Call Me By Your Name.

Call Me By Your Name has been consistently lauded since the Toronto film festival in September as one of the best films of 2017, powered by a great lead performance from Timothee Chalamet and a gorgeous setting in northern Italy. It is a very different sort of film from anything to which you might compare it, and while it suffers at the top from languid pacing, the script delivers a powerhouse speech at the end that ties everything together in a way that gives the story its deeper meaning.

Adapted from a 2007 novel by Egyptian/Italian writer André Aciman (who has a brief cameo in the film as a flamboyantly gay friend of the main family), Call Me By Your Name tells the story of a summer romance between two young men, Elio (Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), when the latter comes to stay at the northern Italian summer house of Elio’s family. Set in 1983, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg, looking very much like Good Will Hunting-era Robin Williams) is an archaeology professor who invites graduate students to stay with him each summer and help him with filing and other administrative tasks. Elio is dating a beautiful local girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel), but it becomes clear quite early that he’s attracted to Oliver, who seems more interested in chasing local women until Elio implies his feelings to Oliver while the two are running an errand in town. The romance between them blossoms late in the summer, and Oliver in particular seems aware of its ephemeral nature, especially in an era where homosexuality was still decades away from mainstream acceptance. Eventually, Oliver must return home to the United States, and Elio is left to cope with his grief and his new understanding of who he is.

The beginning of the film is … well, it’s romantic and unhurried if you like it, I suppose, but about 20 minutes into the movie, I was seriously questioning my commitment. The pacing is slow to the point of soporific. It isn’t just that so little happens, but that James Ivory’s script takes too much time setting the scene, which director Luca Guadagnino is more than happy to oblige by giving us beautiful shots of the country house, the pools, the river, the unnamed town, and so on. If you clipped the first half of Call Me By Your Name, you could turn it into a very compelling video for the Lombardy board of tourism.

The inflection point for the script comes when Elio hints to Oliver that he’s gay and attracted to his friend, to which Oliver’s immediate response is that they can’t discuss or act on these feelings, which he obviously reciprocates. Then the real story begins, including Elio’s awkward attempts to make Oliver jealous, in a stop-and-start pattern before they finally begin their clandestine affair. (Or what they think is clandestine; Elio’s parents are both highly educated, intelligent people, and there’s never any indication that they’re ignorant of what’s happening.)

Stuhlbarg’s performance for much of the film feels a bit too familiar as he does the socially awkward, highly intelligent professor act, but as the script approaches its end, his character emerges as a more complex, thoughtful, compassionate person than you might have had any reason to expect. The talk he gives to comfort Elio after Oliver has left Italy is beautiful and concise, accentuated by Stuhlbarg’s note-perfect delivery. Chalamet is outstanding as the conflicted, teenaged Elio, the most important and demanding role in the film, but he’s not matched by Hammer, who – in addition to sounding almost exactly like Jon Hamm – never quite fills out the role of Oliver, seeming more dismissive than aloof early in the film, then coming off as patronizing to Elio in moments where they’re supposed to be at their most intimate.

Call Me By Your Name has also received some unwanted and unwarranted attention for the nature of the central romance, which occurs between two men aged 24 and 17. The legal argument, that the age of consent in Italy is 14, never held much water for me, and reading about the film I thought how I might feel if my daughter were 17 and I had a 24-year-old houseguest strike up a romance with her. (Answer: Not great, Bob.) The script answers the question in two ways, however, by making it clear that the relationship is in no way predatory, but also because of the time and place in which the story occurs. Life as a gay man in 1983, even before the scourge of HIV, included few guarantees of happiness, so for Elio and Oliver to fail to seize the day when this one chance for a transcendent romance arrives would be its own tragedy. That point was still unclear to me until Stuhlbarg’s soliloquy, which rounded out the story without sermonizing.

The score features some lovely selections of classical songs for the piano – I particularly loved the use of “Une barque sur l’ocean,” a piece by Maurice Ravel – but the intrusion of the vocals from Sufjan Stevens’ contributions during the film itself was unfortunate, as was the decision to boost the volume of his first song, a reworking of “Futile Devices” from his The Age of Adz. The film makes much better use of one of Stevens’ new songs, “Visions of Gideon,” which plays over the final scene along with the credits and adds to the haunting melancholy of the film’s conclusion. (Also, the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” a favorite of mine from the new wave era, plays a small role in the plot.)

All of the predictions I’ve seen so far have Call Me By Your Name snagging a Best Picture nomination, with nods also for Guadagnino (Best Director), Chalamet (Best Actor), and one of Hammer or Stuhlbarg (Best Supporting Actor). I wouldn’t be surprised to see nominations as well for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography, although perhaps I’m misplacing credit due to the Italian countryside. Garrel isn’t in the film enough to merit a nod for Best Supporting Actress, but I thought she was superb in a limited role. The soundtrack is ineligible for Best Original Score, unfortunately. I have no vote on the Oscars, of course, but Chalamet is the only candidate I’ve listed for whom I might vote … and I haven’t seen Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour.

Stick to baseball, 1/13/18.

No new Insider content this week, as MLB appears to still be asleep and I was working on the top 100 prospects package, which is scheduled to start running on January 22nd. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest board game review for Paste covers Pandemic: Rising Tide, a standalone spinoff of the original Pandemic, this time pitting players against rising waters threatening to flood the Netherlands, so players must build dikes and pumps while trying to complete four hydraulic stations to win the game. We liked it, as it gives a new twist to the now-familiar cooperative mechanics of Matt Leacock’s various games.

Feel free to sign up for my email newsletter, which costs you nothing and totters somewhere between occasional and infrequent. And, of course, thanks to everyone who bought Smart Baseball for themselves or as a Christmas gift, or as a Christmas gift for themselves.

And now, the links…


Andersonville was the nickname given to a Confederate prison in Georgia that held roughly 45,000 Union prisoners in an enclosure that had no shelter from the elements, no supply of clean water, and was designed to hold a fraction of that number. Nearly 13,000 Union soldiers died at Andersonville, mostly of scurvy, diarrhea, dysentery, starvation, and exposure. So of course there’s a monument on the site … dedicated to the prison’s commander.

Mackinlay Kantor spent nearly two decades researching the prison, reading first- and second-hand accounts of life there, before publishing his book Andersonville, which won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (I think it’s the second-longest winner, behind The Executioner’s Song.) The novel opens with the construction of the prison, or the animal pen that posed as a prison, and ends at the conclusion of the Civil War, with prisoners freed, slaves emancipated, and Wirz arrested. Kantor’s attention to detail and attempts to accurately portray real people as characters in his book is a marvel, and a great example for anyone looking to write historical fiction around real events and personas. It’s also a slog to read, far too detailed both in the horrors of life in the prison and on the back stories of the fictional Union soldiers Kantor created, to the point where yet another death from scorbutic diarrhea loses its impact on the reader.

Kantor frames the book with the narrative of a local family, the Claffeys, who live very close to the prison, and whose family friend comes to stay with them while working at the prison’s makeshift hospital. The Claffeys are ridiculously idealized white southerners, the mythical kind slave owner who treats the human beings he owned as if they were voluntary employees working for housing and food. It does put Ira Claffey, the father, in direct contrast to the evils of the prison, as does the fact that he has lost three sons to the war and yet does not share the antipathy towards Union soldiers that Wirz and his boss, General John Winder (also a real person), did.

