Saturday, July 29, 2006

Weekly Open Gaming Recap

As you might have guessed, I played boardgames yesterday during open gaming over at my Friendly Local Gaming Store. While assembling the list from sketchy memories and poor quality cell phone images, I realized that this week's lineup has a fair number of famous names and awards. During the tour, please keep your arms and legs inside the moving blog at all times, and please hold all questions until the end.

Starting things off light, Dan and I played a quick two-player game of Oceania (BGG, BUY ME!) as a warm up. You may have heard of the designer, a retired dentist who has won four Spiel des Jahres- including a small diversion called the Settlers of Catan. Oceania is a two-player simplified version of another one of Teuber's games called Entdecker, as I understand. This game is a very light luck-heavy game of ocean-going exploration and territory claiming. Dan dubbed it "a sort of reverse Carcassone" since you can easily block off areas and prevent your opponent from claiming islands and scoring points. You're supposed to play three rounds and tally scores, but we only played one round after viciously preventing each other from claiming any completed islands at all. The rules had a few ambiguities, most of which made plenty of sense after watching the online tutorial. The game also offers solitaire play. I got this as a trade, and I'm pretty pleased. Nothing super deep, but a nice way to start things moving.

We also cut Oceania short because Kelly had shown up from the bookstore, plus New Dan brought a crate of things to play. Due to a phone call, Dan, Kelly, and I (but not new Dan) settled in for a three-player game of
Primordial Soup (BGG, BUY ME!), an open box demo at Great Hall. Last week, I saw that four non-regular people had set up with this title and said that they had a good time, so I was optimistic. Each player is a species of amoeba, eating, excreting, and evolving for survival- and points. The game has a clever mechanic of shifting currents in the soup- each round the direction changes, and amoebas may drift or pay a Biological Point to (roll and) move, hopefully in a more desirable direction. But players use these same BPs to purchase genes, which function as player powers to differentiate their species as well as a source of points, and also to buy more amoeba playing pieces, also contributing to points. So there's an interesting balance there. The central mechanic of eating, pooping, and eating others' poop (small wooden cubes, all) requires far too much housekeeping and ultimately proved too tedious in actual play- we stopped play after about a half-hour due to disinterest. I don't think I'd play this again unless I knew someone who really liked it and wanted to play.

While we played, new Dan (back from his phone call) and a few others showed up. I suggested they play Ricochet Robots (BGG, BUY ME!) to get things started on that side. The competitive puzzle game proved a winner again, causing new Dan to loudly shout "I'm not smart enough for this!" I think he came in second, and someone else won with six or seven chips- I don't know his name. I still haven't played with the colored gates on the flip side, nor with the dozens of silver robot variants that exist.

By this time, Ian had arrived, bringing his copy of Dungeon Twister (BGG, BUY ME!), a game I have been itching to play for some time now. This game pits two teams of eight adventurers (each with powers) against each other in a race to escape the dungeon, each player exiting where the other player starts. The various maze boards that make up the complete playing field can be rotated in a number of fashions, and start face down. Players pick a four-character starting team, then populate the board with item tokens and their other four characters. When a board is revealed, each player places their opponent's tokens in a pretty clever turnabout. Combat and action points are handled with cards- you eventually get back your action point cards, but combat cards are out of the game once used. I'd definitely play this again- there's a lot of strategy to this without it being overwhelming. I'd rank this as slightly heavier than the similar Wiz-War, as the luck factor barely exists except as the chaos of dealing with the repercussions of another player's moves- definitely a desirable quality! I intentionally was playing to learn rather than playing to win, so Ian got in a couple of good moves and trounced me, winning five to one. I'll probably buy this in the future.

While Ian and I were locked in epic battle of cardboard, new Dan and the other two guys played Thurn and Taxis (BGG, BUY ME!), a new acquisition of new Dan's. This bad boy just won the Spiel des Jahres 2006, and is a creation of Andreas Seyfarth of Puerto Rico fame. To get you to understand the theme, this isn't a game about Mr. Thurn and his New York Taxi Service, say. This is more like Mr. Thurn and Mr. Taxis, the 16th century postal magnates, brewers, and castle-builders. The game is more about connections between cities, as I understand it, and not a game of pick-up-and-deliver. Looking at the board, I was reminded of Elfenland (Spiel des Jahres, 1998), but I haven't played that one, either. While I didn't have the chance to play T&T, I know the game went over well and everyone had fun. I don't know who won.

