Friday, March 31, 2006

Live from Horizocon

I played a seven-player game of RoboRally and got a free game, Civil War 2061, as a door prize. w00t!

A Gamut of Games (part 2)

If you're joining the party late, you might want to read the first installment.

My cohorts and I survived the food court and met no zombies. Mallwalkers, sure, but no zombies. Chimaeracon continued.

Once returning to the gaming area, we wanted to catch a panel/event/discussion covering the art of making up games on the fly. It sounded pretty cool, so we had scheduled dinner and our travel time to go to the convention at all more or less around this event. In most cons, they will typically assign a room in the convention area to an event; this con assigned tables to their events. Coincidentally, the event we wanted to see was scheduled to take place at the same table where we played RoboRally. We waited about a half hour with no sign of anyone even remotely showing up. Well, we did see one person stop by while we were waiting, and they were en route to the costume contest. (See the photo.)

We noticed a nearby game of Dino Hunt (BGG, BUY ME!) happening as a demo, which Ryan had never played. Now, I'm not a big fan of the game- it's squarely marketed at the age-eight crowd. I'll give Steve Jackson Games credit for successfully pulling off an educational game in this market (well, ten years ago), but the game just isn't there. There's very little decision-making and way too much randomness. The special cards that do the sort of thing you'd expect a special card to do (lose a turn, reroll a dino capture attempt, screw your neighbor), but there's not enough of them to really make a difference in play. For a "demo," we also had way too many dinosaur cards in the deck and the game started to drag. At least the game comes with little plastic dinosaurs and the cards are pretty. (Yay, Dan Smith!)

I started to need more entertainment during play, so after Dan and I formed the Axis of Evil to try to squash Ryan, I decided to roleplay a little. Instead of a warm and fuzzy scientist trying to "Bring 'em back alive!" to my zoo for study, I declared myself CEO of Dino Burgers, Inc. I was bringing the 'saurs back for my burger meat. Remember The Muppet Movie? Like that. My crowning achievement was retrieving the Muttaburrasaurus, aka the Mutt-a-Burger-Saurus. I won't bore you with the details or the saga I underwent as I struggled to save my marketing budget, but suffice it to say it was epic.

Luckily, I happened to notice a fellow wearing a silkscreened t-shirt that matched someone else's, and I smelled small company doing a game demo. Lo and behold, I met Richard and Vincent from Pinche Games. They have a beer-and-pretzels RPG called THE Organization, a game basically about low-rent spy rejects. I ditched the Dino Hunt demo like a ton of bricks and had a blast playing their demo. I might've bought it on the spot, but besides not having anything for sale, the game mechanics as presented didn't really shore up the premise of the game. They basically had a GURPS-alike roll-low-on-3d6 mechanics with no frills. I should really give them some better feedback, but the fun in the game really came form the GM and the players, not the game itself. I can't really speak to whether or not the fun would translate into a printed format. Participating in this game totally made the whole con worthwhile.

Next weekend will probably find me at a local-to-Austin con called Horizocon. [UPDATE: TRUE!]

Roadside Attractions

On my way into work today, I saw deer roadkill where I saw none yesterday. Passing strange to see such a large animal in such an incongruous place. I had to wonder what sort of vehicle had killed it and when it happened. I'm starting to get used to the fauna, it seems.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Chinese fantasticness again

Remember where I went last week? I went there again today.

This is the huge bowl of soup. Note the hand, the ladle, and the normal-size bowl of soup for scale.

Pork Chicken?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Here Comes the Rain Again

I woke up to the sound of thunder- it also caused a clock to fall off the wall due to the shock and vibration.

It's raining pretty hard right now, complete with lightning, thunder, and nice fat raindrops. According to, we have 88% humidity here in the desert. By the same token however, it cautions us that rainfaill may reach one inch. SHOCK HORROR!

It smells so good, though; like ozone and dirt and mineral and cool damp earthyness.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Gamut of Games (part 1)

No, not the Sid Sackson book.

