kevin Smith retconned her move to California as her turning to acting in porn films and turning to heroin. And Kevin Smith killed her. THANKS A LOT, WRITERS. (Clearly, the Netflix Karen is NOTHING like the retconned comic book Karen.)

So it’s only Foggy who survives since #1, and he’s dying. I didn’t want to read those issues, but I did, and they’re pretty good. I wish Waid hadn’t moved on to other projects.

Listening to Black Widow: Forever Red and reading Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 on the same days reminded me of how far the characters have come: None of the writers want to remember that Matt and Natasha were ever together. It’s like those lame comics — from a time when both characters were almost extinct — have been retconned out of existence.

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Those were the days when America was great 01/22/2018

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These contemptible, boorish, uneducated white people who continue to stand with their Trump (and think we libtard cucks aren’t giving him enough credit for kicking ass on behalf of ‘Murica, fuck yeah!) : Are they descendants of the people who wanted to elect Archie Bunker?

During the 1972 election cycle, stupid white people wore “Archie Bunker for President” T-shirts. I was 9 years old, and thought this was a joke, like people writing in Mickey Mouse or Ronald McDonald. Today I see that those dumbasses were serious, and if they’re still alive, they’re wearing Make America Great Again caps — like their children, I surmise.

Like Donald Trump, Archie Bunker was a fat, bald bigot on television. Bunker was constantly at odds with his black dry cleaner and his liberal “meathead” son-in-law. And like Donald Trump, Archie Bunker had his own “Make America Great Again” message, which went something like “Oh, the way Glenn Miller played / Songs that made the hit parade / Guys like us, we had it made / THOSE WERE THE DAYS / And you knew who you were then / Girls were girls, and men were men / Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again / Didn’t need no welfare stakes / Everybody pulled his weight / Gee, our old LaSalle ran great / THOSE WERE THE DAAAAAYYYYYS”.

Archie Bunker’s days were when uppity niggers like Mr. Jefferson the dry cleaner weren’t upwardly mobile, they  were subservient to white men (like the women: “girls were girls and men were men”). As the explanation goes, Donald Trump’s “great America” is a euphemism for “white America”.

I see that I’m not too far off. I Googled “Archie Bunker” and the second match is “Donald Trump is Archie Bunker with more money, but it’s not funny“.

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Who’s writing the exceptional South Park: Phone Destroyer community posts, and where are they hiding? 12/19/2017

One relatively bright side to the NetRunner community being so small in the mid-’90s, was that you knew who everyone was and where to find them, because the Wizards of the Coast listserv was the only forum in town.

South Park: Phone Destroyer has been downloaded 8 million times, and there’s be a well-rounded and well-spoken writer somewhere in that global haystack.
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There are at least four places to discuss SPPD: Ubisoft’s forum, Reddit, Facebook, and Discord.

Two things they share in common: 1) the  notion that cheating is rampant; and 2) the thought that SPPD is a money sink if one wants to compete. In either case, the discussion attracts dozens who reason that these complainants are using reports of cheating and concerns about “freemium isn’t free”as scapegoats for their incompetent play.

The Ubisoft forum — You’d think because it’s their name on the label that they’d be adequately covered at the complaints window, but community lead Steve Stewart cites his illness and his assistant’s overwork for their inactivity, while reporting that he hired another assistant.

The new hire’s in-game introduction has that inane tone that permeates the Internet, because everything is awesome.

Ubisoft did a crappy job defining their set of forum folders. The “general discussion” folder is run over with guild dinks seeking other guild dinks.

The “strategy and deckbuilding” folder is mostly “rate my deck”. What gives with this insecurity, players asking others to judge their build rather than going out to play with the  thing. Then the answers to these rating requests are asserted without context — “swap this for that”, “that card sucks”, “your deck is not as good as mine”, and so on.

If the community leaders at Ubisoft were smarter, they would’ve banished guild dinks and insecure deckbuilders to their own folders.

Reddit — Reddit did the smart thing to put team requests and deckbuild discussion in separate areas. The smartest SPPD players I’ve read are on Reddit. However, the area includes many kiddie (I’m assuming) users who aim to downvote everything into oblivion as an idle amusement.

Facebook — It’s Facebook, where the dumbest people on the Internet congregate. What FB’s “South Park Phone Destroyer” has going for it is navigation that Facebook users can operate.