Simultaneously, Dan and Kelly broke out Carcassonne: the Castle (BGG, BUY ME!), another two-player game. I'm likely to play this at some point as a filler, but I'm generally lukewarm on Carcassonne. I'm not sure why this is so- I like tile-placement games, and I like little wooden pieces. I could simply be reacting negatively to the game because of its popularity. As for the Castle, it's a Reiner Knizia two-player adaptation of the basic Carcassonne theme: lay tiles, place meeples followers to score points, depending on territory. The scoring track forms a play arena, preventing the game from spreading too far; a good restriction for two players. I haven't played this one either, but I do know the clever thing is that the game has special wall tiles that you gain by landing exactly on certain scoring spaces- just passing over them doesn't cut the mustard. The wall tiles give you various small edges in scoring that can add some extra weight to the game. Again, I don't know who won- I'll leave it to the commentators.

By this time, it had gotten a little late and we were searching for something to play. I requested that I pull out Zombie Rally (BGG, BUY ME!), as I wanted to give it a shot with more than two players. I picked this us last week for three reasons: it cost six bucks and just came out, I like to support small presses with one game under their belt, and it had the best tagline ever: "Let's get ready to shamble!" Sadly, I think the theme is the best part of this weak game. Everyone is a zombie racing against the others. You have a deck of cards that are 1, 2, and 3 steps, plus "take that" attack cards that knock off limbs. A zombie with two legs is walking. One leg means hopping. No legs and two arms is crawling. Just one arm is dragging.

Q: What do you call a zombie with no arms and no legs?
A: Mat.

Actual rules text, people. The biggest shortcoming of this game, apart from seeming like a watered-down lamer Lunch Money and being printed on poor cardstock, is that it came with no good way to track arms, legs, and steps in the race. New Dan snagged a scoring board from one of the Carcassonnes, and we each had a little zombie on the track, plus extra ones in front of us to represent arms and legs. All in all, it went much much faster, but even with five players, the game just doesn't have that spark that makes it worth hitting the table.

For our last game, new Dan pulled out one of the games from the crate, El Grande (BGG, BUY ME!). What a game this is! By playing Wolfgang Kramer's 1996 Spiel des Jahres winner, we truly had a grand send-off to the evening. El Grande is about region control- Ten regions of Spain, each giving differing points for first, second, and third place. Very loosely, you deploy your Caballeros to the regions to secure your position. You have a hand of thirteen cards which dictate turn order and number of Caballeros you can bring to bear each turn; it's inverted such that if you go last, you deploy the maximum number of guys and if you go first, you deploy none. Very elegant in its balance. Turn order matters because you are bidding on action cards that dictate how many guys you bring from your supply to the board and also have an optional special action. Actions include moving others' Caballeros, moving scoring markers, forcing a special scoring, and suchlike. There's more elements here, and I'm only giving a skeleton on an overview; I could talk a lot more about this one. Many kudos to new Dan for his excellent, well-explained how-to-play teaching. We didn't have to refer to the rules once during play, and every game element made sense after his explanation. That's not saying I had a perfect, razor-like grasp of the strategy, however. We had five players in our game of El Grande: Me, Nate, Dennis (?), Ian, and new Dan. Ian won, beating new Dan by 10-20 points, Nate was in the middle somewhere, and I made fourth place by a single point. Yay me, not last! I know that this title will hit the table again. (Dan and new Dan traded with each other for it, so I win either way.) When we wrapped, it was about 11:30 and the grognards had actually finished their 18XX game.

For closure, Dan grabbed the demo copy of Munchkin (BGG, BUY ME!), which new Dan had never played. Kelly said she'd rather shoot herself in the head than play, and Ian passed on playing with a bit less dramatic gore. I totally understood their (IMHO valid) position, but I'm a good sport. Munchkin is good for the jokes, but not good for the game. We pushed through playing, and had some laughs, Dan won. One reviewer posits the game's success depends on fresh humor. With fourteen expansions and versions as of 2006, I can't disagree with the theory. It is what it is, however- a light, funny (if fresh), beat up on the leader, Steve Jackson game. For winning the Origins award for Best Traditional Card Game of 2001, I really want to go and look at the competition. Maybe someone got paid off.

People ask me why I take pictures of the game. I have no better response than "I blog," which beats "I'm a creepy stalker obsessive loon." I need to start bringing my real digital camera. That doesn't paint me in the best of light, now that I think about it. Oh well, this is hard-hitting realism for you.

