Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tracking down games

I didn't have the biggest game collection back home. I wasn't the "go-to" guy for games. That was Judson. Here in Austin, I feel like the torch has passed to me. My collection has grown significantly in the last year, but it's far from complete, even presuming that's possible.

I've been looking for Stefan Dorra's Njet! (BGG, OOP) for a while. I finally found it on German eBay. Ist gut, ja?

It feels like about half the games I buy are replacements in one way or the other.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Games at work

I of course mean card and board games, not power games. Well, card games only at this point.

I work in a now-small office. There's less than a dozen people actually physically at the office at any given moment, and all of them are part of different groups than I. Between conflicting meetings and folks eating lunch from home at their desks, scheduling is a bit tricky. So is enticing people to play games- these guys are the quiet sort of engineers. I know that other people's offices (Dan, I'm talking to you), the folks take regular lunch at the same time, so working in a lunchtime game is relatively easy.

Since my last abortive attempt at bringing games to the office, I toned down my offerings to a single game- Category 5 (BGG, BUY ME!). Why this one? Well, it's a card game that fits in a standard two-deck tuckbox, so it's not intimidating with a board or foreign languages or wooden bits that could go up one's nose. Because it's a points game, you can play either one round or to a predetermined number of points, like Spades or Hearts. It can play well with two up to ten players. It's quick and has a definite end to the game, with a good emphasis on tension and choice with just a dash of screw-thy-neighbor. It also retails for ten bucks or less, so it would make for a good inexpensive gift.

This fine game had been very well received at game days and has served quite well for light coffeeshop fare. It's my current go-to filler and gateway game. As a matter of fact, after two days of teatime (yes, teatime- one of my office mates is a limey) Category 5, the game was asked for on day three. Having a non-gamer ask to play a game- Chalk up a success for the home team!

Day one's success even prompted one of my other office mates to bring Cheater (BGG), a game I had heard about through one of the 'Geek Math Trades. Its premise sounds interesting enough: players are trying to collect a set of cards, but one player is the "Cheater" and can break the rules of the game. When described like that, it sounds like the great Cosmic Encounter. I had high hopes.

I happened to come into the office a bit late and ran into four of the office crew already playing a game, so I was only able to observe. In a few minutes, I sussed out that it was not the game for me and I took it off my BGG want list. It's basically a rummy game, and we know how much I love rummy games- that is to say, not at all. When playing a rummy game, I find myself left with needing a single card to win and having nothing to do but wait for that card. Should someone else turn it up on their turn, you have few options left to you. With so few options on your turn, rummy generally is not my idea of fun.

Here's what makes Cheater interesting. Normally, a player draws the top card off the draw pile and plays a card from their hand, either a special action card or a simple discard of a non-needed card. The Cheater can: draw two discard two, draw one from the discard pile discard one, or draw one from another player's revealed hand. Truly a good amount of stab-thy-neighbor here. Now to the ultimate question- how to become Cheater?

You roll for it.

Yep, that's it. First thing you do is roll two six-sided dice; doubles makes you the Cheater. Only one player can have the Cheater card, and if the Cheater rolls doubles, they lose Cheater power. Never mind that (as I understand it) the chances of rolling doubles on 2d6 is 1 in 6, the same as a single die rolling a single number. It's an added level of randomness that seems so American in design - and don't I feel snobbish?

After watching the game complete, my coworkers asked me my opinion. I gave it to them: I'm not a big fan of rummy games, but it looks like the game could use some improvement to make it more fun. No, I wasn't the only one to criticize the game. The owner agreed with me that the game could run a little long. I threw out a few ideas on possible things to change.

Before lunch, the owner stopped by my cube with a notepad, and asked me what I thought about "Cheater TNG," then started his own ideas for changing and improving the game. Chalk up two for the home team!

What gateway games are good for lunchtime play?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Racism and roleplaying

The 20' By 20' Room has a post on the racial metaphors in roleplaying games, particularly Shadowrun with its transformed metahumans in a dark cyberpunk future.

Please do read those comments.

Telephone Support

Twice this week I've gotten a phone call from two different friends back in New Orleans to get my ruling on two different games.

Once, Bennett called me to ask about one of the specials in Jungle Speed. (BGG, BUY ME!)