Discord — I installed it, but it’s not immediately apparent how to use it, and I’m not certain I want to if vocals are equal to writings.

That might be my generation gap showing. Information sharing by audio and video is as prevalent as prose (for most folks my age, Usenet was the original social network. In fact, the busiest online activity I’ve witnessed about South Park: Phone Destroyer was during a Twitch netcast. Ubisoft lead Stewart and a co-worker shared their screen, and talked about games while in progress.

I think that people are willing to watch other people playing games whie live chatting is odd. It’s one of those cultural things that I encountered first in a “South Park” episode (Minecraft was another — thanks, South Park) in which Cartman takes the identity CartmanBrah to critique online multiplayer events.

Like “Freemium isn’t Free”, I’ll have to watch the CartmanBrah episode again.

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Sorry to have judged a kid by his card art 12/16/2017

I’m binging on the 21st season of “Sputh Park”, and I learned today that the mustache I thought I saw on Marcus is a scowl, making him the opposite of what I sussed from his card.

I thought he looked like an adult drug dealer (and wondered why they’d put such a character in the game), but he’s an anti-opiate kid crusader.

I think Marcus is awesome — about to take on the whole prescription painkiller industry — and his card is back on the table.

Marcus is a pain to play against. I Bolt him if possible, and attempt to swarm him otherwise. I find myself surrounding Marcus with three fighters, and muttering: “C’m*on*, kill that fucker before he throws that shit.”

Players involved in the pirate weekend event surely used Barrel Dougie. Barrel Dougie is a great nuisane — an opposing leader might feel like he’s always got to keep an assassin and 2 or 3 energy in reserve, and then be quick enough to summon the assassin before Barrel Dougie arrives.

A well-placed ranger can pick off BDougie enroute. I watched Buccaneer Bebe stick BDougie while he was at top speed.

Buccaneer Bebe is the most fun to watch. After one or two kills, it looks like she’s shooting ducks in a gallery. I read some mathematical analysis jcdz2wasuggesting that Buccaneer Bebe is no bargain, but I love that card.

Pirate decks have great rangers, but there’s no themed tank to set in front of them. I’m employing Sheriff Cartman because he’s the cheapest tank — what the pirate player wants most is for Pirate Ship Timmy to be a tank instead of kid in a wheelchair.

I acquired Robin Tweek Saturday afternoon, who replaced Calamity Heidi, though it raised the average cost to 3.3, and the assortment felt clunkier. When the battlefield is bare, and your pirate choices are fragile assassin Smuggler Ike, plus back-line fighters Pirate Ship Timmy and Robin Tweek, immediate prospects are faint.

On the other hand, a pirate deck occasionally forms a wave of small fighters backed by a pirate ship and Buccaneer Bebe with a smoking gun.

The pirate event ends in a day, but I’ll continue to wield seafaring criminals.  Though I tossed the captain’s hat aside for the sleeker bandana.

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Powerful cards that are distasteful in the narrative sense 12/15/2017

layer-27Several cards in the ’90s NetRunner game put a bad taste in my mouth, like the Tycho Extension I mentioned a few days ago.

NetRunner was a race to 7 points, and while most players were aiming for three field goals or two safeties plus a field goal, Tycho was less interesting: a 4-point touchdown followed by a 4-point kick-after.

Tycho was boring, and some cards were even less charming, like Corporate War, which too easily afforded one player 3 points plus a pile of cash. Corporate War was tacky. In NetRunner’s narrative sense, Corporate War made it easy to tell who the evil corporations were.

In South Park: Phone Destroyer, it’s Marcus. I don’t remember Marcus’ introduction to the TV series — he’s a drug dealer in the  neighborhood with “friendly faces everywhere, humble folks without temptation”.

Marcus’ weapon of choice is a bag of drugs. He throws bags of drugs, and they very much hurt (if Marcus gets loose, and lets fly with no defenders to meet him, it’s near-fatal).  Marcus is a powerful card, but a South Park drug dealer is distasteful. Say the card wielded the same power, but the character were Towelie, and he was throwing a joint. I’d play with that, for sure.

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It’s like NetRunner’s purple and green, but without the purple 12/14/2017

layer-69As I acquire cards and gain experience by the coffee spoon,  I’m seeing more green.

In almost every deck there’s an Angel Wendy. Gotta appreciate that Testaburger, who was the original significant visible girl at the beginning — is a rarefied and good card in blue and green.

