Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dave Reviews: A Game About Illness, Except You're The Illness And OK Look It's Not Pandemic

Pathogenesis

Outside of a board game store, when people talk about Pandemic, there sometimes comes a realization that you need to specify whether or not you're discussing the tabletop version revolving around the Scooby Gang of anti-infectious disease workers trying to save the world, or the internet version where you are the illness trying to literally end the world through your power, except those motherfuckers in Greenland always close off the port before you can get over there.

The upshot is, if you fear an imminent apocalypse, go to Greenland. No one's going to nuke it either.

The other upshot (can you have two? I say yea) is that now there's another 'that disease game' for the tabletop surface, which also starts with a 'P' and is not going to make this conversation a whole lot simpler, except the game's only ok (spoiler) and probably no one's going to know what it is in the first place.



Pathogenesis works with 2-4 players, and can be played either cooperatively or competitively, which should be a warning sign right there. In both modes, there's an ephemeral body with three systems for the players' diseases to attack--respiratory, gastrointestinal, and tissue--and the goal for all players is to kill the body by removing point counters from those systems. If that's not done before the immune system deck is drawn through twice, the body lives and all the players lose. The difference between cooperative and competitive is that in competitive, you only need to remove the counters from one system (two if playing 2v2 teams), while in cooperative you need to empty all three systems. Functionally, then, this determines whether or not you care if the other players have highly effective viruses attacking the body; you can leave good cards for other players in cooperative, for example, but you can't directly assist in making their diseases stronger (e.g. by handing them cards).

Other than that, this is a deckbuilding game in the vein of... all of them. Starting decks have ten cards, you draw five per hand, most of the cards help you buy better stuff, and so on. The differences are in how pathogens work. All pathogens have an attack and defense value; attack determines how many point counters are removed from the appropriate system of the body, whereas defense is used to protect the pathogens from attacks by the immune system. The base values of the pathogens aren't enough, though, especially when the second immune system deck gets shuffled in; fortunately, pathogens have nodes for additional abilities (these are the cards purchased from the gene pool), many of which have stat bonuses that help strengthen the pathogen. Therefore, you need enough attack on your pathogens to gather up point counters, but even more you need defense to limit the immune system's chances of wiping them out.

One thing that becomes apparent quickly is that it does very little good, and later on is in fact detrimental, to play weak pathogens without boosts. Once the immune deck comes into play, every pathogen is attacked, which means the immune deck loses cards faster if you have a bunch of pathogens in play. Furthermore, unless the pathogen has an ability that lets it attack before the immune system can react, the immune deck can kill your pathogen before it has any effect at all. At first your weaker pathogens are fine to play because you have to work through a small deck of starter cards in each system before the immune response comes into play, but you need to amp them up fairly quickly or else accept they're going to die and just focus on better, system-specific pathogens you purchase for your deck.

The best part about this game is its scientific validity. Everything works in a logical function and is based on the actual battle between diseases and bodies that our fragile mortal frames deal with constantly. Anyone who's taken high school biology (and didn't routinely skip class to make out behind the bleachers) should recognize how all of this works in at least a conceptual sense. It also mirrors the ramp-up of the immune system against particular diseases, in that the disease has a little bit of time to exist before being recognized as a threat.

But this is a game, and it needs to be best as a game. It's not.

The main issue is the randomness of the immune deck in a competitive game, especially with four players. Immune system responses vary from attaching new types of cells to pathogens that can combo off other immune cards on later turns to cards with a huge attack value almost no pathogen can survive. That's a cool concept, but if someone's 7/7 pathogen draws a combo cell and someone else's 7/7 draws an 8-damage immune card, the first person scores their seven points while the second doesn't, and seven points is over ten percent of the available points for any given system. That's a big advantage to take on one turn, and there's no guarantee the combo cell will blow up the first person's cell on the next turn while the second person's pathogen and its add-ons have to shuffle back through the deck.

