Thursday, August 31, 2006

Katrina links

My mom told me of this New York Times article about how different life is for evacuees; some chose east and planted themselves in Atlanta, some were swept west to Houston, not entirely by choice. A harrowing perspective, particularly a graphic showing the displaced population.

Candidly Caroline reflects on last year's volunteering with the Austin Red Cross.

Jackie also has a few things to say about the anniversary, and being so close to our American President.

Here's a way to have dinner in remembrance of Katrina. It's more spiritual than I would imagine, reminding me of old Passover dinners. Some of the fellow's photographs are worth framing, I think.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The name of things

Even though I can't make a meeting and I'm not as big a Linux advocate as when I used it on my primary box, I still subscribe to the New Orleans Linux User's Group mailing list. It's low-traffic and I like seeing familiar names.

The NOLUGgers passed along a great response to the controversy surrounding what to call an operating system that uses the Linux Kernel. Short story: some folks akin using Linux as a misnomer for your OS as to saying, "I drive a diesel-powered car" when talking about your automobile. I know, that's not the best metaphor, but it'll do.

Atul Chitnis's response goes on to say something like "Well, yeah, but do you really want to say 'I drive a Ford/Goodyear/Wankel/Tucker/Bob/Fred/Fritz?'" A short read, worthwhile if you geek out about this stuff.

Introducing games at work

My office admin recently had the idea to spring for pizza at work to boost morale. I offered to bring games.

I get pretty excited when it comes to introducing new people to gaming, so I brought a lot of "gateway games," not really knowing my co-workers personally well enough to judge their tastes in play. I also didn't know how many people would show up to a pizza luncheon, as a good number of people attached to my site work from home.

I brought For Sale (BGG, BUY ME!), Guillotine (BGG, BUY ME!), Villa Paletti (BGG, BUY ME!), Ricochet Robots (BGG, BUY ME!), Dragon Delta (BGG, BUY ME!, Apples to Apples (BGG, BUY ME!), Polarity (BGG, BUY ME!), Wheedle BGG, BUY ME!), and Sitting Ducks Gallery (BGG, BUY ME!).

As you can tell, a spread of games: mostly in the 3-4, 3-6, or 4-8 player range. I even brought a cool two-player abstract game (now! with magnets!) just in case. Most are lighter, with a good dash of player interaction and the possibility for depth. I didn't expect even half of these to get play time, but I was hoping for the opportunity to pitch them in the hopes of attracting interest.

Due to a variety of factors, games lunch got rescheduled twice: Each time I brought a rolling suitcase o' games, and each time I got strange looks from my coworkers and moving jokes. I did get to show some off before the final game day- most people looked at them blankly with staring incomprehension. I did manage to suss out a few potential gamers at the office: one guy used to play Diplomacy and Risk, one guy knows Settlers, another guy said "Oh, these are beer-and-pretzel games" because he used to play Titan. Not Titan: the Arena, the newer clever card betting game, but Titan: the older complex and long chit-based battle combat game.

Regardless, when game day actually happened (for real-real), we only played one six-player round of Apples to Apples. I think the choice may have intimidated some people, or perhaps they just had meetings to attend.

Anyone have any tales of successfully introducing games to coworkers?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Aliens use open source

Just kidding. This Firefox crop circle is a publicity stunt. Kudos to my man Norman for the link- I've not been 100% on Open Source Evangelism lately.

Water from the sky

I walked out of my apartment this morning to discover that it had rained during the night. My gut reaction was a gasp and a smile, as if someone had thrown me a surprise party, or I had found a small pile of gold or presents. I don't think I've seen rain in months, and I'm really used to about twice the rainfall back home. I'm still not acclimated to Austin a year later, though my ears have mostly stopped popping on my daily commute.

Katrina hit New Orleans a year ago. I left home a year ago yesterday. Last year, all of my assumptions about the future were tossed and turned and rolled. I can get more than a little moody, he understated, and Katrina doesn't help. Last year, I didn't know where we were going to live in the next few days, and Cat and I were living like refugees- out of the suitcase and out of hotels and out of the car. Then, we made the decision to do Dragon*Con because we had the tickets and the hotel room and we didn't want to stay in Montgomery.