Then there are Regeneration and Hallelujah. Throw in Zen Cartman, and that’ll win many games by attrition without serious handling charges.

I read that at PvP level 45 and higher, green makes up almost every deck, along with the typical arguments about overpower and sheer boredom because the green decks play themselves.

Decks playing themselves is a serious charge. If your card game truly has a build scheme that mostly wins without thinking, you’ve got to start talking about which cards to ban.

NetRunner — when I talk about NetRunner, I refer to the Wizards of the Coast game from the ’90s, which was brilliant and beautiful, not this decade’s NR game from Fantasy Flight, which sells — had such a deck. It was called Psycho Tycho.

The algorithm was simple:

1. Install Tycho Extension behind a Filter in a subsidiary fort. Don’t sweat the central forts. Advance it one time as your last action of your first turn.

2. Advance Tycho three times to score it.

3. Wait to draw another Tycho, ACME Savings and Loan, Project Consultants, Filtering the central forts when it’s convenient.

4. When those three cards are in hand, take these three actions: a) Install ACME, and accept the loan; b) install Tycho, c) Project Consult for the win.

I had a friend — he and his girlfriend were UC Berkeley grad students — who wrote some code to determine the best distribution of cards within that framework, and then he had his girlfriend play it in a tournament because he couldn’t make it that day. With experience limited to pitching batting practice to his decks, by following the script, she won all her Corporate games.

NetRunner gave its best players some meta difficulty that came down to an advanced case of rock-scissors-paper-lizard-Spock. If I know my opponents will play Psycho Tycho, I will build an opposing deck designed to beat it. But if he knows I know, and I know he knows I know, and so on.1405397321966

South Park: Phone Destroyer is still an infant, so while it’s been found what wins, it’s yet to be discovered what beats it. Of course, there are those who say they beat green decks all the time with their good idea that you can’t fathom, stupid newcomer.

The older I get, the more pejorative labels for inexperienced players I see. New players in a gaming community are like logical citizens in the state of Trump.

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Tall adults and other tanks in the South Park: Phone Destroyer neighborhood

layer-35I’ve been chasing the oremiering Buccaneer Bebe card in hopes of installing it by the end of the pirate event, but the only new gets were the Hercules Clyde (introduced the same day as Buccaneer Bebe) and Officer Barbrady.

Officer Barbrady is the same kind of pain in the neck as PC Principal (it’s fitting that PC and Barbrady deal very little damage, like you’d expect from authoritative adults in a kids’ game), a giant, sturdy slug diverting your new kid’s attention from smaller, deadlier enemies (diversion is Zen Cartman’s special ability).

It’s a common and effective tactic to combine three cards: one tank, one healer, and one ranger behind the blocker.  It also works in real life as shown in movies — in “Saving Private Ryan”, when the German troops arrive in Ramelle, infantry are seen crouched behind their tanks.

Some SPPD take it too far, maybe — if AWESOMO-4000, PC Principal, and Officer Barbrady are on the same team, that’s a huge lot of energy needed. I get the feeling that it’s Sheriff Cartman who instills a feeling of confidence in players — a rare card that seems to be in every starter pack, Sheriff Cartman is immediately found useful for his low center of gravity and hail of gunfire.

If the big unit itself is exceptionally dangerous, it often feels like a loss as soon  at it’s summoned — like Big Gay Al. At 335 health to start, he seems like a mountain to tackle, while he hurls headhunter glitter bombs in a fashion that reminds me of Curly Neal’s limited-animation “juggling basketballs through the hoop” in the early ’70s.

My answer to the tanks and Big Gay Al is Lightning Bolt plus a swarm of small, fast fighters. But this works for me because my deck is almost solid blue — is orange capable of swarming?

Even better than Lightning Bolt against the big guys, I think, is Pigeon Gang. Which makes sense in a real world way because it’ll take small flying critters to annoy someone who’s out of the reach of a pack of armed 4th-graders.

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It’s pirate week at South Park: Phone Destroyer 12/13/2017

layer-9Until Thursday, it’s Pirate Week in the “South Park: Phone Destroyer” neighborhood. My avatar looks menacing in a pirate bandana. I’m not as keen on the anchor tattoos, though in the game, they’re surely temporary because I’m a 4th grader.

I completed the pirate set with Pirate Ship Jimmy, who launches cannonballs from his wheelchair. I think that’s a great narrative touch — imagining a wheelchair as a bigger ship was a recurring gag in the “Bloom County” strip decades ago.