There are different ways to set up the game to change game length and difficulty, which is all well and good in theory, but going from a quick game to a normal one only adds four cards to each immune deck, which means twelve more cards overall. Going through that deck twice, depending on how many pathogens people have out, might buy you two extra turns in a four-player game, but even then what you really need is for something to kill the opposing pathogen before that player's lead spirals too far out of control. Playing on hard just changes the odds of killing the body so that somebody wins, without affecting this basic problem of someone getting an unlucky draw and having a long climb back into contention.

'Alright, you picky fucking butthole,' I hear the voices say, 'it has competitive weaknesses. But it's a learning game, so what about cooperative?' And I acknowledge that it's probably cleanest in a cooperative setting. The immune deck runs out faster than you'd expect, so you have to work to ramp up your diseases quickly enough, while also planning with each other who should buy what cards in order to maximize the odds of success. This is also the mode where the other main difference between this and most deckbuilders--the ability to hold cards from turn to turn--comes into play, because waiting until you have a hand that lets you drop a monster pathogen all at once doesn't have many drawbacks in co-op. Because you want to set up pathogens that are likely to survive brute force attacks, the immune combos are also more likely to have an impact here.

However, the immunity randomness strikes again, because success in co-op requires building pathogens with the maximum chance of survival, ie. high defense. There really is no other way to succeed, which means you're taking the gene pool cards and deciding what variation on that defense theme to pursue as opposed to having genuinely different options for attacking the body.

And maybe that's the intent. Maybe that's the most scientifically valid way of showing how diseases attack the body, and the conditions under which they can succeed--the difference between cellulitis and MRSA as displayed through the abstraction of a card game. I really like the idea, and I'm glad this game was made. It just doesn't hold up fun-wise for as many playthroughs as most people are going to want out of their games.

Score: Eighteen dilated pupils out of thirty-four (one guy's all fucked up)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Dave Reviews: The Version Of Arkham Horror That Was Supposed To Be Shorter But Fucking Isn't

Eldritch Horror

No, it's not a new game. You think I'm trying to be competitive with Shut Up & Sit Down or something?

Anyway. CTHULHU BITCHES



Arkham Horror was the original version of this game, released in 2005, where you ran around Arkham to try and stop the invasion of the hentai gods before their squadrons of flying penis monsters took over the city, and from there the world. After a few expansions, some of which turned this reasonably good game into a pile of smoking dogshit (looking at you, Dunwich), a new version was built around the same gameplay concepts--run around, fight off the hordes of waggling dicks, and figure out how to stop the elder god from either spawning or just ending all life on the planet.

This one, Eldritch Horror, worked better from the start just by having your investigators travel all over the world, since it took a stretch of the imagination to think Cthulhu or Azathoth or whoever would dump all their forces into the one city where anyone knew about them and gave enough of a shit to fight back. It was also designed to have a more streamlined gameplay process; things happen that involve the alternate dimensions famous in the Cthulhu mythos, but you don't travel there and move according to special rules, nor do different characters move different distances, and everyone has two actions per turn to handle anything they want to do--movement, acquiring items, resting, etc. Also, your stats are your stats; the min-maxing every turn, while sometimes useful, is more number crunching than most people need. Five base stats (which can still go up or down, depending on what happens) is plenty.

When you look at the game, and get used to the turn flow, it seems like it should go much faster than Arkham, which was a major selling point of the game. There are only three turn phases instead of five, there's no monster pile on the side that keeps adding to your odds of being utterly annihilated... there's just less to keep track of in general. Your action options are limited and easy to grasp: move, get a ticket so you can move farther, use your influence to buy stuff, rest to regain health and sanity, or trade with another investigator. (Some cards or investigator abilities add more things you can spend actions on, but those are equally easy to understand.) They even have bank loans available so that if you totally flub your influence roll to buy assets, you can still take on debt to get something, assuming all the risk involved (read: mob hit squads). It's designed better on a core level than Arkham.