Design Tuesdays recap

Dan was kind enough to do writeups of three games that came out at last Design Tuesday: Marc's Fluffy Bunny Tea Party, which is far too hysterical than seems believable, and his semi-titled Rocket Yard, about third-world nations launching animals into space built from rockets bought on the black market. We also ran through a subset of Chris' Vices and Virtues, which is far from complete but has a compelling moral theme.

You'll notice that I include no writeup of my Take the Money and Run; this may change after the next, hopefully fun, revision.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Why I don't play MMORPGs (part n)


That's the real reason I don't play Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Role-Playing or not. I already don't have enough time to play the games I want to play, or to devote to the things I want to do. I juggle hobbies like the rest of us, and it simply comes down to the fact that I don't want to sink any of my 168 hours per week into a computer game that requires regular doses of labor. I'd rather sink hours into Grand Theft Auto, or to writing my own games, or to face-to-face roleplaying. I don't even spend enough time playing my didj.

I don't want to have the excuse of "oh, I better go grind at WoW since I'm paying for it" to stand in the way of my getting things done.

Do you have enough time to do everything you want? How's that time travel belt coming along? Got a cure for sleep or death yet? If so, hook me up.

Pop culture du jour

They have a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in the works. No, it's not live-action like the early 90s movies, it's glorious, glorious CGI. I assure you, this has gone way beyond the rumor mill- check out the teaser trailer.

Have you hugged your sysadmin lately?

Happy International System Administrator Appreciation Day!

No, seriously.

Today is the day when you can thank your friendly local IT guy for whatever arcane thing they've done to save your bacon lately. Cookies, Caffeine, Comics, Coupons to, Cooking, you name it. Hey, even just a "Thanks" sometimes can make the difference in someone's day.

And don't worry, you can hit Caps Lock tomorrow and feel free to not understand why your password no longer works.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Social dynamics of a gaming group

I found a good article on getting a game group together and keeping it. There's some really good information there that challenges some basic assumptions on assembling a group, dealing with problem players different gaming styles, an even addressing the Social Contract. This is a good read, and even could shed light on non-roleplaying circles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gaming jokes

Actual, honest-to-goodness jokes.

You've probably heard:

Q: How do you make a small fortune in gaming?
A: First, you start with a large fortune...

But I've never heard this one:

Q: What's the difference between an RPG freelance writer and a large pizza?
A: The large pizza can feed a family of four.

Or this one:

Q: How do you get a game designer off your porch?
A: Take the pizza, pay for it, and tip a dollar.

I'd love to hear more, if you got 'em.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


In the same vein as 2003's Lexicon: the RPG, Austinite Allen Varney released Noteworthy, a sort of "fight-by-blog" game in 2004.

The weekend included playtesting of 1984 Prime, some boardgaming, and my catching up on reading. Tonight I have more game design action happening, and I need to get my notes together from the weekend to fill yall in. If I had half a brain, I'd start catching up on my Nickel Tours (tm) so I could throw one out whenever I need content. More later!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nifty hack

I needed to make a few edits to a web page, and for a variety of technical reasons which I won't dwell on, I couldn't view the results of my work from inside my network. I called up a friend to ask him to check the site from outside, as I realized that my neighbors are no longer giving away free wireless and my MacBook doesn't have a modem. After all, if a pal had an active network connection handy, it beats getting my act up and out to go to somewhere with free wireless in the middle of the night.

As it turned out, my outside source was out tripping the light fantastick and not in front of a computer. He did, however, mention seeing a post over on Lifehacker talking about using Google as a poor man's web proxy. Short story: You can use Google's optimized-for-mobile-devices (with tiny little brains and expensive bandwidth fees) page, aka Google Mobile Search, to browse the net. As part of the benefit to a handheld device, Google rewrites far too much of the target site's layout to be useful for my purposes, but by using Google's tool, I at least could confirm some basic facts and fix a minor typo or two.

To actually look at layout from the other side of my network, I used a pair of free proxies to check the site as-is: I hit The Cloak first, but its free-level bandwidth cap stopped me while I was reloading a page with a rather huge image. I next hit Anonymouse, which had a moderately annoying ad, but got the job done.

I, of course, use "hack" here in all the ways the media doesn't. With apologies to Robert Heinlein, "'hack' means 'to create.'"


Kiss my Asphalt

We got a notice on the door the other day explaining about the resurfacing of the parking lot in our apartment complex. The notice went on to explain that any vehicles not moved when the contractors arrived would be towed, impounded, hijacked, joyridden, graffitied, indicted, shot, re-shot, lit, re-lit, shot, hung, drawn, quartered, eighthed, framed, assassinated, painted, trashed, burned, crashed, folded, spindled, and mutilated, all at the owners' expense.