I played a lot of games over the weekend. Friday was regular open games night at Great Hall. Saturday, Dan, Ryan, and I drove down to San Antonio to catch a small local con for gaming. Sunday after brunch, John, Jennifer, Cat and I played a few light games.

The Friday roster included: A six-player game of DungeonQuest, one four-player game each of both Bohnanza and Cosmic Encounter, a five-player Colossal Arena, and a five-player game of RoboRally.

A quick recap: DungeonQuest (BGG, OOP - EMAIL ME TO BUY!) sucked. Now, I mean it was the kind of bad game that you get a bad feel for as soon as you take it out of the box. I'm trying to explain it to folks and I have that sinking feeling that we shouldn't play. Unfortunately, the game has more bits than you can shake a stick at, and by the time I realized the low probability of fun awaiting us, we had already had it set up to the point that we might as well give it a go. The manual admits that playtesting revealed a 15% survival rate for characters, so we finally gave up and just rolled for it. That version of the game was fun enough, relatively speaking, that we played it twice. With as many bits as the game has, I'm sure it's tweakable into something fun- but, you know, snakes on a plane.

After the aborted game, the group split into Bohnanza (BGG, BUY ME!) and Cosmic Encounter (BGG, OOP, GOOD LUCK), both of which went over well. Scott dropped by, and we got in a five-player game of Colossal Arena (BGG, BUY ME!). I managed to goof up early in the round and lost horribly and totally- in other words, solidly in last place. Finally, we ended the evening with a five-player game of RoboRally (BGG, BUY ME!). Interestingly, Kelly didn't initially care to play- but we had her randomly controlling a fifth bot in as a crazy factor. Within a few rounds, she wanted to play for real. We had to end early because the game store closed around us.

Dan had also picked up a game for me (see below for details) called Coffee (BGG, BUY ME!), which has a similar feel to the newly revamped Caffeine Dealer and is vaguely reminiscent of the PJ's game, but not having played it yet, I can't say for certain. It reads like it plays totally differently. I also took a page from Scott and picked up a weird little impulse item called the Answer Deck from a local megabookstore. I plan to use it as a creative tool for gaming.

Saturday found Dan, Ryan, and myself at Chimeracon in San Antonio. One of our primary goals had us make a pit stop at a very unlikely store- Christmas Discount and Games, as featured on this thread over at the 'Geek. They had many games for 50-75% off. I made several purchases, spending just under $40 for six or seven games plus a Slinky for work. Score! More on these when I play 'em. Er, except for the Slinky. I think we all know how that works? Yes? It's fun, it's physics, it rolls down stairs, alone or in pairs!

My standard con game, now that Clay-O-Rama has fallen out of favor, is Carabande (BGG, OOP - GOOD LUCK) the racing game where you flick your cars around the track. It's big, it's easy, it's quick, it's not common, it's colorful, and I can state the rules in three sentences. (Flick your car around the track and try to make three laps first. If your car flips or goes over the edge or you hit the obstacle or someone else does that to you, you lose a turn to flip your car. If you're too close to the rail or whatever, you can space it out a little.) We probably played five or seven games of this. Kids love making their own tracks, and it's easy to draw people into a brief five- or ten- minute game. My favorite is a toss-up between luring the HeroClix guy away from setting up his demo or the fiftysomething matronly type who played a round. I desperately want more tracks off eBay or something, but this game wasn't cheap when it was new and it's less cheap now that it's out of print. Finally, Dan had sent me a link to a small DIY site called Pimp My Carabande. Rock!

I bought some gaming stuff, then we set up RoboRally (BGG, BUY ME!), and got in a full five-player game, including some dad and his eight-year-old. Ryan kicked gear and won. We broke for eating dinner in the scary abandoned mall/convention center called Crossroads. You know the kind of mall that's slowly dying with empty storefronts and signs for rent? This was that mall. There were three, count 'em, three places to eat in the food court plus a smoothie kiosk. On a Saturday night the place felt like a Tuesday afternoon with no sales during final exams.