And yet... this is still a game where five competent gamers can take three hours to finish, which is not really an improvement. Nor are you getting a ton of turns in during that time, maybe seven or eight total. And five players is not excessive; it plays up to eight, which is not recommended. It's like being used to driving somewhere with your grandma, then getting to ride with your brother, which is a more exciting trip that fractures quantum mechanics and somehow ends up taking just as long. That's unfortunate, too, because Eldritch Horror probably benefits more from extra investigators in terms of your odds of winning than its predecessor.

If you've never played either of these games, Eldritch Horror is probably the one you'll like more. It's easier to learn and understand, with fewer marginally useful mechanics. There's more story written into the cards, and less of a requirement that you have investigators with the best possible stats for whatever they're trying to do. It is, in short, an improvement in the you would expect a new version of an older game to be. But you do need to expect this game to take a few hours until you're experienced enough to tear through the encounter and mythos phases.

Score: Thirteen detached tentacle suckers laying dead on a cobblestone road out of nineteen

Friday, July 28, 2017

Dave Reviews: A Game So Bad It's Not Even A Fucking Game, What The Fuck

Shahrazad

There are times, no matter your job or hobby, when something comes to your attention that's so bad, that is such an egregious misuse of human capital, putting it aside and not making use of it doesn't seem like an acceptable option. However small your influence on the world--and it doesn't get much smaller than what I have here--you are compelled to use it to guard other people from wasting even a minute of their precious time left on this Earth on something which should have been set alight the moment it came off the production line.

Ladies and gentleman, this is Shahrazad.


It looks really nice, right? The art is very good, I won't deny that. If you wanted a bunch of tiles to use as small, attractive coasters, you could do worse than the game pieces in Shahrazad.

Thus ends our compliments section.

Let's start with the theme. You're telling stories. This makes sense, since the aesthetic is clearly ripped off from the myth of FUCKING SCHEHERAZADE, NOT SHAHRAZAD, IT'S NOT COPYRIGHTED, YOU CAN USE THE ACTUAL FUCKING NAME, OK? Except maybe it's better her name wasn't tainted by this trash pile, because you don't tell shit for stories. You put tiles down that refer to parts of stories, but there's not even anything on the back. If it had a story that ran from tile to tile, maybe you could get an extra three minutes of mild amusement flipping the tiles and reading them after playing.

It's not even the first game to use 'Shahrazad' as a name that points towards the mythical figure. Magic had a card named that, down to the letter. It's not a particularly egregious issue there, though, because it was part of the Arabian Nights set and the card's effect didn't have anything to do with the myth. So these fucking people didn't just come up with a dogshit non-game, they straight up swiped the off-brand name for Scheherazade from somewhere else.

As for the 'game': There are twenty-two story tiles numbered 0-21, of four different colors. You have two goals: line them up so any tiles that touch also go up numerically as you move left to right, and also try to make as many tiles of the same color touch as possible. (Tiles are placed in staggered fashion so that each tile can touch two from the columns to its left and right.) The color strings or blocks earn you points; having your stories go in numerical order and avoiding gaps in the tiles keeps you from losing points.

The game is scored on a sliding scale. You play two rounds, with a maximum of twenty-two points per round possible (having all the tiles of each color touching, with no penalties for borking the number ascension or leaving gaps in the lines). If you play with two people, 35+ is required for the highest ranking. If you play alone, 40+ is required. Since there's a limit to how much two players can communicate, the lower score for them makes sense... except they're also limited to a maximum of three tiles per column, whereas someone playing alone can use four. Thus, if you're solo, you can just create a line for each color and place or swap tiles as needed to keep their stories in order. It's possible for a very bad draw to leave you unable to finish a perfect round, but only needing 40 out of 44 points, it's extremely unlikely that you'll ever end up with less than the highest ranking once you figure this out.

Alright, so maybe the single-player rules were inserted as a way to give it a little more playability than if it was advertised solely as a two-player game. That happens all the time in the industry, right? How many games have 'variants' so you can play with only two people, even though it says on the box it fits from two to whatever? How many are simply not that good with certain numbers of players? It's an understandable decision.