Interspersed with the Claffey story are two threads revolving around the prison itself, one from the perspective of the prisoners themselves, one from the perspective of Wirz, who comes across as somewhat helpless to ameliorate conditions at Andersonville but also has no compassion for the starving, suffering men in his charge. The stories of the prisoners appear to be here to give names and faces to the individuals; humans have an easier time understanding the suffering of one person than the suffering of thousands, so perhaps fleshing out their histories increases the reader’s appreciation of the human tragedy of the prison. Some of these back stories are interesting on their own, but very few have any bearing on the main plot around the prison beyond pointing out the utter pointlessness of war, and the irony that men who survived threats before the war and then avoided death on the battlefield would waste away in a prison or, in one case, die because one of the prison guards got trigger-happy.

The scenes in the prison vary in their potency and ability to stir the reader’s interest, with the subplot, apparently based on real events, of the prisoners policing themselves when a gang called the Raiders start to rule the camp through violence and intimidation. The Regulators, as the good guys called themselves, restored a semblance of order in the chaos of the prison, and the story Kantor crafted around the group coming together and defeating the Raiders is the best subplot in the book for the way he draws the characters themselves and how the Regulators form themselves into a functioning team. (Wikipedia has an article on the Raiders that gives more credit to Wirz in encouraging the Regulators than Kantor does.)

Although books of this length and level of detail still appear today, Andersonville feels dated even if we give him a pass for the portrayal of the slaveowner or the casual racism within the book. It’s bloated with the back stories of the prisoners, and there isn’t a through line to connect those stories, Wirz, and the Claffeys beyond the existence of the prison. The story ends because the war ends. Maybe that was Kantor’s point – that there’s no closure or resolution. Some men survived, many didn’t, and there isn’t a good reason for any of it.

As I mentioned on Instagram yesterday, this completes my reading of all 90 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel/Fiction winners.

Next up: Roger Zelazny’s Hugo-winning novel This Immortal.

Klawchat 1/11/18.

My latest board game review for Paste covers Pandemic: Rising Tide, a standalone spinoff of the original Pandemic, this time pitting players against rising waters threatening to flood the Netherlands, so players must build dikes and pumps while trying to complete four hydraulic stations to win the game.

Keith Law: My mind’s diseased, even my vision is impaired … it must be Klawchat.

RyderGreen: What’s your take these days on Kyle Lewis? are you bullish on his ability to return and be something close to a GUY?
Keith Law: Bearish until we see him on the field for any consistent length of time. He was not 100% at all last summer or fall.

Roger: If you are the Astros, do you trade Tucker and Fisher and Moran for Gerrit Cole, or just wait for Whitley to make his way through the minors?
Keith Law: You could do both; given their depth, Tucker is the only one of those three I think they’d miss. But I wouldn’t give up Whitley at all. He’s in my top 10 overall prospects.

Devin: Do you think Duggar can handle Centerfield at AT&T, or should the Giants sign someone like Jarrod Dyson?
Keith Law: If they don’t want to sign Lorenzo Cain because of the draft pick, which I understand, sort of, then I’d give Duggar a shot. He’s a really good athlete with more than enough speed for center.

Marvin: If the Cubs sign Darvish would you still have Quintana as your #1 starter?
Keith Law: I think that’s more of an academic debate, but yes, I probably would.

Forrest Boy: Hey Keith, are scouts properly adjusting guys like Forrest Whitley and Walker Buehler’s rate stats? Their K and BB rates are tremendous, but they also never go through the order a 3rd time and average around 4 innings pitched, sometimes they have their pitch count capped. Knowing that, I’m sure their stuff plays up when they can go 100% on every pitch. What should be gathered from that when comparing those guys to Keller, McKenzie, and Kopech who are averaging around 5.5 IP or better while still maintaining good K/BB numbers?
Keith Law: Scouts aren’t adjusting the stats; scouts are scouting. I wouldn’t compare those two guys, either – Buehler’s older, coming off TJ, while Whitley is just 19 and being held back strictly for precautionary reasons. I also do not agree that a pitcher can go 100% on every pitch when facing 18 batters, which Whitley did 8 times last year.

Paul (San Francisco): Requesting your considered opinion on the respective ceilings and likelihood of reaching them for Giolito and L.Castillo. Thank you!
Keith Law: Giolito has top of the rotation potential, although given the performance the last two years and the trouble he had throwing his curveball with the major league baseball last year, I’d probably say more of a #2 starter. I’m expecting some regression from Castillo this year given his total lack of a breaking ball.

Jim: When do you plan to start rolling out the Org. Rankings, Top 100 and Team Top 10’s? Thanks!
Keith Law: January 22nd is the current start date for the package; it’ll roll out over two weeks this year, rather than three.

TR: If you are the White Sox, what do you with A Garcia? What could they reasonably expect to get for him? Appears to be a likely regression candidate.
Keith Law: Yes, he is, given his BABIP, and I would certainly shop him … but there are so many free agent corner guys this year that it may be the wrong time.

Josh: What were your favorite books you read in 2017?
Keith Law: In no particular order: The Fifth Season, The Erstwhile, Betaball, The Underground Railroad, Mister Monkey, Blackout/All Clear, The Last Days of Night, Not a Scientist, The Cooperstown Casebook, Everybody Lies, Lab Girl, Wise Children, Smoke, On Immunity, The Chimes, and Hi, Anxiety!

Jim: Is Gohara, Wright, Allard and Pache enough to get Yelich from the Marlins?
Keith Law: Heh. I’d say yeah, that’s more than enough.

Lucas: Besides Greene, do the Reds have any intriguing pitchers in their farm system that should give me hope that they could win the division in 2020? Or do you think they ultimately have to trade/sign an ace? Thanks
Keith Law: I think they can still hope for someone like Robert Stephenson to take that leap, but you are correct that other than Greene, who is still a long way off, they have a bunch of depth starters but nobody likely to post a 5-WAR season or show up on Cy Young ballots. Mahle’s their best upper-level pitching prospect and I think he has a very high probability of being at least an average starter, but almost no chance of being even a soft #1.

Chloe: Hi Keith. Big fan of your work. Do you think the A’s have the necessary high end prospects to warrant the top-5 farm system ranking that some analysts have bestowed on them?
Keith Law: No. I can’t imagine them in the top five.

Moe Mentum: Which phrase best describes Maikel Franco – “breakout candidate,” “change of scenery guy,” or “not as good at baseball as we thought”?
Keith Law: I’m not expecting a breakout, so one of the others. His pitch selection is why I was concerned about him as a prospect, and unfortunately, it hasn’t improved.

Moe Mentum: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Risky Business?
Keith Law: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Risky Business, so FBDO by default.

Nelson: If you were blindfolded and plopped down in the stands of a minor league stadium and given no context, just watching the gameplay would you be able to determine the level?
Keith Law: I doubt it unless I could extrapolate from the players’ apparent ages and sizes.

john wick: I’ve heard positive things about Logan Allen without much detail. What’s his realistic ceiling?
Keith Law: Mid-rotation starter.