I'll leave yall with that semi-ominous cliffhanger.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Delicious Chinese Food

Last week, I had some of the best Chinese food I've had here in Austin. The place: Din Ho Chinese BBQ. It's cheap, it's awesome, it's a butcher's. When I walked in with Jeff, the fellow from Xilinx, I looked to my left and saw nearly a dozen roast duck and a whole roast pig hanging in the window by the butcher's area. My favorite was the sign that told you to let the cashier know if you want your chicken with its head. Who can get that image out of their head? Not just getting a whole roast barbecue chicken with its head intact, but actually asking your friendly neighborhood butcher to leave the head intact and on your whole roast barbecue chicken.

We ordered a bowl of hot and sour soup, barbecue pork, and chicken with black bean sauce (my all time most favorite Chinese dish). The single bowl of soup was about as big as my head and I do not exaggerate when I say that we got five personal-real-sized bowls of soup out of it and we had enough left for a sixth. The pork was very tender and sweet with a nice glaze of sauce. The chicken rocked equally hard with very crisp onions and bell peppers, and a fantastic secret Chinese black bean sauce. We totally didn't have leftovers.

Today, John and Jennifer took Cat and I out to Dim Sum brunch at Tien Hong to celebrate my new job. I've never had Dim Sum before, but it's very tasty. The whole idea is like tapas; many many tiny dishes ranging all over the spectrum of meat and vegetables and rice and sweet and sour and salty; steamed and fried and baked and even dessert all wheeled round on many carts for a la carte choices like a mobile automat. We had chicken and peanut dumpling, Chinese broccoli, steamed sweet sticky rice, curried squid, wonton soup, hot Chinese tea, chicken wraps, sliced barbecue pork, and shrimp-stuffed jalapenos. I can't remember all the rest of everything that we had- but I tried little fried baby octopuses. Cat and I have ordered take-out or delivery several times from this place, as they're not too far from us, and very good for dinner. As odd as it was eating Chinese food at 10:30 in the morning, we still had a grand old time.

After brunch, the four of us went to Great Hall and played games. More on that in the next post.

Political Favors

Hello, loyal readers.

Please go to this poll and vote for Arthur Morrell before the end of Monday. This will help my friend's father, a Louisiana State Representative, appear on a televised debate.

Many thanks.

Extreme Geek

According to this geek test, I am 57.98815% geeky- an Extreme Geek.

If I really wanted to alientate yall, I'd say I was 3x7r33m 1337 g33k!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tapas: the Sampling

You can read my 2006 Game Chef entry here.

I spread out the time range restrictions and ingredients into six seperate minigames using a single ingredient each. I'm such a rules-breaker.

More discussion in about two or three weeks as judging commences.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

First Day at School

Work, really. It's really good to get back into some real geekery. I'm particularly looking forward to getting a Linux, Solaris, and a Windows box on my desk plus a snazzy twentysomething-inch LCD flat-panel.

First day was regular sort of first day things- set up voice mail, get a proxcard, introduce myself, get a high-level overview of the LANs and WAN I'll support, find out where they hide the dry-erase markers, introduce myself to the various machine in the server room, find the replacement packaging tape for the tape-gun, look at the freely available potables in the kitchen, and such like. They do have Diet Dr Pepper.

I even have a nice cube, as these things go. Eight-foot square, with five-foot actual walls and a door. Yes, a sliding door on a cubicle! Better yet, it's made out of whiteboard!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Friday Board Game Recap

Friday's game night at Great Hall was sparsely attended, but I got to play three games that I had never played before. All of the below games took the three players we had.