Except the game is still completely solvable with two people. The only things that make it harder are a) the fact both people need to know the puzzle, and b) the deck of tiles runs out a little earlier, and you can only swap a tile with one in your hand if there's another one you can draw. The rule that you can only use three columns is a bunch of arbitrary bullshit; if anything it should be the other way around, with that limitation placed on a solo player, since that player has an easier time of it. But once you figure out how to place the tiles, with three columns or four, none of that matters. There's a correct placement for every tile if you want a max score, and if you know what that is, there is zero reason to experiment with anything else. You can't do better, and you don't have an opponent to outmaneuver. The game's done. There's nothing else to do.

Maybe the reason I keep seeing glowing (or at least positive) reviews about this game is that it would take longer to solve if you only play with two people. The reviewers didn't play long enough to realize just how dead the game becomes once you figure it out. I've written a lot of reviews for the store where I work--I started putting them here because I wanted to swear--so I understand how an opinion can be formed which would have been altered by just a bit more information. And the one very, very mild thing the designers did well is create something that does take a little effort to solve while rarely, if ever, being prone to bad draws screwing over the players. That can look like a reasonably good game.

But holy fucking shit, this thing is a travesty. If I was looking for an industry job and this was the only thing on my resume, I'd hand them a blank sheet of paper.

Score: Two mythical figures weeping in the pages of the books that are actual, competent creative works, unlike this shit, out of seventeen. Both of them like the pictures.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dave Reviews: A Game That's About, Essentially, Where Jerky And Burgers Come From

Great Western Trail

The only surprise about seeing it's been a little over two years since the last post is that wasn't a hell of a lot longer. So I figured, if I'm going to try this again, I may as well get off to a positive start, and what's more positive than games about giant slabs of beef?


NOT THAT BEEF


Yes, thank you.

The whole idea behind Great Western Trail is that you're a cattle rancher from Texas trying to sell cattle in Kansas City and locations westward. Like any good rancher, you want victory points more than money, because victory points indicate the joy of your work that goes beyond mere capitalist interests. But the stationmaster in Kansas City is all, "Fuck your victory points," because he's a joyless prick, so as the game progresses it's necessary to sell better and better herds in order to make it worth shipping them farther west if you don't want them to be stuck in KC.

This is a game that's fairly easily learned, but not easy to describe without explaining how it works, so here goes: You start out with a cowboy, a train, and a deck of cattle cards. 
  1. The deck is what you draw from to create the herd that will be sold once you make it to KC; your goal here is to have as many different types of cattle in your hand as possible, because each type only counts once. 
  2. The cowboy moves up to four spaces (this can be increased later), and can make use of whichever building he stops on each turn. Important note: only spaces with something on them (buildings or hazards) count against the movement limit, so early on it's possible to run your cowboy from Texas to KC in just a couple of turns. As the game progresses and buildings are put up in the blank spots on the board, the cowboy can't go as far each turn unless you upgrade his movement.
  3. The train is, I guess, something you're invested in as a cattle rancher? Certain buildings will let you move your train car forward, and certain abilities can force it back as well. The farther forward it is, the cheaper it is to ship your cattle to more distant cities.
At the beginning of the game, there are only seven buildings on the board. These allow for the basic mechanics--hiring more workers, putting up buildings, trading in cattle for money along the way (this is the main method for manipulating your hand in order to have different cattle types when you reach KC), buying more cattle, etc. Right away you're forced to prioritize. Do you stop in to hire workers? Put up a building while there are more spaces available? Four of the seven neutral buildings let you trade in cattle for money and draw new cards. How necessary is that for you? If you have three 2s and a 1--the best possible hand with the base deck--do you race to KC for the quick money and make use of more buildings on the next trip through?

Prioritization gets more complicated as the game goes along and the board fills... kind of. You end up with more options overall as you place buildings, but you're not allowed to use your opponents' buildings; all they do is slow your movement and, in some cases, make you pay the player who owns that building a coin or two. You also never see buildings that let you hire more workers or construct more buildings apart from the neutral ones that are available from the start. So you end up having to decide what you can (or need to) accomplish to max out the money and points you're earning while not having that many more options compared to the start, unless you focus hard on hiring craftsmen and putting up buildings every chance you get.