Joseph G: Keith, I’ve missed these chats, hope you had a wonderful holiday. Does Luis Urias have an 80 hit tool? I’ve heard some prospect evaluators at least entertaining that grade.
Keith Law: That’s not accurate at all. Anyone tossing that around is more likely trying to get your attention.

Bruce: What are your thoughts on Braden Shipley? He struggled in a few brief call ups last season. Is he a future major league starter?
Keith Law: I would try him in relief in the short term to see if his velocity bounces back at all. His fastball has been down since maybe a year out of college, although his secondary stuff is still intact.

James: I’ve read a few professional prospect evaluators that have Fernando Tatis, Jr and Mackenzie Gore rated similar in their FV, with some placing Gore ahead Tatis, Jr. Is he a top 10 prospect for you? Or is the hype inflated at this point?
Keith Law: This is not the Bad Takes Klawchat. You want the room down the hall.

Dan: Are there any no-go zones in Pandemic: Rising Tide? Or is that just fake news?
Keith Law: (Uncomfortable silence).

Jon : Did you watch the TV Show Homicide: Life on the Streets? Wondering your thoughts compared to The Wire.
Keith Law: Loved it. At the time, I’d never seen anything like it. But Simon’s choice of themes and subjects works better when his dialogue mirrors the way people actually talk.

Robbie: Do you think the angels should splurge for Yu? I don’t think spending huge money on a starting pitcher with an injury history and on the wrong side of 30 is especially smart, but if it helps keep Mike around…
Keith Law: Mike isn’t going anywhere.

Jacos: If Russell or Baez have to be traded who do you trade?
Keith Law: I think Russell has upside remaining while Baez may be topped out, so I’d trade Baez.

Brian: What are your thoughts of Jake Burger? Can he stick at 3B?
Keith Law: Very hard contact but not a 3b.

Mark: You seem to be a fan of Top Chef and baking, but I never see you reference any Great British Bake Off. Are you not a fan of nice even bakes?
Keith Law: Never watched it. Haven’t even watched Top Chef this season.

Baddoo: What grade would you put on Akil Baddoo? Is he a 50 and does he have the chance to be something more? Are we looking at a top 100 prospect possibly?
Keith Law: I don’t put grades like that on prospects; people then focus too much on the single number (the anchoring effect) and not enough on the description. As for top 100, you’ll see in about two weeks.

Chris : How does Jay Bruce deal affect Lorenzo Cain market? What do you think he ends up getting years/$$?
Keith Law: I don’t think the signing of a bad defensive RF with platoon issues affects the market for a good defensive CF without them.

Max: I feel like you addressed this somewhere already (another chat?), but did you decide to take a pass on Top Chef this season due to the John Besh episode? It sounds like they were able to completely remove him, and it’s been a strong season IMO with a really fun group of chefs.
Keith Law: That was one reason – they balked at removing him, then reversed course. Then I heard they let that clown Logan Paul on the show. And given how lukewarm I felt on the last two seasons – Brooke’s victory march, and that guy I can’t even remember who made quite a few sexist comments along the way – I decided to pass.
Keith Law: And the time required for the writeups. Those took forever.

Bryce Harper: How bad is the Bruce deal? The terms seem okay but he doesn’t really fit and it feels like a Wilpons move.
Keith Law: It’s a bad fit and I think it ends up costing Dom Smith playing time. Alderson giving up this fast on Smith seems very un-Sandy-like.

Juan: How much weight do you put into Mateo’s showing at AA Midland and AA Trenton after a lackluster showing in A+? How much, if at all, did he raise his stock? Thanks!
Keith Law: I saw him in Trenton – he looked like a different player, playing harder, making better contact (although I still doubt the power). He gave himself some real value for the Yankees and just the right time.

jay_B: Keith, Buster had Bryant listed as his #4 3B. Curious if you would rank him there as well, or who you’d have in front of him?
Keith Law: I would have ranked him higher.

Dan: Is there a difference between the success Cody Reed (AZ) had in the low minors with average velo, but deception and control (and later struggles at high minors) and Cole Ragans?
Keith Law: Yes, quite a lot of difference.

Seth: Do you think the Rockies decision to give large contracts to their entire bullpen is going to hinder their chances of signing Arenado, Blackmon and/or Lemahieu long term? This seems like a risk considering the volatility of relievers and the ballpark they pitch in.
Keith Law: It might, depending on ownership’s willingness to spend, although I don’t think LeMahieu is someone they need to lock up long term – they can find a 1.5-2.0 win 2b, maybe in their own system.

Brandon: Hi klaw: (a) should the Rockies move Hoffman and/or Tapia; (b) do either/both have material trade value?
Keith Law: Tapia depends a bit on what they plan to do with Blackmon; I would try Hoffman in relief before I shipped him out. He is, however, a poor fit for pitching at altitude.

Cards: What should we make of Delvin Perez at this point?
Keith Law: Very little other than that he’s so young and underdeveloped physically that he still has time to recover.

Jshep12: You buyin’ Bitcoin?
Keith Law: I sold all my bitcoins to buy South Seas stock.

Sal: Brusdar Graterol — Twins think he has four pitches and plan to start him. Is this delaying his is inevitable bullpen career or are their SP beliefs warranted?
Keith Law: I’m not sure why you say that’s what the Twins think. I would continue to start him to see if the breaking ball and changeup continue to improve, as it’s probably an 80 fastball.

Craig: Is Royce Lewis growing on you? Who do you like more between him and Florial?
Keith Law: That’s not close for me. Even if I’m right that Lewis will move off shortstop, he’s a much better hitter than Florial.

JR: The only way the Jay Bruce signing makes sense is if they have some serious concerns about the extent of Conforto’s injury, right? The one spot they are set at is corner OFs, so to use their “limited” resources on a position that is already set makes no sense to me? I realize Conforto won’t be ready on opening day, but I’m sure between Nimmo/journeyman on a 1 year deal, they would’ve been OK in short term.
Keith Law: That could explain it. Or they figure Cespedes is going to miss a chunk of time again. Or they’re done with Smith and Nimmo.

DJoe: Cubs are without a top 100 prospect for the first time in a long time. Being uncharted territory for a cubs fan, is this normal after pieces have been traded for a championship level team, or are they in trouble?
Keith Law: Interesting that you say they’re without a top 100 prospect when I haven’t posted my top 100 (and expect there to be a Cub on it).

Quisenberry’s Sinker: What do Braves do with Surplus of MLB Ready Pitching Prospects once Allard, Soroka are MLB Ready. Do you see them up by July if AAA progress continues?
Keith Law: Someone will get hurt, someone will struggle in AAA … they have tremendous pitching depth, but the odds of them ending up with a surplus for the ML rotation are slim. And even then they could tandem-start two guys to limit innings totals for the season – neither Allard nor Soroka is a huge guy.

Mike: Eric Thames had a couple great months and a couple stinkers last year, and basically no period during which he hit like his overall season numbers. Do you think this year he’ll settle into the middle of that range or toward one of the extremes?
Keith Law: He was awful after April. I think the league figured out fairly quickly how to get him out.