In reality, they just drape a car cover over you and go around. The semi-absurd image of a lone car in a sea of fresh black surface struck me as worth sharing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Weekend of roleplaying

I played four, count 'em, four different RPGs this past weekend. Even more mind-bogglingly amazing is the fact that I had never played any of the four games before.

First up, some folks from had scheduled what is evidently a semi-annual day of gaming this past Saturday at Dragon's Lair. They broke the day up into two sessions, scheduling a few games to take place at each session. I got in on a Cyberpunk v3 session in the afternoon, and a Deadlands: Reloaded session in the evening, both with strangers I had never met before. (Well, I played with some of the evening people at the previous session. Doesn't count.) Know ye that I had played many many many games of the earlier editions of both of these games: Cyberpunk 2020 and good ol' fashioned needs-a-bucket o' dice classic Deadlands.

Overall, I was less than satisfied with the Cyberpunk session and pretty jazzed about Deadlands. I could rant for some time about the revisions in both, mind you. But in a nutshell:

I don't really like the setting as changed in CP3, and the presentation of the manual doesn't help with reading it- the layout is not good and all of the art is action figures, photographed. It turned me off enough to not really read the manual and see what has mechanically changed. I've actually read more of the GM screen than the manual. This is interesting because the FlashPak promotes itself as having microrules, pregen characters and bad guys, scenarios, and the usual tables and charts. Almost makes the rest of the manual obsolete, but far from it. There's very little setting info to put things into context.

Deadlands is still Deadlands: cowboys, Indians, and zombies. It's a little hokey but high on fun, delivering about exactly what it promises- a spaghetti western with supernatural horror. The slick new Savage Worlds rules definitely improve the speed of gameplay over the classic mechanics. I wouldn't say there's anything super revolutionary or innovative going on here, but the system has definitely evolved. I'm looking forward to playing more of it.

Sunday proved to be a day of madness for the Renegade Roleplayers of Austin, my gaming group. Our afternoon session was My Life with Master and we played the Shab-Al-Hiri Roach in the evening. With luck, one of the other guys in the group might yet write up an Actual Play post, so I'll mention it when it happens.

My Life with Master, the game of "playing Igor," was a little bit of a letdown, but several factors could have contributed to the situation: None of us had played the game before, and Nick and Nick had only made characters. I also think we had too many players- four, which resulted in a lot of downtime for the non-spotlight players. I bet this would play better with only three PCs and some cheatsheets for what-to-roll-when. I ultimately elect to reserve my opinion.

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, on the other hand, was hella fun. It's GMless, which is weird, and 1984 Prime beat it in the 2005 Game Chef Competition, which is stranger. It's depraved and political and academia and unknowable horror based around a soul-destroying insect, but I hadn't before realized just how funny the game proved to be. I swear I hurt myself laughing. This one's definitely on the play it again list.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Completing things

Getting off your posterior and starting a task doesn't mean as much as when you don't finish the thing. Back in my internet bubble startup days, my then-boss had me pay attention to my actually completed (and therefore deliverable) tasks.

Lifehacker has a good article on not reading your email first thing. Horror, you say? Give this one a read, and see if it applies to any lollygagging on your part.

Yehuda gives a succinct rundown on one of his groups' game nights, but instead of focusing on the minutiae of the played games and scoring, he gives an overview of what has to happen to pull off a successful night. Yes, there's a schedule, but there's also a sense of focusing on accomplishing play. Maybe that sounds a little off-putting, but consider your garden-variety party, and try to recall when you saw the host or hostess having as good a time as you.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Moving ink

The Times-Picayune has an article today on the rising trend of tattoos marking, memorializing, and commemorating Katrina and the aftermath.

The TP has four galleries of tattoo images for your viewing pleasure, plus a printable PDF spread from the paper with some higher-resolution images. I see many stirring images here, particularly the anonymous NOPD arm, the patchwork sewn-together fleur-de-lis, and the fellow with a National Guard spray-painted "this location has been searched" glyph on his neck.

Like most of us, I thought about getting a tattoo of something regrettable (I'm sure) back in my college days. After seeing what residents are doing now, particularly reading about the shifting demographic now getting fresh ink, I'm glad I never got something frivolous.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pun du nuit

What is it with men and puns?

They're awesome, that's what. :)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Quick Game Night

Due to a variety of factors, we had a very small showing tonight. Maybe the stars are out of alignment. Either way, Cat tagged along! I brought a number of games based on knowing that Bryon would be there- He had specifically asked for Dragon Delta and agreed to play some unplayed games from my shelf.