That doesn't mean you're working around the same few goals the whole game, though, which brings us to the strength/weakness of the game: the absolutely fucking bananas number of ways to score points. You don't count points until the end, but once you're there, there are eleven different things to score. They give you a score pad, but still, that's a lot of possibilities to keep track of while you're playing. You can't possibly chase them all, but you'll have to go for more than one to have a chance, so sometimes a strategy might come down to how many different possibilities you can keep track of, in order to take advantage of the ones that become most readily available. It could be owning station master tokens, fulfilling more objective cards, buying better cattle and pulling together more VPs at the end by hitting the furthest-west stations, and it could also involve synergy between the goals you're chasing or just getting stuff that all adds up to a bunch of points on their own.

You know what, though? It works. It doesn't feel as overwhelming as it could, even as a first time player, although being a board game vet helps a lot. This might not be the game you want to convince your boyfriend that board games are actually a lot of fun and he should play them with you more often, unless you only like two-hour-plus games that require mucho consideration to maximize the effects of each turn. At least then you're being honest with him about what he'll be getting into playing with you.

Score: Eleven jumbo bags of Great Value peppered beef jerky out of twelve.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Old Ball Game

Off to Minneapolis, in part to see Toronto at the Twins.  First major league game I've been to in... long enough that I can't remember, and it's my last place team in the home of a first place opponent.  I'm sure it will be lots of fun watching Mark Buerhle lob softballs to the Twins hitters.  At least we're in the left field seats- I bet at least one ball's going to land in our section.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

UFC 187 Aftermath

Revisiting the picks:

Namajunas/Ansaroff: Super disappointed this one didn't go down.  I hope they reschedule soon.

Dodson/Makovsky: I really hope this was a case of Makovsky being much better than his previous record and performances would indicate, because if not it means DJ is even farther ahead of the rest of the division than we thought.  He'll go down as the greatest UFC champion hardly anyone remembers.

Benavidez/Moraga: Predicted third round KO for Benavidez, but he won by decision.  Nothing particularly surprising about any of it, though.

Browne/Arlovski: Yeah, I picked Browne, but I also said it was more likely to end in two rounds than Browne was to win.  With guys like this, it's sometimes easier to call how long the fight will last than who will win.  But holy shit, that was insane.  How often do you see a fight get stopped where the loser is still swinging?  Browne's ability to stay on his feet, however wobbly he was, was extraordinary, and if he'd won with that hail mary it would have been a top five miracle finish in UFC history, maybe MMA history.  It's the kind of thing that would have ended Arlovski years ago; the fact he's surviving it later in his career is a little amazing.  Good for him, though.

Cerrone/Makdessi: I guess I was being goofy calling a submission win for Cowboy.  But the only surprise about that ass-whooping was how long it took to finish.  I wonder how long it will take Makdessi to recover from that busted jaw.  The potential upside to this fight for Makdessi was that taking it on short notice would make his next payday come sooner and give him bonus points with the UFC brass, and he wasn't going to have much better of a chance at beating Cerrone with a full training camp.  This is the downside, if he's out for a long time because of the injury.

Weidman/Belfort: The competition angels are singing.  I know it's not fair or correct to say Belfort only has three minutes of fight in him when none of it is coming out of a syringe, but I'm going to unfairly go on acting like that's the case.

Johnson/Cormier: So much grind, so many boos.  Considering how hard Johnson nailed Cormier with that strike ten or so seconds in, it should have been clear to anyone who hadn't thought about it before that shoving Johnson against the fence was Cormier's only prayer.  And if that wasn't enough of a clue, Cormier's apparent inability to defend against Johnson's strikes at the start of round two had to prove it beyond doubt.

