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Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360)

Rated: 18.

Story: After hundreds of years, the Darkspawn once more threaten the kingdom of Ferelden. As a Grey Warden, one of the last of a legendary order of guardians, you must unite the land and embark on a quest to slay the archdemon which leads the approaching horde.

Of course, you'll need to recruit and equip a band of fellow adventurers along the way. Happily, there are a whole load of villagers on hand offering financial rewards if you don't mind ignoring Armageddon for a while in order to go into the woods and locate/take/kill whatever they require recovered/delivered/dead this time.

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Stinky Cards

Stinky card album.

Cost: £3.20 for the album and £1 for each pack of cards.

  • The album has slots to display a complete collection of 60 Stinky Cards. There's all a tick list to keep track of which you have.
  • Each booster pack of cards contains 4 'normal' cards with details of something smelly and one of the 12 'rare' scratch'n'sniff cards.
Gameplay: It's a cross between Panini football stickers and Top Trumps. Children can simply trade with each other in order to complete their collection or pit their cards against each other.

Each card has ratings for 'Funny', 'Joker' and 'Stinky'. One player chooses a rating category and the player with highest value in that rating on their top card wins the round and the cards. They put the cards at the bottom of their deck and choose a rating from their new top card. This continues until one player has all the cards or a fight breaks out.

Object: To have all the cards and/or freak friends (and relatives) with stinkiness.

Game length: A few minutes.

Number of players: 2+.

Age: Anyone can play but there's a good chance that only seven-year-old boys will want to...

Comments: Scratch'n'sniff technology has moved on since my day. When I was a kid, a concerted scratch would result in a vague whiff of strawberries if you were lucky. (Well, strawberry flavouring anyway.)

Based on this experience, I gave the garlic Stinky Card a good going over with my fingernail, put it next to my nose and inhaled deeply.

Then I nearly passed out.

Make no mistake, these are stinky - so much so that even my two boys became wary of them pretty quickly. Sadly, I didn't learn quite so fast. Sprog2 (aged 7) shoved one under my nose and said, "Smell this, Daddy!" I inhaled instinctively. It was the garlic again.

If I'd been a vampire, I'd have crumbled on the spot but, as it was, it took me several hours to get the taste out of the back of my mouth. I avoided pasta sauce for a couple of days...

The game itself isn't as good as Top Trumps, due to the small number of ratings. There's also the issue that if two kids face-off using their own collections, one of them could lose the lot. Even if they agree not to play for keeps, the collections are going to get shuffled together, so sorting them out at the end is liable to lead to arguments.

Still, the collection element does produce a desire to catch 'em all which is as strong as ever with stuff of this sort. Seven-year-old boys can also earn some playground kudos from the grossness factor.

A word of warning, though. If your kids get a whole load all at once, don't let them sort through them on the lounge carpet unless you have some Febreze handy...

Conclusion: Panini, Top Trumps and an unpleasant odour. The perfect gift for your

  • Gross.
  • Stinky.
  • Gross.
  • Stinky.
  • Actual game isn't that great.
  • May put you off Italian food.

Movie selection

The kids have been ill, I've been ill, everyone's been ill. I've spent really rather a lot of time recently switching between playing Dragon Age: Origins and blowing my nose. The reviews have slipped a bit. Here's a quick catch up on some of the movies I've been watching:

District 9 (15) - What would happen if aliens landed in Johannesburg rather than Manhattan? Rather than getting blown up, they might get segregated from humans and shut away in a township.

It's an interesting metaphor but it doesn't get very deeply explored before one of the jailers finds himself forced to fight for alien rights with the aid of nothing but the F-word and some very big guns.

It's still comfortably more thoughtful than Avatar, though. (4/5)


Dorian Gray (15) - In Victorian London, a man stays young and innocent-looking while his portrait becomes old and corrupted by his dubious deeds, a mirror for his soul.

If you don't already know, you can probably guess how it all ends. (Hint: Badly.) Nonetheless, Ben Barnes is magnetic in the lead role and the story is expertly told. It's a decent (if slightly unpleasant) change from movies with explosions. (3/5)


Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (12) - Conclusive proof that giant robots and lingering shots of Megan Fox can only sustain one blockbuster movie.

The plot is even dafter than before, there are too many transformers to tell them apart and they seem to develop new and unlikely abilities whenever it's time for another 'cool' action sequence.