Lyle: Is Eric Filia anything more than an org guy?
Keith Law: Yes. Maybe just an up and down type, but not an org guy.

Joe: Which pospect has the best hit tool in the minors currently? Urias? Hiura?
Keith Law: I think that list has to start with Acuna and Vlad Jr.

Frankelly: I personally think Heliot Ramos is getting way too much hype from his pro debut where people only see the results rather than the underlying struggles and issues. Is he a top 100 guy yet?
Keith Law: I would agree that he’s getting a bit overhyped because his superficial AZL stats were good, and because he’s the #1 prospect in their system.

Matt: I understand the need/want for Yelich in ATL but does it make sense to include more prospects for JT as well? Flowers and Kurt were sold last year and they have some decent prospects in the minors (Cumberland, Jackson, etc.)
Keith Law: I’d understand a prospect trade for Realmuto more than a trade for Yelich. Cumberland looks like a backup, Jackson’s catching wasn’t good in AFL, Herbert hasn’t developed.

addoeh: So A-Rod is now a popular broadcaster and Jeter is an unpopular owner. Wow, things can change quickly.
Keith Law: Life comes at you fast.

Stu J.: There are rumors the Reds will look to move Senzel to 2B (or OF or even SS) and leave Suarez at 3B. What would you do with the IF?
Keith Law: I would leave Senzel at third, because he’s made himself an above-average defender, and build around him. He’s their best prospect, probably a top 10 overall guy, and they should move other players to accommodate him.

ECinDC: Ever read Mason & Dixie by Pynchon? If so, thoughts? Thinking of putting it on the ‘to read’ list
Keith Law: Nope. Loved Inherent Vice, hated Gravity’s Rainbow, didn’t really get Lot 49.

Ed: The lack of dollars being spent on free agents is caused by: A) Teams being smarter / more frugal on what they spend their resources on, B) Teams not committing dollars this off season in preparation for next off season, C) Collusion
Keith Law: First one for sure. I have had agents suggest collusion, but no one has any evidence of that.

Evan White: What to make of this guy? Reports have a 70 on the glove but his bat doesn’t play at 1B. Would you move him to the outfield?
Keith Law: His bat doesn’t play at first?

Brian: How does Gabriel Arias project to you? Will he be the real Padres SS of the future instead of Tatis? Seems to be some buzz around him this offseason during his winter play.
Keith Law: He’s still just 17 and really hasn’t hit anywhere (even in Australia he has just a .310 OBP). I do like Arias’ long-term potential, but it’s entirely potential, and while he can stay at shortstop he’s not the best defender of that whole cluster of Latin American shortstops they have from low-A down.

Dr. Bob: I know you hate the giving of grades to off-season moves, but has any team impressed you with what they’ve done so far?
Keith Law: Not really. Has anyone done enough to warrant it? I feel like no.

HH: Keith, you’ve been one of the better voices speaking out against signing players found guilty of domestic violence. I’m curious where you’d draw the line on employing such people – I wouldn’t want to sign someone like Aroldis Chapman to my team, but I also wouldn’t want to hire him to run my Subway franchise. What happens if everyone felt this way? Economic death penalty, for lack of a better term?
Keith Law: I don’t think that’s really our problem, right? I would rather worry about the victims, who likely need significant financial, medical, and psychiatric assistance, than whether abusers can find jobs.

Brett: Is JP Crawford a better prospect than Scott Kingery at this point, or would you put Kingery about him?
Keith Law: Crawford is their top prospect.

Marshall MN: What do you make of the talk from experts about the so-called inevitability of the Red Sox signing Martinez? It seems odd to me, as there are other ways to address their lack of power without committing to a guy for 7 years.
Keith Law: I get the sense they won’t commit to him for 7 years, but would for 4.

Chris : Marcos Molina a bit of a sleeper this year in Mets system? Would like Mets to put him in bullpen as a multi-inning guy.
Keith Law: Always thought he had to go to the bullpen; his stuff ticked down after TJ, so that seems more inevitable than before.

Tyler: Assuming the Yankees get under the luxury tax this offseason, how aggressive do you think they will be with next years class? Do you think they will absorb the tax penalties to sign 2 mega stars?
Keith Law: They could also try to clear a bad contract or two to sign those 2 stars. That seems like the most likely outcome.

Kevin: What exactly are the Orioles doing? Slow moving for a team with three holes in their rotation.
Keith Law: Likely waiting for the second and third tiers of starters to sign, which means after the first tier signs.

Brett: Assuming a healthier 2018, where do you envision Juan Soto finishing the year? AA?
Keith Law: High-A. Barely played in low-A last year.

Don: I think Andujar will be respectable overall if he is given a fair chance, your opinion?
Keith Law: I do. The rare unheralded Yankees prospect.

Frank: Hey Keith, what are your thoughts on Allard? I’m confused why the industry seems to like him so much. Isn’t he just 88-91? What’s the realistic upside with him?
Keith Law: Some pretty good big league pitchers are “just 88-91,” and he has a knockout curveball.

Stanley: Rumors of a reboot of “The Office” are swirling, with many using the successful return of “Will & Grace” as inspiration. That show kept the same cast, whereas Michael Scott ain’t walking through that door. Do you agree that bringing the show back with supporting players from the first run and other new cast members is likely a mistake?
Keith Law: If they’re not reassembling the cast & the writers from a show’s peak, then a reboot is likely to fail.

Mike: Do you prefer Darvish or Arrietta for the same money/term?
Keith Law: Darvish.

Patty O’Furniture: Thoughts on Johan Camargo?
Keith Law: Utility infielder. Doesn’t have the bat to start.

Steve: Good afternoon Keith, I think I read somewhere you mentioned a family vacation to Aruba…What were your thoughts of the island?
Keith Law: Loved it. The fact that we could walk from our hotel into a little commercial area with shops, restaurants, and of course a Starbucks made it better and less costly (because we weren’t captives of hotel food).

Mark: You’ve said Johan Santana comes up short for you. Santana’s 2003-2010 peak of 1670 IP and 67 ERA- is pretty close to Koufax’s 1961-66 peak of 1632 IP and 63 ERA-. Koufax did more outside that, but was ultimately only a league average pitcher in his first six years. Is that really the difference between going in and not?
Keith Law: Yes. And Koufax is a bit of a special case, too; he doesn’t have a typical Hall career.

Jesus: Do people ever spam you with the same question in hopes that you’ll answer it? What do you do with those people/questions?
Keith Law: Yes. I usually ignore it; that’s not necessary for readers in this chat software and just makes my job harder.

Jake: Since you’re giving out spoilers (i.e., Whitley), is Tatis a top 10 guy?
Keith Law: That wasn’t a spoiler on Whitley – I’ve said it before – and I said in August Tatis was a top 10 prospect.

Paul: Is Ohtani eligible for your lists?
Keith Law: No. I exclude players with NPB and KBO experience; those are major leagues, regardless of MLB’s interest in holding down their salaries. However, if I have an AL ROY vote this year, I would absolutely consider Ohtani, since he’s eligible.

Mike: What’s your opinion on how cold the off season has been? Are teams avoiding long-term deals to not be handicapped by the next free agent season? Should Bob Mueller investigate if there is collusion among the teams?
Keith Law: I feel like he has bigger fish to fry. An orange huffy, specifically.