As such, the first game that came out was Riot (BGG, BUY ME!). Now, the 'Geek dates this to 2002, but I could have sworn that I had played this in the mid-to-late nineties. Ultimately, there isn't very much here. It's a basic "take that" game with a well-done theme of university rioting. The photographs on the cards are vaguely reminiscent of Lunch Money, but not as creepy. The components leave a bit to be desired- the included die is about the size of a pencil eraser, the cards are too thin and oddly square, the rules are mediocre. On the other hand, it comes with lots of neat black tiddlywinks for rioters and the whole thing is in a neat metal tin. The theme certainly would fit a light backstabby card game, but the whole thing fell flat- a game about starting a riot should not be so... bloodless and flat. I won, but I think Cat let me so the game would end. I don't really blame her.

Next, for known and guaranteed fun, Dragon Delta (BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table. A nice three-way battle here, with the last round being very very close- I won, but Cat was one move away and Bryon was maybe three or four. Here's an elevator pitch: "It's like RoboRally Lite- you are racing across the board, everyone moves at the same time, you can readily screw over the other players, and your paths will intersect." The 'Geek has some good shots of the game: Live action play, plus what looks to be either a prototype or a homemade version.

A few other players had watched our fording of the delta, and so Jeff and Gary joined us in a game of Bonahnza (BGG, BUY ME!). Interesting history notes here: Cat and I had played this quite a bit, Jeff had played it before, but neither Bryon nor Gary had played it before. During the course of the game, it was strange how Jeff appeared to have played the game very differently than Cat and I. It turns out that he only had the German version, and all of the bean names were therefore in German. So at the start of the game, he referred to cards by their numbers. (Very odd and a bit off-putting, but it made sense in retrospect.) I nipped that in the bud before the new players picked up the IMHO bad habit. It also appeared that he was used to a much more cutthroat game, which boggles the mind. With a nod to Yehuda, the scores were: Me 17, Bryon 16, Gary 15, and Cat and Jeff tied for last with 14. Go third bean fields!

About this time, everyone decided to pumpkin out- even the storekeepers found it hard to believe that I was cutting out a full two hours before closing. Shock horror, eh? With one last game for the night, Cat and I demonstrated
Tamsk (BGG, BUY ME!) for those who hadn't seen it. She expertly trapped one of my hourglasses early, then we mutually trapped pieces, and she finally trapped my last piece and won with four fewer rings than I. I really like this quick (literally- a piece isn't likely to stay put for more than two or three minutes, lest the time run out and the piece can't move) strategy game, but the time factor really seems to rub some folks the long way- what is the opposite of Analysis Paralysis?

I also picked up a new Cheapass game, Enemy Chocolatier (BGG, BUY ME!) and a recent Looney printing of Zendo cards (BGG, BUY ME!) for ten bucks total. The boxed edition of Zendo itself is out of print, but with the cards and some Icehouse pieces, this devilishly fun guessing/puzzle/logic game is instantly reproducible. Probably even doable with LEGO. Hmmm...


This week's Escapist has some pretty good articles, including one on identifying and ending bad trends in videogames, and another speculative piece on the possibility of games actively helping you learn instead of just memorizing level patterns. This issue marks the one-year anniversary of the Escapist, and I think it has improved greatly in the last few months. When the magazine first came online, I didn't read it often, nor really enjoyed it overmuch when I did read it. I now think differently about games- more critically, more aware of their interrelation and history.

Last week's open gaming included a five-player game of Dragon Delta (BGG, BUY ME!) and an eight-player game of RoboRally (BGG, BUY ME!) with a truly epic finale that came down to one turn and almost to a single register phase and a respawn making the difference between which team won. As it happened, I discovered I misread the team rules for the RoboRally scenario, but we decided to go ahead with this variant anyway. As written, four robots on a team must still individually touch flags in order. I misread it as the team must touch the flags in order. So if a team member touches flag one, the others can instantly head for flag two. Chaos, destruction, friendly fire, and repeated robotic ruination ensued.

I also tweaked my Blogger template; please let me know if you see anything weird or unusual in your browser of choice. Speaking of such matters, if you use Windows and haven't installed Firefox for some reason, you can give me money by installing Firefox with the shiny Google Toolbar. (There's a big clicky button in the sidebar you have to use.) Seriously. Oh, I'm shameless.

Wednesday's playtest for 1984 Prime fell through- I had three cancellations over the course of the day and we wound up playing the Mountain Witch instead, for a very fulfilling game session. If one of the players does up an Actual Play report (hint hint), I'll give out a link.