Even knowing that those big muscular guys have more trouble keeping their cardio because their bodies chew up so much oxygen, I'm a little surprised Johnson was breathing so hard not even halfway through the second round.  I'm also a little surprised Johnson's ground game was so totally inadequate, as much as there was no way he was going to match Cormier's skill level in grappling.  I think he was right about Cormier being a tougher matchup for him than Jones; Jones wouldn't bring a fighting style that created such an absolute mismatch for Johnson.  Congrats to Cormier.

Friday, May 22, 2015

UFC 187!

Let's get away from the heavy stuff for a minute and do some predictorizing.

Main Card

Joe Benavidez vs. John Moraga: Benavidez has four losses in his career: two to Dominick Cruz, two to Demetrious Johnson.  One loss to each guy was a split decision.  Moraga's record is almost as impressive: one loss to DJ and two to John Dodson, who is the only non-DJ active fighter that might be able to take Benavidez.  But I'll take a guy who fought his way into a bantamweight title fight, gave up six inches to Cruz, and damn near beat him over someone whose most impressive victory is over Chris Cariaso.

Pick: Benavidez by third round KO.

Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski: Browne was becoming a bigger name in the heavyweight division before he got whooped all over by current champ ("champ", I suppose) Fabricio Werdum.  Arlovski... where the hell did he come from?  He got dumped by the UFC after getting KO'd over and over- at the time his record was 15-9, with seven of those losses coming via knockout- then strung together enough wins to earn another shot amongst the fairly thin roster of UFC heavyweights.  Then he takes down Brendan Schaub and Bigfoot, which, they may not be world-beaters, but they're not half-dead bodies getting thrown in there at the last minute against someone they have no business fighting (see: Camozzi, Chris).

It's hard to gauge what to expect from a guy in Arlovski's position.  Fighters of all stripes who have taken several KO losses, especially consecutively, often just continue to fall apart.  In boxing this is sometimes masked by setting them up against weak opposition, but even if Arlovski benefited from that initially, he faced Anthony Johnson in the WSOF without getting KO'd and beat two reasonable UFC-level heavyweights.  Thus, even though Browne throws down harder whoopins than a Southern grandma, it's hard to assume this is going to be a one-sided beatdown the way it almost certainly would have been two years ago.

That doesn't mean it won't be a beatdown, though.

Pick: Brown by second round KO (caveat: the second round KO is more likely than Browne winning).

Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi: Cerrone recently told a story about getting punched in the face by a road raging driver at Whole Foods, then walking away because it was the smart thing to do.  If Donald Cerrone is a badass- which he is- the idea of a Cerrone with that level of self-control should make unusual mixtures of fluids run down the legs of most of his opponents.  Not all; dos Anjos is the champ, Khabib needs to worry more about his knees than whether someone else can beat him, and Benson Henderson doesn't give a fuck.  It applies to everyone else, though, and John Makdessi is part of everyone else.

Pick: Cerrone by first round submission.

Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort: Where is this fight taking place?  Vegas?  The land of actual drug testing?  Vitor will be lucky to walk out of there with his mohawk still attached.

Pick: Weidman by second round KO.

Anthony Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier: Hey, I called this one!  It never mattered that Cormier had just lost to Jon Jones; Gustafsson obviously couldn't be the fill-in, since Johnson had beaten him for the title shot, and once you hit #4 in the rankings you're already down to Rashad Evans, who hasn't fought in a year and a half.  Ryan Bader is #5 on the strength of the good-not-great wins he's built his career from (most recently Phil Davis, who just bolted for Bellator's money, and try to make the argument his departure had to do with the realization he'll never be a UFC champ).  Cormier was the only even theoretically championship-level opponent left.  What happened to the depth in this division?

In any case, AJ is on such an extraordinary run since turning his career around that, no matter what people think of his chances to beat Jones, hardly anyone appears to dispute the notion that he at least has the best chance of anyone.  Beating the guy who nearly beat Jones is, of course, no guarantee of his performance in that fight, but given how quickly he wrecked Gustafsson, it made the prospect of Johnson-Jones quite exciting.  And it means that no matter how much respect you give Cormier as a fighter, it's hard to find ways to favor him here.