Dr. Bob: Some love to rail against “tanking” in the style of what Houston and Chicago did. I think this is mislabeled. Neither organization tried to purposely lose a bunch of games to get a top pick. Rather they traded big contract guys who were not going to help the team win to get assets. Maybe they lost 105 games instead of 95 because of that strategy, but it was sound. They should be more concerned about what Miami is doing–unloading good players to make more money.
Keith Law: Agreed. Houston and the Cubs had a strategy to improve in the long term by avoiding that 70-80 win purgatory, trading players who wouldn’t be there 4-5 years down the road for longer-term assets, then filling the gap with short-term signs and/or fringe guys from their own system to sort those players out and possibly flipping some of those guys for prospects too. Dallas Keuchel wasn’t a top prospect, and the kind of pitcher he is now is not reflective of what he was in the minors, but because the Astros were bad, they gave him a shot in the major-league rotation. Maybe he doesn’t get that chance if they’re trying to win a few extra meaningless games in 2014.

Chris: I’m a little weirded out by all the Oprah and The Rock for President stuff. Don’t we need to go back to someone who is actually, you know, qualified for the job?
Keith Law: Yes. And I was surprised how many people took my “Oprah/Portman 2020” joke seriously.

Dan: You were super high on Addison Russell when he was a prospect, why do you think he hasn’t “broken” out yet?
Keith Law: Some is pitch selection, some is the nagging shoulder injury that bothered him most of 2017.

Dr. Bob: What hasn’t Cain been signed yet. Surely there are more than a few teams who could use a guy who could potentially give you a few 5 WAR seasons, even if he is 31.
Keith Law: I think the draft pick is a big impediment; teams are more reluctant than ever to give up a top pick because it wrecks your bonus pool.

Harry: You mention Giolito’s issues “with the major league baseball” is that specifically last year’s juiced ball, or the MLB ball in general as compared to the minors?
Keith Law: The major league and minor league baseballs are different.

Alex: What is your approach for reading a cookbook like The Food Lab? Cover to cover, or reference page/topics as needed?
Keith Law: I look for recipes that interest me and try them. Cookbooks aren’t written to be read cover to cover, and a book of that length and scope is going to include stuff that doesn’t interest or apply to you.

Chris: Thoughts on the band Local Natives? I’ve never seen you mention one of their songs of albums.
Keith Law: Not a huge fan although “Happy Feet” made my top 100 a few years ago.

Brett: Is this as good as Taijuan Walker and Danny Salazar are going to be? Or do you think either will improve?
Keith Law: Both have untapped potential, Salazar needs to get healthy, Walker may just forever be inconsistent.

tvators: Don’t think it makes some sense for Mets to have plan B for injury to Smith or 2 month flop/return trip to AAA rather than just full time Flores/scrap heap Loney type??
Keith Law: A plan B doesn’t cost you 3 years and $39 million. And Smith has hit everywhere in the minors after slow starts at most levels. Assuming his 2017 major-league line – coming from Vegas to the majors – is predictive but his minor league performance isn’t is foolish.

Chris : Thought the Padres return for Solarte was a little light. Thoughts?
Keith Law: Disagree.

TR: As you look at draftees, what do you expect in terms of progress for a first round pick over the first 1-3 years? Pitcher vs position player? HS draftee vs college?
Keith Law: A college player in the first round should be able to start his first full year in high-A, and I’d expect a promotion to double-A before the year ends. A high school player in the first round might be ready for full-season ball, but I don’t assume that such a player who stays in extended and goes to an advanced short-season team is a bust; some high school players need more time, or aren’t ready for the Midwest League.

Larry: Does Alec Hansen profile as a starter for you? He was old for his leagues last year and I was told he loses his release point. He won’t get away with that against more advanced competition.
Keith Law: He does, and I don’t worry about age relative to level much for pitchers, especially not with his kind of stuff.

JJ: Your ESPN colleague Bradford Doolittle wrote that, if he were elected to the HOF, Trevor Hoffmann would immediately be the best reliever enshrined. Do you believe that’s true?
Keith Law: He would be incorrect. Hoyt Wilhelm is already in the Hall, with 19 more WAR than Hoffman and double Hoffman’s innings total.

Mike: just curious why you seem so sure Trout will stay with the Angels? Shouldn’t they be worried about the Phillies, Yankees or Dodgers offering insane money to him in a few years?
Keith Law: He’s under contract through 2020. Signing Darvish now isn’t going to do anything to sway his choice in 2021.

Jim : Would you start Hader of use him as a multi inning reliever? I think it’s a waste to have him as a 1 inning guy.
Keith Law: Reliever. Never bought into him as a starter due to arm action. Filthy stuff though.

DJ: Do you like Estrada as a good utility guy?
Keith Law: Thairo? That’s about right.

Doug: Chances of Alzolay developing an average changeup, and remaining a starter?
Keith Law: I do believe he’s a starter long term.

Brian: What do you think is the Padres logic regarding Hosmer interest? Do it hold water?
Keith Law: It makes no sense whatsoever. I wonder if this is a phantom offer to try to get the Royals to bid against themselves; it would be the worst possible move for the Padres right now.
Keith Law: I have to run to get back on the phone; I may not chat next week but will definitely chat on the 25th, by which point the entire top 100 should be posted, so maybe I should go start writing. Thanks as always for all of your questions.

Exit: The Game.

I have a new board game review up at Paste today as well, covering Pandemic: Rising Tide, a standalone spinoff of the best cooperative game on the market.

Exit: The Game won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2017 in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored and much better-reviewed Terraforming Mars, which I thought was the best complex game (or “expert game,” which is the literal translation of Kennerspiel) of its year. (It also beat Raiders of the North Sea, which I have played just once but enjoyed.) I’m guessing Exit won because it’s novel – it’s a series of cooperative puzzle games that are supposed to mimic the escape-room experience in a tabletop setting. There are other new games in this vein, like Unlock!, but Exit does this really well, with puzzles that you can reasonably solve in the allotted time and, more importantly, a very strong system for helping you if you’re stuck.

Each Exit box gives you a single play, because you’ll be changing destroying components, including tearing or cutting cards, marking up pages, and maybe even disassembling the box. I played four of the games: The Abandoned Cabin (the first in the series), The Forgotten Island, The Polar Station, and The Forbidden Castle, which vary from two to four on the game’s 1-5 difficulty scale, and there was a noticeable difference in the challenges – although I’m not sure the difficult boxes are better, just harder.

One Exit game box comes with three card decks – riddles, solutions, and help cards with hints – plus a booklet specific to that game, a disk of three concentric dials used to decipher codes, and sometimes some “special objects” that may be stencils or windows for finding clues on other cards or pages. You’ll start the game with one of the riddle cards plus the text on the first page of the booklet, and then must find a series of three-digit codes to progress through the game. Each game has roughly ten codes to find, represented by different shapes on the disk, which also help you figure out which cards and pages might work together. The puzzles come in lots of forms, and we found it was better to think a little like a kid to solve many of them. Some of the puzzles are visual – you have to trace things, connect dots, color in cards, fold pages into different shapes, cut pages into strips, all things you’d never expect to do with a board game. Some puzzles are self-contained, while others require you to solve three smaller ones to get each of the digits for the code.