Firstly, we played the Hollywood! Game. (BUY ME!, BGG) I've had this for about a month or two before I got a chance to play it, basically picking it up because it features movies, was about seven bucks, and claimed a game time of twenty minutes. The game plays a number of rounds equal to the number of players, and the basic mechanic is shifting dibs on various cards in order to form tricks consisting of a number of film cards with matching suits (Action, Horror, Romantic Comedy) topped with an actor card. Points are awarded based on the value of the actor multiplied by the number of cards in the trick. There's other fiddlies as well, but the real game is in marking your territory and watching other player's choices move your markers. We played a second round and the game really came together once we knew how it played. I'd like to see it with four.

Secondly, we played Syzygy. (BUY ME!, BGG) This is best described as segregated boardless speed Scrabble. Each player starts with nine tiles out of some three hundred or so, and each player arranges them to form a separate legal crossword-style set of interconnecting words. First one to do so yells "Draw!" and everyone draws a new tile. At this point, everyone tries to incorporate this tile into their grid and may rearrange every letter at will. Play continues until players have all the tiles, and the person with the fewest unused tiles wins. This was lots of fun, and of course I wonder how it plays with the maximum six players. Sadly, it felt like a three-way game of solitaire. I'm not sure how to fix this to promote actual interaction.

Finally, we played Blokus. (BUY ME!, BGG) Chances are medium good that you've seen this colorful game set up somewhere. It's won several awards, and with good reason. With three, all four colors still get played and it's a nice feeling of maneuvering. Sort of like Qix in the sense of claiming territory. Evidently the smaller two-player version cuts to the chase rather faster. I liked this, but haven't quite grokked all the strategy. Ah, perhaps next time.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Vocational News

The biggest news I can tell you relates to my job: I no longer work at Dell. I have accepted a position at a computer chip company named Xilinx (check out their entry in the Wikipedia for info) as a IT sysadmin, doing support and administration for Windows and Linux workstations in an enterprise environment- I start Tuesday. I'm really excited to be working at this level of geekery.

When I gave notice at Dell, everyone showed their support and wished me well. To a person, they were very gracious and understanding, which was pleasantly surprising. Some of my ex-coworkers pledged that they will throw an Xbox party and demand that I show up for some good old fashioned fragging, so we've got no bad blood between us.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled game geekery. Please check back later in the evening for updates.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Game Chef and food chef

My brain has been working overtime with this year's Game Chef Competition. I have quite a number of appetizer-level games simmering on my creative stove's back burners, but nothing has really shone as a full-course offering.

A co-worker brought me a few pounds of boudain sausage from Port Arthur, so I'll soon likely dust off my real culinary skills!

Hmm, a game where everyone is making sausage from old family recipes...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Myshbackforward: Didj, Game Chef, Movie

Slashdot (News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters.) runs news stories and articles. Occasionally, one will merit a second glance as the story develops; they editorial staff (such as they are) dub this a Slashback. In the same vein, welcome to the Myshbackforward, as I give you a quick update.

Earlier today, I tested out my cut, bored, epoxied — and now waxed agave didj. I originally thought that it played extremely poorly, but with a bit of beeswax as a mouthpiece, I found it much easier to play. Still with very little backpressure, the didj's length and the laws of physics dictate that it's a very low note. I'll try to get a recording accessible to the intarweb.

I just got back from a brainstorming session for this year's Game Chef Competition. It felt really good to get the old noodle working again. To cut to the chase, this year's theme forces a time constraint on the game, and the ingredient menu suggests a Chinese menu- Pick three from Column A (Ancient, Committee, Emotion, Glass) or three from Column B (Actor, Law, Steel, Team). I believe that the time is trickier than it appears at first blush, and successfully working within these constraints may actually be harder than making good thematic use of the ingredients. I'll blog more about this later, but this year's time constraints really force oneself to think about the structure of the game/story.

And speaking of story, tomorrow marks the premiere of Gretchen, a movie my brother worked on. If you already plan to attend SXSW, you might see me there!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Game Chef 2006

They post the ingredients for this year's Game Chef tomorrow evening.

If you don't know, the Game Chef Competition is a peer-reviewed independent roleplaying competition. Competitors strive to create a complete RPG in one week plus two weekends, using a common set of themes and design limitations- much the the televised Iron Chef. In this case, however, you win bragging rights and the luxury of knowing you've accomplished the goal.