I've been through three and a half jobs in the last year, leaving Tulane, doing some freelance consulting, then working for Dell and now for Xilinx. We live in an apartment half the size where we used to for about the same rent. Groceries and car insurance are cheaper. I'm working on more games, and playing more- certainly buying more (I've more than doubled my collection in ten months). Cat's a certified locksmith. I don't personally know anyone who died due to the storm.

Some newsfeed or another reported anecdotal evidence that depression is rampant and suicide rates are unnaturally high. I don't want to believe that, but it doesn't surprise me. Research leads me to the article in the New York Times- the suicide rate is close to triple the pre-K rate.

People here in Austin ask me if I ever think about going home- I hear an undercurrent of implication that I can't put my finger on. It doesn't help that I have yet to meet anyone who is from Austin. Everyone I've met moved here of their own volition for some reason, be it college or a job or the community or the music scene.

A friend of mine mentioned last night that before meeting me, he didn't know anyone affected by Katrina, so the whole hurricane thing was sort of a joke. Chalk it up to schadenfreude, to youth, or whatever. Now that he knows me, he has a personal focus for the real experience of what the hurricane and the flood means to a real live person. I want to share and tell and show pictures and bring people back to the city so they can understand. But I need to move on.

This morning, I drove with the windows down most of the way to work, smelling the ozone in the air and listening to the zip of cars on wet asphalt.

Monday, August 28, 2006


It's been one year.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Thanks to teh internets, you too can own a What Would Pirates Do? spinner, a 4-way rubber band, or a wallet that looks like bacon.

You can even find boardgames that don't exist that you wouldn't want to own even if they did.

EDIT: Surely you've heard of this recent unpleasantness regarding Pluto's non-planet status. No matter your stance, you can buy some Pluto swag off Cafepress to voice your opinion.

There's even weirder shit out there to buy, but my mom reads this blog. I'll leave it to Fark to collect odd news and things instead.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Darwinia and DROD

Bryon pointed me at Darwinia; Judson pointed me at DROD.

I like both, for different reasons; Darwinia is a very immersive strategy game set in a computer-generated world released in late 2005, DROD is an old-school puzzle set in a pest-infested dungeon that's more than ten years old.

These computer games have been brought to you by the letter D.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sort of like the Game Chef

I just heard about the Reversed Engineer Challenge. Kevin Allen, Jr. has noticed that the character sheet is often the final thing in an RPG manual. In his challenge, folks are to design a character sheet only, as the first, most primal thing about the game. A shuffling bit of randomness later, and everyone then has two weeks to design the game suggested by their assigned character sheet. (More discussion going on over at Story-Games and the Forge.) The deadline is the 28th; I should have something non-Katrina together by then.

There's more than twenty PDFs up now; many of them are very well-crafted. Some, however, make me very frightened of the final game.

Some time ago, I found an article focusing on the importance of the character sheet; it fundamentally tells the player what is important about the character in terms of the game engine. If you look down at your sheet and see that 90% of the page is devoted to weapon plusses, then you know that you shouldn't expect to have deep moral debates over the nature of good versus evil. A character sheet should inform the player what to focus on, which ties directly into what the game is about.

My occasional lunch buddy S. John Ross is a big advocate of multiple rounds of character sheet design and testing. This ties in to a similar design methodology by Ian of the Flywheel), where he takes all of the protoype bits for a boardgame and sees how they could work together, evolving the rules from the interaction.

It's all about the gamecraft, baby.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

And boy, are my arms tired

Congratulations to Scott and Jen, whose new baby girl was born on the same day as the master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft!

Nice timing, Jen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Board games, Katrina, donations

Last year, this guy raised two thousand dollars for charities after Katrina by auctioning off a baker's dozen of board games.

Yes, it's been fifty weeks. What have you done for New Orleans lately?

Gen Con Delight

Dan and Kelly returned from Gen Con ( Part 1, part 2); Dan returned with a baker's dozen of games. Tuesday, instead of regular boardgame design night, we played two of them.