Pirate Ship Timmy was instrumental in winning a melee in the last SPPD duel I fought. He’s a fragile kid, so you can’t send him to the front — but if he sits behind you on the battlefield, it’s encouraging to watch cannonballs flying overhead and into the mob.

The pirate card I’m most appreciating  is Captain Wendy. When “South Park” was brand new, Wendy had the biggest female part, as Stan’s girlfriend who had littlelayer-4 patience with Cartman.

Captain Wendy is a cheap cast for 2 units, with a special ability of shooting three enemies at once. I feel like I’m off to a good start when Captain Wendy is in the initial draw — if the opponent sends a swarm, her “Triple shot!” comes into play, while her low cost hastens energy regeneration in case the opponent sends something big.

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Frisky AI on “South Park: Phone Destroyer” 12/09/2017

imagesIt is most advisable for one dipping into the new mobile game “South Park: Phone Destroyer” to watch “Freemium isn’t Free” (s18e06), an outstanding “South Park” episode in which Stan confronts his genetic disposition to addictive behavior (while dad Randy denies his with high-mindedness), Terence and Philip display integrity and conscience, Satan is shown to be  more helpful and rational than Jesus, and the insidiousness of the “freemium” game model is fully exposed.

Ubisoft/Red Lynx, the games company that partnered with South Park Digital Studios to build “South Park: Mobile Destroyer” was tasked with creating a freemium game that transcends “South Park’s” own satire, and I think they succeeded. “South Park: Phone Destroyer” is brilliant. I enjoy it immensely, and have not spent a dime. (I spent thousands of dollars on the card game NetRunner in the mid-’90s. If I still had that kind of spending money, I’d buy every SPPD upgrade that comes available. Instead, I recognize that building in-game currency without using real-world currency will be an arduous grind, and I choose to stay in.)

The “South Park” franchise has had countless opportunities to screw it all up in the 20-some years the TV show has been on the air, but in my view, they’ve done everything right:

The TV show took a drastic turn about 10 years ago, moving from situation comedy to social commentary, and stayed funny. By itself, that’s amazing.

The movie “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” could have gone as wrong as “The Simpsons Movie” or several of the “Star Trek” movies, which came across as padded TV episodes (and not especially good ones). Instead, the SP movie reached for more than the TV show, and delivered a terrific musical that stayed true to the core.

I haven’t been disappointed by any merchandise. I received a gift 6-inch Cartman figurine that perfectly captured Cartman’s essence, and I displayed it too proudly, because it was stolen. I wore out a talking SP greeting card, pushing the button until it died. I wore every shirt until washed beyond recognition.

“South Park” has never let me down, in any form, and the mobile game exceeded my expectations — though I didn’t know what to expect, really. Before “South Park: Phone Destroyer”, the only mobile game to keep my attention for more than a few hours was “Monument Valley”. (It’s most difficult to make a game that I want to play often, because every game that isn’t chess has to compete with chess for my attention.)

“South Park Phone Destroyer” combines three hugely popular things:

The mechanics, fantasy, and strategy-plus-tactics of the collectible card game “Magic: The Gathering”, along with its addiction fuel for acquiring cards and cultivating decks;

The characters, art, narrative framework,  and humor of the long-running animated comedy “South Park”, and;

The around-the-clock availability of oppoments, mobile gaming’s instantly-gratifying trickle of in-game rewards — accompanied by the constant temptation to spend tiny amounts of real money to make it rain. Every promising game inevitably breeds a community of dissatisfied users, dumb multi-player factions, and real and imagined cheaters.

In sum, “South Park Phone Destroyer” compounds one addictive element by another addictive element by one cartoon that’s been codifying tropes and generating memes for almost 20 years (for many, a TV show’s culture is a habit in itself).

For fans of “South Park”, “South Park Phone Destroyer” is a better whole than the product of its factors, because it puts them in the game. “South Park: Phone Destroyer” applies the feel of “Magic: The Gathering” to a mobile game, but instead of dueling wizards, the contestants are characters in the South Park universe.

Players — “New Kid”, we’re called — are introduced to the neighborhood  with a cartoon. The SP kids are in disagreement over which of their many fantasy live-action roleplay scenarios, and they invite the new kid to join them as the team captain, controlling creatures (for instance, Cartman’s identities include “Sheriff Cartman” in the cowboy theme, his own “A.W.E.S.O.M-O” robot in the science fiction mood, Zen Cartman in the mystical setup) and spells.