This year, all entrants must judge a certain number of their peer's games else be disqualified. I balked at this at first, feeling that it cheapened my victory last year. Now I've come around to the idea and think that this year could rock even more than last year.

You may want to stop in and periodically peek at the threads and development to see how things evolve.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


No hot water this morning for shower. I feel like a zombie.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Epoxy unleashed!

Resin 'A' plus Hardener 'B' makes waterproof sealant with toxic fumes.

You read that right, True Believers. Today I poured on one of my agave stalks. Lady luck smiled on me this afternoon/evening and I left work on time, plenty of time to get home and get started on this project while I still had some daylight left.

First, I gathered some tools. The full and final list includes: Swiss Army knife, an unsharpened pencil, two large aluminum lasagna trays, yellow disposable rubber gloves, bungee cords, a saw, the measuring tape, Qwikwood brand epoxy wood putty, Bondo Marine Epoxy, an old Austin Chronicle (a free weekly newspaper like the Gambit), and my lovely assistant, Cat. Without her, it's very likely that I'd be epoxied to the agave stalk, the newspaper, the stone floor, the metal railing, and my shoes to all and the same. Huzzah for Cat!

I then examined the stalk for holes. I know that the other half of the stalk has quite a few pencil-sized holes where something got in to chomp on the pith, so I wanted to use the putty to close the larger holes. I luckily found none, though the stalk still had the makings of a split near the top, where I and Steve clamped it down with a pipe clamp.

I next tried to make noise with the bare stalk. To my surprise, I could in fact and in deed get the basic drone out of the unfinished stalk, though I could feel the wood flexing and expanding near the split. The sound was noticeably muted and a but muzzy, likely due to the remaining soft pith inside the stalk. It also had barely any backpressure and I couldn't maintain a drone while circular breathing. I've had the same sort of feeling with certain long PVC practice tubes, so I figured I'd cut off a little at the end and see what happened.

I wound up cutting perhaps three quarters of an inch or so off the bell end and tried playing again. The sound was better; still muzzy and hard to circular breathe on, but definitely a better sound overall. I figured I could pour quickly while I still had light and cut later.

I poured about half of each bottle into my lasagna tray. The stuff smelled like a combination of industrial lubricant and death. Do this outside in a well-ventilated area, kids! Interestingly, the hardener poured faster than the resin. I used the end of a pencil (next time I'll use a chopstick) to stir the stuff. It looked a bit like egg whites at first, but a little more viscous. After a minute or so of beating until fluffy, the mixture was more opaque as well.

Here we go- note my crossed fingers. I poured the epoxy mixture down the stalk a little at a time, maybe a third of a cup or so or a decent dollop down the stalk, rotating slowly as I poured. The other end of the stalk rested in the other lasagna tray, ready to catch the drip and excess. Once the mixture was inside, I kept rotating the stalk to evenly coat the insides. It took around five or ten minutes for a decent amount to collect in the pan at the other end and for epoxy to stop dripping. I reversed the process, pouring down at the bell end and catching the excess in the original pan, rotating continuously. Once that was done, I poured a final time from mouthpiece to bell for good luck. Three's the charm, they say.

Finally, Cat and I bungeed the whole affair to the balcony so it could continue to drip, cure, and dry overnight.

Patience is a virtue, as the lady says.

Exciting times- I look forward to scaring the neighbors tomorrow with low sustained booming noises.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


I've been in Austin for six months today.

I just got a recorded phone message paid for by Ray Nagin's campaign urging me to vote.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

1984 Prime Actual Play and Didj update

For the design inclined, you can read the Actual Play thread over at the Forge. A later post will discuss the mechanics.

I did manage to pick up some wood putty and some lasagna pans (to catch epoxy) over the weekend, so with luck, I can start pouring tomorrow! I should have a playable didj by the end of the week. Huzzah!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Friday boardgaming recap

Risk, like Monopoly, is a four-letter word. I stole that line blatantly, and am not afraid to admit it.