First up, Shear Panic (BGG, BUY ME!). This is a high fun-factor game about sheep with terrible puns and wonderful production values. For only nine pieces (the flock of sheep), there's a lot of depth here. Well, there's also a scoring track and player boards to keep track, but that's not the meat of the game. Each of four sections of the play field score differently: get your sheep adjacent; get your sheep closest to Roger the Romantic Rose-bearing Ram; get your sheep adjacent to the black sheep; get your sheep furthest from the sheep shearer and elimination. The initial analysis paralysis from twelve different moves versus nine sheep in a three by three grid quickly whittles down as play progresses; you can only perform an action once. Scoring was very tight for the game, and I won at the very end, with Chris acting as kingmaker between myself and Ian.

That's Chris's head, by the way.

We next played Reiner Knizia's Blue Moon City (BGG, BUY ME!). ZOMGWTFBBQ, this game is gorgeous, awesome, and this year's runner-up for the Spiel des Jahres. There's a great sense of balance in the points, and the card-based building mechanic grants players plenty of freedom in their decisions. This is a strong buy recco, for what it's worth. Dan won, but I would have on my turn- so close!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Gaming Delight

I have to blame Will Ferrell's new vehicle (pardon the pun), Talledega Nights, for getting the damn song Afternoon Delight stuck in my head. The local art house/movie house/restaurant joint, the Alamo Drafthouse, runs custom clips for each movie instead of the mind-numbingly dull usual psuedo-entertisements for Coke, celebrity culture, and bad new movies.

But on to games.

Last game night at Great Hall had a few new people show up. As it happened, some of the regular rail gamers didn't show on time, so one of their number played a round of FBI (BGG, BUY ME ON BGG) as a filler/opener game. Our local crime-solving agency was staffed by myself, Bryon, the rail player Castro, and Norman and Katelyn. I taught this a little better for this, my second play of the game, but not one hundred percent. Players still had questions crop up during play, and I thought I had gone over them already; once again proving how critical it is to teach a game well. Of course, you can only teach a game you know. FBI played well, but it felt a little dry, despite the theme. It's possible that with three strangers out of five total players, there wasn't simply the group dynamic for a large fun factor. I won with about fifteen more points than second place, though all of the new players seemed to cluster together. It's a simple game for about a half-hour, and not bad as a warmer. Bryon found it a little too dry.

Next, Mutiny (BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table. By this time, the rail player had gone to play a different game, and the inimitable Brian had shown up, with his secret masters allowing him to leave the restaurant on a Friday evening.

Mutiny is a blind bidding game as the players try to bribe crewmen for control of the ship. Interestingly, you have two kinds of currencies (notice a theme, anyone?), doubloons and rum. Doubloons last from round to round, but rum goes away after you use it. The five crewmen have various powers awarded to first and second place, most notably the Lookout and his spyglass (demonstrated by Brian), which grants the power to break ties. Brian complained that he never got to really know the games that get played, since he only gets to play them once before something new hits the table. Mutiny passed Andrew Looney's tenth rule of game design, "Let's Play Again!" We wound up playing two games of Mutiny, due to popular outcry for more pirates. Things went much more smoothly the second time round, and I suspect this will come out again.

Ever-popular Villa Paletti (BGG, BUY ME!) went on over at the next table. I don't recall who won, but Signore Paletti's tower fell at least twice that night. It's such a visual draw- everyone wants to play, and it often becomes the center of attention in a crowd. I only have the University Games version, and even though I still want the super-large edition, (perhaps for the solarium, library, parlour, or study). I'd settle for the Zoch edition, which reminds us all that Villa Paletti (WP) won the Spiel des Jahres in 2002, which I have forgotten.