Once you think you have the code for a specific puzzle, you locate that puzzle’s symbol on the outer rim of the disk and then rotate the three inner dials to match the code. (Some games use colors or other glyphs instead of numbers, but there will then be a reference card to help you translate them into numbers so it doesn’t become a drag on the game time.) A card number from 1 to 30 will show up in the center of the disk, which sends you to the Solutions deck. Some cards in that deck will tell you you’re wrong right away; others will ask where you saw that symbol – on a piece of furniture, a briefcase, a trunk, a door – in one of the images you’ve seen in the booklet or on a new card. You’ll then be directed to yet another Solution card, and if you were right, that new card will give you further instructions that will include at least one new Riddle card and perhaps give you a special object. This multi-step process makes it difficult to accidentally see an answer to a Riddle, and cheating via the Solutions deck would be nearly impossible.

Components from Exit The Abandoned Cabin
Components from Exit: The Abandoned Cabin.

The Hints deck is the cleverest aspect of Exit’s mechanics by far, and I think it’s what makes this game so playable even if you run into a puzzle you can’t solve. Every puzzle gets three Hint cards with its symbol on it, with the first card telling you what cards, pages, and/or objects you need to solve the puzzle (and maybe one small hint), the second card telling you most of the information on how to solve it, and the third giving the actual solution with an explanation. There were puzzles we solved without any Hints, and a few where we needed all three hint cards to move along. (The game has a timer app you can use, but there really isn’t any need for it except to let you know how long you’ve been playing and nudge you into looking at Hint card.) Having the first Hint card tell you which cards you must have to solve that puzzle is particularly useful if you have pieces of a few puzzles and aren’t sure which one to attack next.

Everything is fair game for solving these puzzles, including things like the game box itself, outside or inside, and each game we played had at least one puzzle that required us to use something that you might assume wasn’t part of the task. (The image on the inside of the top of the box in one game was quite faint, though, which I think is a mistake and makes the game less accessible.) We did find one glitch in The Forgotten Island, as the final riddle’s solution didn’t work; I haven’t heard back from the designer about this, but I’d pass on that particular module for now. The other three were all quite good and my daughter and I were able to solve them in about an hour using a few hints here and there; each had at least one eye-roller solution, but I think that’s the price of entry given that the designers have to come up with ten or eleven puzzles for each box, meaning some are going to be a little weird or ridiculous, especially when the designers, Markus & Inka Brand, try to make the riddles more difficult. The games list for $15-18 and, even as single-play games, they seemed like a good value to us, enough that we bought one after we finished the review copies I’d received (and my daughter will get some more for her birthday). If you’re intrigued, start with The Abandoned Cabin, since it’s first and I think the most straightforward of the four I’ve played.

Music update, December 2017.

I sometimes post a monthly playlist for December after my top 100 songs of the year come out to catch singles that came out after I posted the rankings, but this year there weren’t quite enough songs for that, so this is more of a salmagundi of singles I missed from earlier in the year, new stuff that didn’t make the list, a few songs that did but are good enough to mention again, and so on. You can access the playlist here if the widget below doesn’t work.

Artificial Pleasure – Wound up Tight. This was #80 on my top 100 songs of 2017, the first song I’d heard from this London electronic-rock group, who have released a few singles but no full-length album yet. I’d say it’s like the Human League meet Wild Beasts.

The Decemberists – Ben Franklin’s Song. A “Hamildrop” with lyrics courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who apparently wrote the words with the Decemberists in mind, then sent them to Colin Meloy, who produced what I think is one of the band’s best tunes to go with it. Warning: There’s some choice language within.

Kid Astray – Roads. This was #85 on my best of 2017 list, the third time this Norwegian indie-pop act has made one of my annual top 100s.

The Fratellis – Stand up Tragedy. I feel like the Fratellis’ lyrics are sort of a poor man’s version of the wordplay we get from the Wombats’ Matthew Murphy, which may in turn be a reaction to the Fratellis’ biggest hit coming from their 2006 debut. It’s a bit of a shame that “Chelsea Dagger,” a great song in its own right, has overshadowed their later work; they’ve produced plenty of solid-average tunes like this one even if they haven’t matched their first song’s peak.

The Wombats – Turn. Speak of the devils. This is a little more midtempo than my favorite Wombats songs, and didn’t make my top 100 (although “Lemon to a Knife Fight” did at #17. Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life drops on February 9th, and their US tour starts this week (with a show in Philly I can’t make, unfortunately).

HAERTS – The Way. HAERTS released this single on December 8th, their third of 2017, but there’s still no word of a new album.

Van William – Before I Found You. The WATERS lead singer’s debut solo album, Countries, is due out on January 19th, and includes this single, “Country” (#91 on my 2017 top 100), “Revolution” (#41 on my 2016 top 100), and “Fourth of July (#15 on my 2016 list). So I’m looking forward to it.

Belle & Sebastian – The Girl Doesn’t Get It. The Scottish stalwarts are releasing three Eps over three months under the collective title How to Solve Our Human Problems, with an expected 15 songs in total. It’s more of a return to their typical style, if they can even be said to have one, after their outstanding pop/dance-tinged Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.

Sunflower Bean – I Was a Fool. “Wall Watcher” was #87 on my 2015 top 100; this is the band’s first new single since their 2016 debut album and their last single, “Easier Said.” The indie/jangle-pop trio should release their second album some time in 2018, but there’s no date or title yet.

Anteros – Love. Anteros’ “Cherry Drop” was #43 on my top 100 from last year; this December single was my second-favorite track of the four the band released last year.

The Afghan Whigs with James Hall – You Want Love. The Afghan Whigs released this song in June, a cover of a 2004 song by Pleasure Club, as a tribute to the Whigs’ late guitarist. Whigs lead singer Greg Dulli is a longtime fan of Hall, who was the founder and lead singer/guitarist of Pleasure Club and has had a lengthy underground career as a solo artist.

Buffalo Tom – All Be Gone. I assumed Buffalo Tom were on a permanent hiatus, but this single just appeared a few weeks ago ahead of a promised new album, their first since 2011. This feels like their ’90s peak in the combination of upbeat music and melancholy lyrics, although the production puts Bill Janovitz’s vocals further out front.

Ten Fé – Single, No Return. Ten Fé’s debut album, Hit the Light, was my #10 album of 2017; they’ve since become (officially) a five-piece band and released this new single in November.

Saxon – Thunderbolt. Saxon were a major part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, although they didn’t have as much success in the U.S. as they did in the U.K., never landing a top 100 album over here. They’ve continued recording and have had a modest comeback over their last few albums, with this the title track from their upcoming 22nd LP.

Legend Of The Seagullmen – Shipswreck.. The band’s own site describes them as a “genre destroying super-group,” even though they’re a prog-metal band. Featuring Brent Hinds of Mastodon, Danny Carey of Tool, and the guy who directed Horton Hears a Who!, the band played its debut show on New Year’s Eve as an opener for Primus.

Stick to baseball, 1/6/18.