This Friday's game session was a little lightly attended, so I only got in a few games.

First, I played a seven-player game of Bang! (BGG, BUY ME!) with four people who had never played before. Once again, I'm struck with the fact that teaching a game's rules is very definitely a skill. I've seen a few blog posts here and there in the blogosphere regarding what it takes to tell someone how to play. I tend to give an medium-broad overview, then details in order. (Insert PowerPoint joke.) Interestingly, just reading the rules out do not always provide the best overview of a game. As I can readily testify from my recent training, just reading and/or just being read to do not a learning experience make. After the first game (I was an outlaw; we won! Death roster went as follows: Outlaw, Deputy, Renegade, Sheriff.) I left my copy in the hands of the circle so everyone who had arrived late could keep playing. I wanted to play the next game listed below, but I like seeing a game reach critical mass and people love it and keep playing when I'm not part of the impetus for playing it. Two people bought their own copy of Bang! right then and there before the evening ended.

I left the next round of Bang! to play a game called This Game Sucks (BGG, BUY ME!), which I had never heard of before. Published in the Cheapass fashion, This Game Sucks is a boardgame about bad roleplaying experiences- you try to crush the GM's ego or make the players' interests wane to the point that the game ends. This hit close to home, but was not too painfully funny. I'll probably order this off the Interweb. We managed to play a really quick game that ended in about fifteen or twenty minutes, so this is definitely a quick "filler" game. Maybe something to play next time somebody is late to a session.

Next, we played a relatively light game called Brewmaster (BGG, BUY ME!), a basic trick-making game with a microbrewery theme. The production value was high, with a nicely laminated board and sturdy cards- suitable for beer spillages in J. Random Pub, say. While diverting, I didn't think the game had enough player interaction; most decisions come directly from the cards rather than the placement of tokens and relative standings of other players.

The last game of the evening turned out to be Kill Dr. Lucky (BGG, BUY ME!), the Director's Cut. This means that the game has more color text on the cards, the board has two sides for twice the fun, and the rules come with a commentary track. High falutin', for Cheapass. This is yet another game that is easier to play than to explain, not that it's complex, but that players have a moment where they suddenly "get it" and all makes sense. As for who killed the good doctor- I dunnit, with a chainsaw, in the Hedge Maze.

Brief thoughts on comedy

    Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die. -Mel Brooks

During lunch at work, some of the guys and I started swapping jokes, the usual sort of thing that guys do when left alone to their own devices without HR supervision. As a regular adult hu-nam on this planet who likes the funny, I've both heard and heard of many many jokes in my time, not just a few from just reading joke books and listening to stand-up comics.

That said, even when I've heard or read a joke before, I have to appreciate the inherent skill in the delivery. (Of the deliverer? By the joke-teller? No matter.) As someone tells me a joke, I start to think about which joke they chose to tell, ruling out punchlines and situations, nodding along as I ride the wave of their delivery like a familiar tune played by a live band. When someone tells me a joke, I've generally heard it. But I haven't heard them tell me that joke. Therein lies entertainment.

Not to bring my ego into this (even though it is all about me), but folks have told me that I'm a pretty funny guy. As a relatively funny guy, I don't do well with a joke script.


See what I mean? Maybe it's the medium. I have a much more reactive style of comedy, working with wit and the moment.

However, I do know the secret of comedy. Ask me sometime, I'll tell you.

Friday, March 03, 2006


My gaming group has started to play a game of Lexicon, a sort of play-by-wiki collaborative world-building game. You can follow along with the creation of our fictional encyclopedia if you like. Let me know if you want to join in before the first turn ends on Sunday the 5th. A big shout out of thanks goes to Ryan for hosting and setting up the wiki.

I know this is a game, but I'm not sure of much more else beyond that. As the man says, "You can't really know a game until you play it."