From a special request by Ian, I pulled out Viktory 2 (BGG, BUY ME!). He, his pal Eric, Norman, and I got in a "quick taste of Viktory". Remembering my time with too large a board, I set up a four-player game on a three-player board. We played several rounds in the last hour before the store closed. The game was fairly close overall, but both I and Norman captured some cities at the very end that would've turned the tide for the rest of the game had we continued. Overall, I felt I ran a very good demo- everyone would like to have played a full game. One of these days, I'll have to make some color play aids, though. Ian in particular expressed surprise at the relative depth of strategy available, though he termed it not a Wargame but an area control game.

At some point over the weekend, Cat and I played a quick game of Tony and Tino (BGG, BUY ME!). Like most gamer dudes, we have a soft spot for two-player games that our girls will play. The mob theme is still a plus, since Cat's been watching the Sopranos recently. Unfortunately for me, this is one of those games where a quick head at adding the various scores at a given moment give an advantage. I have to play a little more intuitively. All in all, it's pretty clever, and I finally won a game. Interestingly, the designer, Bruno Cathala, has a couple of forthcoming games I want to play: Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, and Mission: Red Planet.

That's all for now; So many games, so little time!

EDIT: Two name corrections; I extend my apologies.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

Friday. Froth. I can't wait.

Wikipedia. Official site.

Too excited to tpye.

EDIT: You can now have the inimitable Samuel L. Jackson to give you or a friend a personalized phone call to go see the movie.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Kelly's Gabby's Tish's George's Movie Challenge

And then George told Tish who told Gabby who told Kelly who told me. In a nutshell, blog about three less-than-common movies that you like, and explain/introduce them to readers.

I don't see this as a blogosphere/we b2.0 memetastic thing; I like the five degrees of separation phenomenon. Plus I haven't talked about movies in too long. As a matter of fact, this post originated more than a year ago.

Once Netflix gets some more useful web tools for bloggers, I'll be able to share and shill more easily. Until then, I'll do what I can.

Firstly, let me suggest District B13. This is a semi-futuristic French action flick, reminiscent of the Transporter and the Fifth Element. Luc Besson writes it, so there you go. Why should you see it? It's awesome to see very gritty urban real stuntwork (a la Jackie Chan), which I found out later is called Parkour. Here, watch this chase sequence.

(Direct link to video.)

Next, Brick. This noir and stylish detective story is set in an affluent California high school. Compelling, intriguing, many-layered, beautiful to look at. I can't say enough good things about this one. Must, must, must.

Trailer, embedded:

(Direct link to video.)

Finally, Dead Alive, from Peter Jackson. You might have heard of a few movies about a ring and some short people? Back when he was doing lower-budget independent film in New Zealand, Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson made the best zombie movie featuring a lawnmower, custard, necrophilia, and Oedipal complexes. Arguably, it's the best zombie movie ever, and certainly one of the most disgusting. If you get a chance, find the super-deluxe uncut edition (runtime 104 minutes) instead of the unrated (runtime 97 minutes). The R-rated version you can find at Big Choice National Chain is not worth it (runtime 85 minutes).

So many of our movies are still in boxes right now. I love Netflix.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Organized Mischief

My brother sent me a link to a group called Improv Everywhere. Evidently, they employ tactics similar to those used by flash mobs to achieve comedy. In this episode, they've arranged for about eighty people to show up to a Best Buy in Manhattan identically dressed in blue polos and khaki pants. The organizers captured the event on a variety of video cameras, including reactions from the employees, interactions with customers, and the arrival of the police.

The story runs a little long, but at least scroll through all of the pictures.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Local cons

Ha! While some people are going to Gen Con Indy, Austin has its very own Armadillo Con this weekend!

Of course, it's two orders of magnitude smaller and I just found out about it today and have plans most of the weekend, but James P. Hogan is a guest. I definitely have some books I could use signed.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Last week's gaming

Some old favorites came out this last week, plus some new ones. Note that Board Game Geek is down as of 8/9/2006. I've got my fingers crossed for Aldie, the site admin.