I’ve had no new content off the dish this week, as baseball is boring, and I’m working on my top 100 prospects package, which will run later this month. I will have a new board game review up on Paste next week, however.

Feel free to sign up for my email newsletter, which costs you nothing and totters somewhere between occasional and infrequent. And, of course, thanks to everyone who bought Smart Baseball for themselves or as a Christmas gift, or as a Christmas gift for themselves.

And now, the links…

On Immunity.

Eula Biss’ brief 2014 book On Immunity: An Inoculation takes a novel angle on the subject of childhood vaccinations by weaving the science around the subject into her personal experiences as a first-time mother hearing all of the nonsense anti-vaccine arguments out there and finding herself bombarded with information. Biss makes it clear that she is pro-vaccine and pro-science, and that she did get her son vaccinated, but her essay-like style puts the reader on the ground with her as she’s navigating the uncertainties and fears that come with parenthood, which may also give some readers a new window on how new parents get bamboozled by the many charlatans and frauds out there telling them not to vaccinate.

When my daughter was born, vaccinating was never a question for us … but we were shocked to learn that they vaccinate newborns for hepatitis B, a viral infection that is probably best known as a sexually transmitted disease but that can also be transmitted through many other bodily fluids, including blood, so it’s possible for a child to get an infection through exposure from another kid in school or day care. We made the mistake of looking online for information on the hep B vaccine, and found the website for the so-called “National Vaccine Information Center,” a dangerous anti-science group that spreads misinformation about vaccines and, of course, presented horror stories from parents who claimed the hep B vaccine harmed or even killed their babies. (We vaccinated anyway.)

Biss’ recounting of her own meanderings through the world of vaccine information and bullshit felt very familiar to me, as she obviously understands science – her father is a doctor, and she refers to him frequently in the text – but also gives real credence to the fears of the new parent, and how overwhelming all of the information coming at new parents can feel. Biss hits all of the notable cranks, from the NVIC to Andrew Wakefield to Bob Sears (who has been accused of selling medical exemptions for California kids) to well-meaning but clueless parents who talk about “toxins” or “natural” or “organic” as if those terms really mean anything when it comes to health. She walks back through the history of vaccinations, to Edward Jenner’s experiments with cowpox and previous awareness in non-European societies of inoculation techniques, and the associated history of anti-vaxers, a group that once at least had a legitimate complaint because vaccines weren’t regulated for safety or efficacy; in 1901, two separate batches of vaccines caused deadly tetanus outbreaks in St. Louis and Camden, New Jersey. Now, such groups just capitalize on the public’s science ignorance – and fear – to make a few bucks from selling books or “alternative” therapies. (Note: There is no such thing as “alternative medicine.” If it works, it’s medicine.)

Fear is just as much a theme of On Immunity as science, and Biss, unlike many writers (myself included), has quite a bit of empathy for parents who hear (bogus) horror stories of vaccine “injuries” or who see that vaccines contain aluminum (in adjuvants, which make the vaccines more effective) and waver on vaccinating their kids. Failing to vaccinate puts your kids at risk, but also the community as a whole; Biss discusses herd immunity, which was first identified nearly a century ago, and the societal cost of failing to vaccinate, as well as the risk posed to vulnerable populations who can’t be vaccinated, such as newborns, the elderly, or the immune compromised. This understanding tone makes it a better read, I think, for folks who are on the fence about vaccinations; she was essentially preaching to the converted with me, while hardcore denialists won’t bother with the litany of facts she includes or the blithe knockdowns of anti-vax tropes.

Biss is a “professor of instruction” in Northwestern’s English Department and has garnered praise both for On Immunity and her 2009 essay collection Notes from No Man’s Land; she writes here like an essayist, with a strong first-person perspective that allows her to bring the reader inside her head, so to speak, as she became a mother and experienced all of the typical anxieties and moments of panic that come along with new parenthood. It makes the brief book both readable and engrossing, almost as if Biss wanted to slip in a little education – a dash of history, a pinch of immunology – along the way. And the resulting work may do as much or more to address new parents’ fears of vaccines, fears that are unfounded, irrational, but still quite common, as direct attacks on anti-vaxer falsehoods.

Race for the Galaxy app.

I’ve mentioned previously that I don’t share the broader tabletop community’s love for Race for the Galaxy, a very popular deckbuilding game that ranks in the top 50 on BoardGameGeek, for two reasons – you need to know the deck rather well to play the game at even a competent level, and there’s one strategy (produce/consume x2) that is superior to others (military, trade). That strategy isn’t entirely dominant, but you are also somewhat restricted in your choice of strategy by the ‘home world’ card you’re dealt to start the game; if you get New Sparta, you almost have to use the military strategy, for example.

So it might surprise regular readers to hear me offer a strong recommendation for the Race for the Galaxy app ($6.99 on iTunes or Google Play) given what I’ve said before about the game itself. Those problems still hold true in the app, of course – this is a faithful implementation of the physical game. The app, however, is just about perfect in how it implements the game, with strong AI players (on the hard setting), and because it’s so fast to play, you can start to learn what’s in the deck a little faster to get yourself up to speed.

In Race for the Galaxy, players must build out their tableau of cards, representing worlds, ships, or people in their empire, using specific action types each turn – drawing cards, spending them to play cards, producing goods on cards that have that power, trading goods for more cards, or trading goods for victory points. Cards you play also carry victory point values of their own for the end of the game, and some award bonuses based on what else you have already played. You start with a home world card that, as I said above, kind of dictates your strategy for the game – some home worlds are ideal for trading, some for the military, some for the produce/consume strategy.

On a turn, each player chooses one of the available seven actions, and then the choices are all revealed simultaneously. Every player gets to take all of the actions chosen in that round, but you get an extra ability when taking the action you chose, such as building for one card less than the normal cost, or getting to keep two cards of the ones you draw instead of just one. Turns are fast, and players can usually do their turns at the same time. The game ends when one player has built (played) 12 cards to the table, or when the communal pool of victory point chips is exhausted.

The app is nearly perfect, and it helps reduce the time new players might spend learning what’s in the deck and what cards are useful (or even essential) for certain strategies – for example, if you are trying the military strategy, getting the cost-6 development card New Galactic Order, which gives you one victory point per unit of military strength on all your cards, is critical. The AI players move very quickly, and the actions chosen by each player are clearly visible twice, once at selection, then during the round in a bar on the left side of the screen that highlights the actions in use for the round. You can see the details on any card – the app uses the graphics from the physical game – with a double-tap, which is necessary to play it on a small screen, and you can see key details, like cards or VP tokens remaining, easily on the right side. You can also see how many cards your opponents have played and what goods they have available without expanding their tableaus, so you have ample warning if the game is approaching its end. There’s an undo button on the right-side menu for just about every action you can take, and the app requires your confirmation of certain actions, like discarding cards or trading multiple goods. The trading/consuming mechanism isn’t quite obvious – when that phase starts, cards with a trade or consume function will be highlighted, and you must click the card you wish to use, then drag the good(s) you wish to trade/consume off into the blank area next to your tableau.