A mess. (2/5)

Next (12) - Nicolas Cage has the power to see two minutes into the future and the FBI attempt to recruit him to help stop a terrorist attack. Strangely, he's always just left whenever they arrive...

This film has plenty of clever moments but is rather too eager to drop the two minute constraint, changing its own rules halfway through. This feels like cheating. The final act is also unexpectedly missing. Entirely. The movie simply ends half an hour short of a conclusion. In some ways, this is one of the clever moments. Whether it's actually smart or just irritating is another question.

Slick and enjoyable, all the same. (3/5)


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (12) - Another superhero movie that I should hate. The main X-Men series is fairly incoherent, choked by dull character development and overly full of angst. Going back specially for a prequel to learn how Wolverine developed his powers seems like asking for tedium.

Happily, someone realised this and it's in fact a big excuse for lots of smashing right from the start. Things are occasionally stretched a little far in order to fit events into the timeline of the previous films but enough stuff explodes to make up for it. (4/5)


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (12) - A man is born old and gets steadily younger. This has its advantages and makes his life interesting but is mainly rather awkward. Think Forrest Gump with reverse ageing rather than stupidity (and not as good).

It's OK. It just goes all over the place but never really gets anywhere. (3/5)

The Taking of Pelham 123 (15) - John Travolta plays his stock talkative, smug, psycho bad guy and hijacks a train on the New York subway. Denzel Washington has the bad luck to be the network controller on duty. They negotiate in a tense and dramatic fashion.

It's a gripping game of cat-and-mouse let down by a stupid foray into Die-Hard territory in the last twenty minutes. It also gave me unfortunate flash-backs to Money Train. (3/5)

Right, now that's done, I need to go back to saving Ferelden from the Darkspawn. Er, but I may go buy some more tissues first...


Pentago box.

Cost: £18.

  • 36 marbles - 18 white, 18 black.
  • Game board featuring a 6x6 grid of sockets for the marbles. Each 3x3 corner of the board can be rotated independently.
Gameplay: The first player places a marble on the board and then rotates one of the four sections 90 degrees. (The rotation can be in either direction and doesn't have to be on the section where the marble was just put down.)

The other player does the same. They then continue to take turns until the board is full or one of them gets five in a row (before or after a rotation).

Object: To be the first player to get five marbles of their colour in a row. (If both players get five in a row at the same time or the board is filled without a row being formed, then the game is a draw.)

Game length: A few minutes. It depends how good the players are and how long they spend staring at the board in mental anguish before each turn.

Number of players: 2.

Age: 8+. The rules are easy to learn but being successful against an even vaguely competent opponent is another matter - young players are going to struggle. (Goodness knows, most adults are going to struggle...)

Comments: Playing Noughts and Crosses with children can be hard work. It's a simple concept which requires only a scrap of paper and a pen but the parenting questions involved are tricky. Do you let them win sometimes or beat them mercilessly until they figure out the awful truth like the supercomputer in WarGames? The second option will probably take rather a long time and involve whining. The first option will just encourage them to want to play some more until you start wishing for global thermonuclear war and go for Option 2 anyway.

The alternative is to try Pentago. It's essentially Noughts and Crosses with far more variables. The simple goal is there but it's much harder to keep track of possibilities and strategies. Even though a draw should theoretically still always result, this doesn't often happen. It's too easy to miss a cunning turn or unexpected line. This being the case, games between experienced players are head-scratching duels. Throwing a game to stop a five-year-old whining, meanwhile, doesn't feel like causing them to miss out on an important lesson on the nature of futility (and the importance of nuclear disarmament).

The only downside is that games take three or four turns to get going and then can end depressingly quickly after that if one player slips up. You'll have to get the family playing a tournament if you want to fill up more than a few minutes.

The board itself is very sturdy and the marbles are pleasantly weighty and shiny. The cardboard box is excessively large, however.

Conclusion: Fun to mess about with. Scarily harder than it looks to play well.

  • Simple concept.
  • The joy of Noughts and Crosses without the frustration.
  • Requires strategy, thought and spacial visualisation.
  • Quality components.
  • Marbles are always easy to lose.
  • Will make your head hurt.
  • Could cause Armageddon if given to a supercomputer.
Rating: 4/5.