The Awesome and Hardworking Andy K has the 2006 Game Chef reviews collected and live on the net. You can read the peer reviews of my entry (Tapas: The Sampling), if you like. In a nutshell: Good ideas not completely implemented. As much as I like the idea of peer reviews, I remain unconvinced that entrants are good judges.

I also realized yesterday that I haven't played about a quarter of the games I own. Absolutely haven't played at all, not counting ones I haven't played in so long I don't remember details of play. To my defense, some are games I recently picked up at thrift stores or on discount, or have for the sole purposes of trading to others; For instance, I'm not real big on the hex-and-counter wargame from the seventies and eighties, but I have four or five of these, just the same. To help me put things into perspective, about a fifth of my shelf is up for trade.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Missing Game

As previously mentioned, we played Squint (BGG, BUY ME!) back in New Orleans. Coincidentally, we also left it in New Orleans. Here is the ransom photo.

This could've been a plot by the gang; I do very well at Squint. In fact, I won the one game we played, pulling in more than twice as many points as second place. Maybe they think they need the practice.

The Nod

Sometimes reading the web feels like traveling with Hansel and Gretel without breadcrumbs. Someone will send you a link, you read the article and spot a link to something tangentially related, and go read that article only to spot another item of interest... ad nauseum, until you have no idea how you came to read an utterly fascinating, out of your idiom, yet somehow still relevant web page or article on arctic apiary antagonists.

Case in point: I came across this article on inspiring The Nod. It comes from a blog whose contributors all write for a newish line of O'Reilly books, so we have mostly programming-centric articles here.

The Nod, however, addresses that social occurrence when two people with the same thing meet- a shibboleth of belonging and acknowledgement. We've all done it. If you drive a new-style alternative-fuel car, you know about the Nod in traffic. If you read an uber-1337 comic book, you know what I mean. If you wear an upscale line of footgear, you might have this experience every day. If you listen to out-of-production music on vinyl,

This very human behavior of socially identifying based on products goes beyond just watching other monkeys on the street wearing the same standard-issue generic "Go Local Sports Team and/or College" gang colors that does get you bland, passive mass-market acceptance. The Nod is the very specific "We're in on it" sense of togetherness you only get after you have chosen a particular item. This isn't snobbishness towards others, but rather unspoken camaraderie between fellow humans.

What about you? What makes you give someone the Nod?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

1984 Prime playtesting tonight

I spent yesternight in a coffeeshop writing up playtest rules for a session of 1984 Prime tonight. I hope it goes well- keep your fingers crossed for me.

I must be strong! Playtesters can smell fear, you know.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The name game

If you don;'t read 43 Folders, you may have missed their post on remembering names. My usual gimmicks are repetition coupled with actively trying. If you have ever had problems recalling someone's name, you should take the small handful of minutes needed to read this article.

Of course, if I forget your name when next we meet, I give you permission to point to this post and demand to know why I'm slacking off.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Gaming in New Orleans

Hoo boy! Many games to report here. I had asked the gang back home to pass to any specific requests, plus I intentionally brought a few titles I knew they hadn't seen. Over the course of several evenings during the long holiday weekend, we played the following:

Villa Paletti (BGG, BUY ME!)

This crowd-pleaser came out first. It's large and colorful, with a huge fun factor. We played a few rounds, and I'm never happy with the scoring rules. I'll have to see if the 'Geek has a decent variant listed. I know that I destroyed the tower at least once out of hubris. Ah, life. In this picture, you can see Simon watching Bennett, and Daniel's midsection, plus my cheekbone. One game ended very quickly, with the tower collapsing before the third level, but after several games we hadn't made it to red. I still want the super-size version of the game. Well-won, Villa Paletti took the Spiel des Jahres 2002.

Ticket to Ride (BGG, BUY ME!)

I didn't get a chance to play this, but Mike, Leslie's Kat, Leslie, Becky, and Alison are rocking the house. I've only played the game once, with three players. I should give it another go with more than three, especially now that I've got an idea as to the basic gameplay of connecting cities. It seems like rail games have one of two foci: connecting destinations or transporting cargo of one kind or another. I've played only a sampling of the various rails games, but I know that I have a certain threshold where the rail simulation doesn't make for an enjoyable boardgame for me. There's a certain point where the housekeeping becomes too much of a chore for a game.

Wheedle (BGG, BUY ME!)