I had gotten Battlebots: Kickbot Arena (BGG, BUY ME?) as part of a trade for something that I really wanted. I chose this one out of some others because it looked like it had a high fun factor, not to mention it involves robots beating each other up, a common theme in my game library. I brought it along to get it some table time, and I'm pleased I did. I arrived late, since Nick needed a ride, so he and I played this quick filler. Truth be told, this is not a very deep game- you basically throw various offensive and defensive dice in a cardboard arena at each other, trying to get "Hits" or "Super Hits" and not have "Damage!"
There's a fun factor here, but it's really a kid's game. Cat calls it "Yahtzee with window dressing." Oh, and evidently there's a show on the television.

The true way to have fun with this one is posturing and talking like a wrestler announcer- "And now it's the VILLAGE IDIOT against the TOE-CRUSHER, stepping in to avenge the capture of teammate TAZBOT.... but up next, the VLADIATOR will crush the T-Wrex!!" I might wind up taking this to game design Tuesday night and seeing if we can pull a good game out of it. Unfortunately, it feels like a game done more about marketing than play. I might be able to steal the "fighting die" mechanic for an RPG, though.

At least two games of Carabande (BGG, OOP) happened. And get this, we played with tournament rules — sort of. The rules refer to how to play like a "Pro," which includes shooting for pole position. Typically, when I bring out Carabande, I have players simply pull their cars randomly; since most of the players had played previously, everyone was amenable to a more skill-based racing start. I also taught the new players that if your car goes off the track, you place it back to the start of your turn. (This is also more in line with the published rules.) At the same time, I also suggested the "third time's the charm" rule for the ramp. This one greatly reduces frustration.

I sat out and didn't play any games of Carabande this past night, basically acting as a caller. The game only supports eight racers, and I really think the track gets crowded with that many players. I contented myself with looking at all of the games that had been recently marked down. Of course, I came away with a long list of look-up games. It is really nice to play on large tables with stabilizing plastic underneath, though. I also know that I'd buy another copy of this as soon as I see one at a reasonable price- say under $75 USD.

Next, I finally got a chance to play FBI (BGG, BUY ME!). It's a quick bidding game from Wolfgang Kramer of El Grande fame. Dan, Ian, and new guy Keith (I think) all had a great deal of patience as I read the rules. Normally, I try to read the rules before the box hits the table, but I had just put this off. The game went well about halfway through the first round as everyone caught on to play. Each player is trying to catch criminals with their field agents, avoiding arrested innocents (which are worth negative points). The five colors are different crimes: murder, theft, fraud, etc. Criminals are worth +1 to +5 points, innocents are worth -5 to -1 points. Each round, you bid on turn order by releasing someone from your slammer; you then commit two agents to arrest duties. There's a clever Settlers-like mechanic for turn sequence. In a four player game, you have: Player 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 4, 3, 2, 1. So there's a distinct advantage and disadvantage to each position. Now that I have the game down, it'll come out again.

Nick owns Hex Hex (BGG, BUY NEW VERSION!)- It's a good thing. Vicious, backstabby, quick, tactical- this is one of the few games I rank at a 9. I've wanted my own copy of this since pre-Katrina, and now that the publisher has the new version out, this is a no-brainer.

Hex Hex is basically hot potato with occult trappings. You don't want the potato, and every card you have gives it to someone else. It's impossible to be nice in the game, and a hand lasts about five minutes, and you play number of players +1 hands. The truly clever thing has to do with the reward for winning. The winner of a game gets to add a new rule to the game, which stays with the deck. Nice and evil and highly recommended, if your group goes for this sort of thing.

Last game of the night was Mag Blast (BGG, BUY ME!). Introduced two new players, Matt and Keith, and got to play four-way space explosions. Some deride this game because of its famous rule about players making sound effects or their shots miss. If you'll pardon the pun, this game is a blast. I still think it offers a good amount of play for as light as it is. Some might find the luck too much to handle, though.

Huzzah! Last week's writeup done in time for this week's play!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Time keeps on slipping into the future

Speaking of countdowns, it's twenty-one days until one year since Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

No Gen Con for you!

Yes, it's that time of year again- the time of Gen Con. as I write this, there's a day and a half until "the best four days in gaming," and I'm not going.

This, in a word, sucks.