I did mention above a few times that the produce/consume x2 strategy, where you alternate turns producing goods and selling them for victory points with bonuses, tends to be the optimal strategy, but the first time I beat two AI players in the app came via a military strategy. I started with New Sparta and blitzed my way through to twelve cards before either AI player could really get rolling with production and consumption:

You’re damn right I’m proud of that one. So it can be done, but it requires a bit of luck and leaves you no margin for error – which I think is more evidence that the hard AI players are up to snuff.

The app comes with the New Worlds mini-expansion, and the Rebel vs. Imperium and Gathering Storms are available as in-app purchases.

Top 17 albums of 2017.

Better late than never, I hope: here’s my somewhat delayed ranking of my top albums of 2017. I thought it was a good year on the album front, better than 2016, including a lot of albums that I’d say I liked halfway – records with maybe two to four really good songs on them but that couldn’t sustain it through the deeper tracks – and twenty-odd records good enough for me to consider here. You can also see my ranking of the top 100 songs of 2017 for reference.

Other albums I liked but didn’t rank: White Reaper, Wavves, Ride, Queens of the Stone Age, Japandroids.

Previous years’ album rankings: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

17. Afghan Whigs – In Spades. I had missed the Whigs’ comeback album in 2014, but this year’s release delivered in the same way, a more mature, refined sound without losing that essential energy that made them indie darlings in the 1990s.

16. Phoenix – Ti Amo. I thought 2013’s Bankrupt! was a huge letdown after their Grammy-winning Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but this year’s album, the band’s tribute to Italian disco music, was a bit of a bounceback, not quite up to their magnum opus’s heights but a stronger record throughout with more memorable singles, including the title track and “J-Boy.”

15. Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis. I’d long thought of this British extreme metal act as something of a joke, as they seemed more interested in causing controversy with their black-metal lyrics and album covers than in writing great music … but this album, released after a decade-long breakup, is a masterpiece of highly technical death metal. I could do with fewer blast beats, but that’s just the price of entry for the genre. Other metal albums I liked in 2017 that didn’t make the list included Pallbearer’s Heartless and Satyricon’s Deep Calleth Upon Deep.

14. WATERS – Something More!. Van Pierszalowski’s group returns with a record full of concise power-pop tunes, putting two songs on my top 100 along with several other great tracks like “Molly is a Babe” and “Modern Dilemma.”

13. Washed Out – Mister Mellow. Ernest Greene’s third record is my favorite of his so far, still a bit uneven, but that’s because there are almost too many ideas on the album. This also landed two songs on my top 100, and I’d also recommend “Floating By” and “Burn Out Blues.”

12. Hundred Waters – Communicating. Not quite up to the level of their debut The Moon Rang Like a Bell, Communicating works more as an expansion of the band’s unusual sound than as a collection of singles. “Particle,” “Wave to Anchor,” “Prison Guard,” “Blanket Me,” and the title track are all highlights, but I think this record is best enjoyed as a listen straight through.

11. Quicksand – Interiors. There were some great comeback albums this year from bands that hadn’t released records in over twenty years, including releases from Ride and Slowdive, but none surprised me more than Quicksand’s Interiors, which put two songs on my top 100 in “Fire This Time” and “Illuminant” and is a tremendous document of a band that hasn’t lost its signature sound yet has also matured, at least on record, during its 22-year absence.

10. Ten Fe – Hit the Light. This album is almost too anachronistic to find an audience in 2017, as the band’s indie-pop sound has a soft-rock vibe that would have been right at home in the 1970s or early 1980s. They had one song on my 2016 list, “Overflow,” that’s on this album, plus two more on this year’s list, “Twist Your Arm” and “In the Air,” with “Elodie” and “Turn” also highlights.

9. Death from Above – Outrage! Is Now. A bit like Royal Blood with a little more dance/rhythm sensibility … or maybe Sleigh Bells with some actual sense of melody … but man does it work, a huge step forward from their previous record. Pitchfork describes them as “dance-punk,” but I don’t hear that at all; they’re too polished to be punk, too hard-edged to be dance, but live somewhere in the grey areas between multiple genres. DfA had two songs on my top 100 this year, “Freeze Me” and “Never Swim Alone,” while “Nomad” and “Statues” are also strong.

8. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand. My favorite Mastodon album to date, with some more accessible tracks that don’t sacrifice any of the group’s trademark progressive-metal sound. “Show Yourself” is their most radio-friendly single ever, but “Steambreather,” “Sultan’s Curse,” and “Andromeda” are high points. Lest you think they’ve gone straight commercial, the album ends with an eight-minute epic track for the diehards.

7. Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark? “Lights Out” made my top ten, but unlike their debut record, this album has more good ideas than just the one that powers the lead single; “Hook, Line & Sinker” made my top 100, and I also keep going back to “Hole in Your Heart” and “Where Are You Now?” I did think the second single, “I Only Lie When I Love You,” was below the media on the album, but no one consults me on these decisions.

6. Daughter – Music from Before the Storm. I don’t think I’ve ever included a soundtrack on any of my year-end lists, but this record, recorded for a video game that was released in September, works extremely well on its own, a dense, atmospheric listen that molds Daughter’s dream-pop sound around a core idea to produce a compelling listen straight through. “Burn It Down” was my favorite track, but this record is much better enjoyed as a whole than in pieces.

5. INHEAVEN – INHEAVEN. The second-best debut album of the year for me, a record full of bombastic, old-fashioned heavy rock tracks that harken back to ’90s grunge, ’70s hard rock, and even earlier, led by “World on Fire” and “Bitter Town.”

4. New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions. Do we just take A.C. Newman & Co. for granted at this point? This album sank with nary a trace, but it carried forward the tremendous pop sensibility of its predecessor, 2014’s Brill Bruisers, and I thought was a little better off for the absence of Dan Bejar, whose sound never quite melded with the rest of the group’s. The title track, “High Ticket Attractions,” and “Darling Shade” all made my top 100.

3. Sløtface – Try Not to Freak Out. These Norwegian punk-popsters first appeared on my radar with their 2016 EP Empire Records, and from there released a steady stream of great singles with witty, clever lyrics beyond their years. “Backyard,” “Pitted,” and “Nancy Drew” made my top 100, with “Magazine” a near miss, and there really aren’t any duds on the record at all.

2. Portugal. the Man – Woodstock. “Feel It Still” was my #1 song of the year, with two more songs on my top 100 and three more that I strongly considered (“Live in the Moment,” “Rich Friends,” “Tidal Wave”). I liked the sheer ambition of 2011’s In the Mountain In the Cloud, but it wasn’t until this record that Portugal. the Man converted their big ideas into a set of accessible pop gems that could give them mainstream success.

1. Beck – Colors. Featuring my #1 song of 2015, “Dreams,” plus three songs from this year’s list, and really just one song I would say I don’t like (“Wow” doesn’t really fit this record’s exuberance), this was an easy call for my top album of 2017. Beck is such a musical genius that he can go from 2014’s maudlin Morning Phase to this record’s enormously textured, uptempo, worldly sound and still maintain his essential … um, Beck-ness. Even when he produces something I don’t care for, I can still appreciate the brilliance behind it. Colors, however, is a masterpiece, probably my favorite album of his thirteen to date, the best representation of his complex, imaginative sound so far.