This went over extremely well; I'm getting a little better at explaining it, and a "practice round" definitely helps everyone to understand how the game plays- a little luck, a little chaos, a little begging and pleading and threats. In the first game, Cat kicked the pants off the lot of us, and in the second, I think I took the lead, with Leslie and her friend Kat tied. Daniel was in the middle, as was Erin, and Cat had barely made it into the positives- quite a reversal! Another friend really liked it after having not liked it more than two years ago- the introduction and the company can make or break this one, sadly.

ImaginIff (BGG, BUY ME!)

This is a light party game that you can play with missing friends, or anyone the group mutually knows- actors, politicians, etc. Players roll to pick one of the potential people on the dry-erase board, then pull a card. Cards propose a situation "Imagine if so-and-so were a dessert..." or "Imagine if such-and-such chose their own death..." and follow it with six choices- look to this image for actual sample cards. Players gain points by matching their guesses with others and choosing the most popular answer. Even though this game pretends to be a light party game, I think it acts as a strong barometer for how well you know the rest of the company, or how well you read people; either Becky or Kat won. Sadly, I came in last place, and felt rather badly about it- I've been out of touch.

For Sale (BGG, BUY ME!)

New game, old friends. Cat and I played a few rounds with Bennett and Leslie, I came in either last or third pretty consistently. B & L both won a round, I believe, as Bennett quickly started to savvy the strategy. I really like this game, and I would rule if I could do sums in my head faster. I really should make up better improvised screens to hide players' money, a la Modern Art, but it seems as though other players already have. So I should really just get me to a printery.


The simple joy of killing your friends, enhanced with a shiny new projector. Mmm, Halo on a six-foot wall, er, screen. I still don't like the controllers for the Xbox, but what are you going to do? Ask Bill Gates to change a few things? I've only played multiplayer; I still haven't played through the game on the disc as I own neither the console nor the game itself. I don't loose any sleep over it, and I know that playing over the net with strangers isn't as fulfilling as talking trash and beating down my fellows in the next room. Rachael, Germaine, Carl, and Mike here kept the electronic death a-blazin' for us.

Apples to Apples (BGG, BUY ME!)

Okay, now this is funny; after the initial fragging finished, some folks had to leave and others wanted to go back to boardgames. We wound up in two groups, with the girls here all playing Apples to Apple and the boys playing RoboRally. Clockwise from Cat you can next see Ani hiding behind a stool, Alison, Leslie, Becky, and Kat. After a time, I do believe that PixelKat joined the game. As I was engrossed in an epic battle of RoboRally, I don't know who won- I just know that their half of the gaming area was filled with laughter and joy.

RoboRally (BGG, BUY ME!)

This was a specific request from Daniel- he had never played, but had heard me extol its virtues and we settled in for a four-player game: Myself, Daniel, Bennett and Simon. Since it was just the four of us and the night was young, I elected to play on one board (the Vault, regular scenario). I also play a house rule where everyone gets two option/upgrade/candy cards to start with- I think it makes the game more fun. Simon, who allegedly had never played the game before, beat us all and won. (Maybe I should stop playing Twonky.)


Ah, Wiz-War, the sport of kings. Bennett specially requested this, and we pulled it out after Simon finished his victory dance on our smoking robotic corpses. All of us but Simon (again, allegedly- he skunked us) had played before. I know that I'm getting much better at explaining these rules simply as a result of it getting more spotlight time. As to the game, this was one of the bloodiest four-player games I've seen in a while; Bennett and I both had less than five life points at game end (did I die?), Daniel had a little more, but Simon had managed to get to TWENTY-ONE hit points with the luck of Gift from Above and one of the stones to suck life points. I'm sure the other players could tell more stories about how this went down, but it was an epic battle. For the record, this picture shows Bennett about to hurl the die at the board as part of the Thumb of God spell. (He hit both me and himself.)

Arkham Horror (BGG, BUY ME!)

I have a blurry cameraphone picture of Simon bringing us chips and a watermelon to nosh on while we play this game, but I won't waste your bandwidth. This was the first time I had played Arkham Horror, and I had heard many things about it, so I was eager to play. A brief description: Arkham Horror is a cooperative horror boardgame, where each player plays an investigator trying to prevent an Ancient Evil from the Mythos from waking up and killing everything. It's unusual to play a cooperative game, as much of the enjoyment from other games comes from competition. In Arkham Horror, however, players are competing with the game itself, sort of like a solo RPG module. Relatedly, this boardgame can be played solo. The onus of creating obstacles and adversity lies with the designer in the form of game events. Interestingly, we all acted in concert, not competing with each other to get to a certain square first, say.