But never fear- Dragon*Con is in less than a month! We're definitely going. Also, a little bird named Dan tells me that next year is Gen Con's 40th anniversiary, and that sounds like an event I can't miss.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Non-trivial travel

Cat and I just saw Christian and Erin off, to finish the last leg of their road trip, driving now from Austin to New Orleans.

My brother called, on his way back to Austin from Marfa, Texas.

And now I am off to run a Deadlands game, wherin our heroes might find themselves on a steamboat down the Mississippi.

Where are you going, where have you been?

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Huzzah! Two of our friends from New Orleans are returning from a California road trip via Austin. They should be here in three or four hours and will stay in the guest suite at Chez Mischa and Cat, aka the air mattress on the floor.

These are our first non-parental unit visitors to our place in Austin, and have promised that they have cheesy roadside gifts for us.

In other good news, the NHC has downgraded Chris to a Tropical Depression.

Not-so-quick web readings

Over on Google's blog, they reveal that they received official recognition from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for their Katrina coverage via Google Earth.

Evidently, I live under a rock. Our noble president gave a surprise "backrub" to the German Chancellor during a summit two weeks ago. CNN has a decently long story, but you probably just want to watch the four-second video.

This week's Escapist talks about reality creeping in on gaming, and how play is not as deep an escape as it once was. "You Got Your Race In My Video Game" stands out. The author draws an interesting analogy to sex in games: It's fine when it's a feature, not when it's an issue. Is there any way to make race a feature and not an issue? Like it or not, a game — regardless of media — is fundamentally a tool for teaching patterns. What patterns are we unconsciously learning?

Speaking of racism, what's the difference between a "looter" and a "finder" when seen through the eyes of the media? Be sure to read the complete article or you do yourself a disservice. Context is everything. You might even want to jot down your reactions at both the beginning and end of the story and compare after the fact.

For more socio-political commentary du jour, an article in the New York Metro talks about the fact that adults are no longer "grown-ups" and the rapidly erasing generation gap. If you're past your teens and under, oh say, sixty; if you own more sneakers than suits; give this a read. What does it mean for the future when parents no longer hate their children's music?

To touch on geekdom instead of thinking, I'm seriously thinking about hacking something like this solution to boost my miserable-to-nonexistent cell signal in the office. (Yes, there's neato pictures.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tropical Storm Chris

The National Hurricane Center is now tracking Tropical Storm Chris. They are predicting a hurricane in the Gulf before Monday.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

24-hour goodness

Huzzah! Epoch Coffee, a 24-hour coffee joint, has finally opened. Better yet, they are about five minutes from my place. I haven't gone there yet, but I bopped inside on my way back from boardgame design night, and the place looks pretty nice.

Check out an outside pic and mini-review, which reveals that the place is run by former Mojo's (o, how we miss ye) employees.

For a better look at that way cool sign, check out some pix by its creator. (Warning: Myspace link. Sorry.)

It's pretty likely that I'll scope the place out in better detail tomorrow.

The Business of Games

The Open Gaming License sort of mixes Open Source and Creative Commons-style licensing with the roleplaying industry. Think what you want of it, but it definitely helped ease the way for POD/POCD and PDF sales. I found a good op-ed piece over on the Pinnacle forums where Shane Lacy Hensley posits that the OGL has destroyed the game industry. By extension, this includes everything d20 as well. You can read some good insights from a traditional publisher's standpoint.

In the same vein as traditional publishing, I stumbled across a great/horrible doom-and-gloom, 21-page dirty laundry thread over on called "Insane Tales of the Gaming Industry." This is a small industry, mostly of amateurs. You can hear some scary stories if you dig.

To end on a high note: USA Today, that paragon of journalism, has an article on the creators of Cranium. There's a bit of the Trivial Pursuit road-to-fame story here, but you know I'm envious of these guys. There's some good ideas to take away from this story; in fact, all of three of these have nuggets of knowledge to assimilate.

Yahoo! issues

Be advised that I no longer have control over my Yahoo! account; my password was somehow changed by someone not me. If you need to IM me and only have my YIM, contact me via email for alternate venues.