For each type of imaginary combat the South Park kids play, the “Phone Destroyer”  game provides character cards with familiar abilities: attacking strength, hit point values, plus the special abilities that set one card apart from the others. Because SPPD is meant to stand in for a cosplay in the South Park neighborhood, the mobile player can build theme decks.

I read that SPPD is like “Clash Royale”, but I don’t vouch for that. I think the player vs. player gaming within SPPD is like the still-thriving collectible card game “Magic: The Gathering”. The mechanic is borrowed from “Magic: The Gathering”, where dueling wizards tangle with creatures and invocations, applying their deck of cards’ strategy to tactics dependent on energy available. In the SPPD game, the player’s avatar controls his side with a phone, which makes it a more accurate representation of the real world (in game. since everyone’s on the phone, they trash talk in typical South Park style).

The feel of a collectible card game is imparted by spectacularly-illustrated character cards, with typical icons for casting cost, health and attacking power, plus special ability text. To improve one’s rank, players can upgrade their cards by accumulating theme-based artifact cards and duplicate character cards.

The cards are won from winning duels, or purchased from Butters or Cartman with in-game currency. The in-game currency is gained by cards or by real life, cold, hard cash. The cards even come in foil packs that must be zipped open (“hope I get a rare card, hope I get a rare card, hope I get a rare card”).

An insidious feature is that one free pack is available every four hours, butif you miss two free packs in a row, you don’t get the next. (Crack dealers would love to make themselves invisible to buyers who weren’t buying regularly.) Once you’re logged in, it’s hard not to play. Gain experience points and upgrade artificats. Which improves cards. Which wins more cards.

The duel itself is on a three-minute clock, while each player’s life is segmented into three portions (There’s an unsatisfactory “sudden death” clause: If both players have lost an equal number of portions at the end of regulation, winning the next bar wins — punishing the stronger players over the long run, who stand to lose a greater number of leads in regulation, while risking a loss by a bad draw in a 1-minute OT)  .

The game field generates South Park characters fighting with characteristic war cries, fists, bombs, mind control, dog poop, bags of drugs. The first healer one meets is Stan’s mom Sharon.

Timing is critical. The swift, small assassins (kindergarteners Ike and Sally, swarms of rats) can’t take much punishment, so are best reserved for weary opponents. Tackling Sheriff Cartman requires hitting him before he’s angry, or after he’s been angry.

Advancing through the ranks by defeating real-time opponents or programmatic scenarios figures to be a very long grind for players who don’t want to spend actual money. (I have my heart set on a keen astronaut helmet that cyclically comes available at Butters’ shop for hundreds of  tickets earned by winning duels, so I could be there for a while.)

The in-world beauty of this is that “South Park” the show dealt with this in the episode “Freemium isn’t Free”, where Stan downloads the free Terence and Philip mobile game, finds the first challenge to be stupidly simple (with satiric screens of congratulations), and nothing of note happens until he invests 39 cents for enough game energy to help “rebuild Canada!”. He gets hooked, growing a pay-to-play addiction that’s probably widespread (and profitable for some people who have lots of time on their hands).

I read on the Internet that players are unhappy about cheaters, and the “pay to win” aspect of “Phone Destroyer”. I get the feeling these unhappy customers have wide experience with other mobile games, and were hoping for “Phone Destroyer” to meet those expectations. It seems that Ubisoft’s customers are used to being pissed off — at the least, I would’ve expected better involvement in the community forums (software companies with less money than Ubisoft, I reckon, hire people to do no more than that), while the experienced customers are enraged over the widespread cheating.

“South Park Phone Destroyer” players are cheating by hacker means and in less-sophisticated ways (I’ve encountered three opponents who didnt put up a fight — losing on purpose to sandbag down to lesser opponents; I submitted a feature request for a resign button so those assholes don’t have to waste so much time dying).

I’ve been cheated by a hacker one time that I could identify. It was impressive. While my avatar teetered on the brink of death, the opponent cast a crowd of creatures — enough to finish me off about 50 times — followed by five fireballs for 200 more. People at the higher levels who are taking the game seriously don’t deserve to face cheaters. I’ve played chess online for 20 years; if I’m not cheated once a week, I miss it.

 

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