And yet...

Johnson is only two inches shorter than Jones, but his reach is six inches less (78" vs. 84").  It's still an advantage over Cormier (72"), and the sheer power he brings could theoretically make it easier for him to keep Cormier at bay.  But Cormier was a heavyweight for most of his career, which makes him better suited than most LHWs to take shots in an attempt to land takedowns on a guy with zero career submissions and no reputation for much of a ground game whatsoever.

I don't think Johnson gets the finish here.  That gives Cormier every opportunity to grind out a decision.  The betting gods surprisingly agree- Cormier is slight favorite, despite Johnson's increasing popularity and capability to end a fight at any moment.

And yet...

Some part of me wants to see the AJ redemption tale finish itself off, even though I'd be just as happy to see Cormier finally win some kind of a title.  And it's close enough that neither pick is dumb.  But I'm picking this to go the distance, and I can't figure out how that happens without Cormier grinding Johnson into the mat and pissing everyone off in the process.

Pick: Cormier by unanimous decision (49-46 x2, 48-47)

Other Interesting Fights

Rose Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff: Namajunas has been supplanted as the golden child of the strawweight division by Paige VanZant, but she's still the higher-ranked fighter.  As it should be: her pro record is only 2-2, but her losses were to Carla Esparza and Tecia Torres, and her skill set suggests she should be able to maintain at least a top five or six ranking as long as she wants.  The long-term question of whether she has the potential to be champ became a lot murkier with the rise of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but fortunately for her, this is a back-on-track fight, not being launched into another divisional buzzsaw.

Or is it?  All the lighter weight classes currently suffer from divisional depth, so it's a little tougher to judge Ansaroff based on previous opponents.  She has zero noteworthy wins, but apart from Casey Noland, her losses are no more shameful than any of Namajunas'.  Most interesting about her, however, is that four of her six wins have been via KO.  That's a substantially higher percentage than even Jedrzejczyk or Joanne Calderwood, the two most noteworthy strikers in the division.

I declared that if Namajunas wins here, a battle against VanZant would come next.  I'm still going to call that, even if only because Dana White wants it so badly his mental energy knocks Ansaroff down and lets Namajunas finish the fight.  If Ansaroff wins, it's going to throw some of the divisional promotion into disarray, so if you're a conspiracy theorist, that's good reason to back Namajunas.  Even if you're not, Namajunas should still have the ability to win here, but we're going to find out just where she is as a fighter, and possibly if we should ever hope to see her earn a title shot.

Pick: Namajunas by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)

John Dodson vs. Zach Makovsky: This fight is not so interesting on its own merits, but rather in how it speaks of the division overall.  If Dodson wins- and he will- a look up and down the division brings up the question of why women's bantamweight is frequently dismissed as having no depth, while men's flyweight rarely gets a word one way or the other.'

The divisional depth in both cases is not great.  And they're not the only divisions with depth issues; as previously mentioned, the light heavyweights are astonishingly thin.  But they're both divisions that appear thin in part due to the absolute dominance of their champions.  DJ might not be as dominant as Ronda Rousey in terms of his performances, but he still beats everyone they throw at him, and it's rarely close.  In fact, DJ has the same number of top 10 wins- he's beaten the current #1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 10, whereas Rousey has wins over #1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9.  Henry Cejudo is the only fighter in either division that is perceived as having more than a dreamer's chance at overtaking the current champ.

Dodson is the #1 contender in the flyweight division.  He's going to crush Makovsky, who is not only not really a prospect, he hasn't finished a fight in four years.  And Makovsky is the division's #9 guy.  I'm not saying women's bantamweight is being treated unfairly; I think widespread perception of the division is skewed because Rousey ruins everybody's shit, but it's not super deep.  Disregarding the very similar situation in men's flyweight is where the balance gets out of whack.  If it's happening because DJ is a quiet champ and no one really pays attention to those guys at all, that's probably the best case scenario, but it's hard to see that as the only reason the dialogue runs the way it does.

Pick: Dodson by first round KO.