Arkham Horror is a long game with many high-quality bits. We played for at least two hours, then Kat and Simon both had to pumpkin out as it was a school night and they had to work the next day. Bennett and Leslie and myself agreed that we should end the game. I would like to play this again, but it falls squarely in the list of "start early or schedule play" games.

The game functionally reminded me a bit of Descent (BGG, BUY ME!) in the sense of its strong roleplaying roots. Descent feels more like a RPG reduced to a boardgame, whereas Arkham Horror feels more like a boardgame with RPG trappings. I've said before that Descent makes me ask "Why aren't we just doing this dungeon crawl with an RPG system, or just playing Nethack?" Arkham Horror did not prompt me to ask that question- it stands on its own as a boardgame.

What a list! Did I miss anything?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Missing things in New Orleans

A lot of little things are different back home. And by different, I of course mean missing and gone.

I didn't see a single streetcar. I heard they weren't running at all, but the RTA says that Canal and Riverfront lines are still up, but the St. Charles/Carrollton lines are down. Even though we drove about without "worrying" about being hit by a streetcar (it happens), we both still stopped and looked to make sure- old habits die hard. If you can find public transportation, however, you can ride free until August 5th.

After more than one hundred and thirty years, Hibernia Bank is no more. Blah-blah-corporate-takeover Capital One recently. I know it's just a bank, but it's another New Orleans institution that is no longer with us. I've banked with them for all my life; they had locations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, so it made my college years easier. They had a few locations throughout the gulf coast, so I could always look for a friendly kelly green sign to do my banking. When we first got to Austin post-Katrina, they had a single branch location here- one less thing to worry about in those first few weeks and a definite outpost to help remember home. Part of the ad campaign for the switchover (you know, the ones that quiet consumer and end-user emotional fears in the face of rational business decisions) included the phrase "The only thing changing is our name." Dammit, I want the name.

Finally, my favorite classic rock radio station, WRNO, is changing formats. (Scroll all the way down here over at the T-P.) So, 1967-2006 for the latest Katrina victim. (Here's another blogger's opinion, for what it's worth.) So, the big brains over at Clear Channel have decided to replace a New Orleans mainstay of classic rock with no equal (literally, there's no other classic rock station in the GNO area) with... talk radio.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Why I don't play MMORPGs (part n+1)

A short article in this week's Escapist sums it up nicely with the title: Drudgery.

I want to play. I don't want work in my play.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Hoo boy. Big changes at the office. I can't really blog about it, but I'm going to be busier during the next month.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


We leave New Orleans in about an hour.

I want to talk about the drive in, to update my faithful readers on the roadkill and abandoned cars count. (Once we crossed into LA, we saw virtually no more roadkill and started seeing abandoned cars. I had visions of coon asses saying "Why waste the meat?")

I want to talk about driving into the city and all but losing count of the blue tarps on roofs before we even got to Orleans Parish.

I want to talk about going through Cat's old stomping grounds in the East and witnessing block after block of devastation. The East is not back.

I want to describe how, ten months after the storm, I still saw downed radio towers and trees and piles of garbage; more For Sale signs than you'd believe peeking out of the months of jungle-like overgrowth.

In some places in the city, it seems as though nothing has changed. People are up and working, moved back in, eating at restaurants, living and loving and rebuilding. In some places, however, it seems as though nothing has changed since the storm. Stop lights stay off. Houses have collapsed. Spray-painted glyphs from the National Guard stare out from virtually every door. The streetcars aren't running.

We ate. We ate at the restaurants that we know and love, like a second home: Lebanon's, Five Happiness, Dot's, Zea. Heck, even Arby's and Nacho Mama's and New Orleans' first IHOP, packed with almost an hour wait at three in the afternoon. Also grilled burgers on Bennett's dad's propane grill.

We played. I fragged and roleplayed and boardgamed. (These will be their own posts; I have pictures and geeky observations.) I (thought that I had) invented a new derogatory term, "whorecake." (The Blogger spellcheck just suggested "heiress" instead.)

It felt really good to spend Texas money in New Orleans.

We ignored the television and the movie screen, apart from Cat falling asleep to Nick at Night. We were in town to see friends and family, not the big or the small screen. We can buckle and watch Superman just like the rest of you, but we don't need to spend our vacation time doing it.

I helped my grandparents salvage from the top floor of their house. This is an entirely other full emotional post.

Simon is en route to interview us for his video blog, and we are going to hit Dot's again for breakfast before we leave.

More later. Needs must we finish loading the car.