The second time, Dave Bruce called me to ask about dynamite in Bang! (BGG, BUY ME!)

I've often had random calls from people with computer questions, but games rulings? I'm used to giving opinions and gabbing about games upon demand, but this was a new one for me. Maybe I'm more of a game guru than I thought.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

From the Bloody Obvious Dept.

Genius, I say. I've been forgetting the third lately. Pesky laws of thermodynamics and of conservation of energy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stock up while you can

Reuters has a disturbing report about the US Customs blocking the export of Vegemite from Australia.

I better find another dealer.

UPDATE: These reports are greatly exaggerated. Happy day!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Long Weekend Recap

The title here could parse several ways. Maybe I had a long weekend, and here's the recap. Maybe I had a regular weekend, and here's a long recap. Possibly there's an implied "overdue" for my loyal readers who have anxiously waited for my next installment. Take it how you will, I acknowledge the relatively light last week or so when it comes to blog entries. Thanks for sticking with me.

The weather has changed here in Austin; two weeks ago, I saw temperatures in the 90s; as I write this, my weather widget reports 42 degrees outside. I suppose this is fall in the desert. With the drop in temperature came decently heavy rain, which unfortunately stirred up all the mold and pollen and whatnot, driving my allergies into overdrive. I'm not inhibited to the point of death when it comes to allergies, but I have strong reactions to the usual suspects. I'm too stubborn to see a doctor, but I'm working to change that.

The practical upshot to all this is that I've felt pretty congested with a head full of cement; not the best headspace to write engaging text out to friends and strangers on teh internets. A fair amount of time to play Beyond Good and Evil, though.

As reported two weeks ago, my game closet collapsed. Luckily, the Container Store had a sale on shelving. After some deliberation, hemming and hawing, tweaking, thinking, and actual measuring, I got a plan.


I'm also taking an excellent suggestion from John, the Round Rock Day Gamer, when it comes to storing my smaller stuff. I'll have pictures up in the near future; I've got about two-thirds of my collection put away right now. I'll say one thing, this entire affair has helped me to realize what I need to trade.

I've got a lot of boardgame play to recap for the last three weeks; I'll probably do as one long post instead of splitting it up.

Daily New Orleans thoughts:
While at Epoch, I struck up a conversation with one of the baristas about the music on the speakers- they were playing the Tiger Lilies, an unusual band I hadn't thought of in many long months (yet another need to bring up the musicbox). Turns out the man behind the counter used to own Zotz, a 24-hour coffee shop back home in New Orleans. They sold to some "like-minded kids" who evidently keep the door open and lights on.

Carl and Jackie got married Saturday. The real ceremony is in December.

I also today talked some to Bennett, who's rebuilding on the fast track and scouting a house location for us back Uptown. He sent us some photos of the work, and I was amused to see that he had included closeups of the wiring work he had done. I felt a little like less of a man because I wasn't around to help my friend drop network in his new home, but I helped him plan and gave moral support throughout the process. Also way back when before Ivan in 2004. NOLUG's own Joey Kelly had a wiring gig and needed some extra hands. Bennett, Germaine, and myself pitched in over a weekend for some extra cash and experience. I'd like to think that a little bit of my first instruction lives on in his muscle memory and within the walls of my friend's home.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

DM of the Rings

If you've ever played an RPG ever or are remotely aware of the Lord of the Rings in any medium whatsoever, you should go read these comics.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ready, AIM, Fire... Adium?

I found out today that Fire, seven years old and my multi-protocol IM client of choice, is "effectively dead." My other options are Adium for free or Proteus for pay.

Grumble. Soon I'll have to migrate.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Didj Weekends

This makes three weekends in a row that I've gone out to the park to play didj with a few other guys.

Three weeks ago, nobody showed up. I managed to get my photo taken, though. You can see five of my sticks in this picture: the big agave, my eucalyptus that I've had since college, the long agave, the teak Nepalese, and my (probably cedar) Didjbox all the way in the corner.

Two weeks ago, it was myself, Ben, and Robert. Robert brought his forked didj and Ben had his two PVC didjes. I brought all of the family to show off.

Yesterday, it rained and only Ben showed. I was able to coach Ben into reliably making a decent drone on his long PVC, which made me proud. Maybe I've got a future career as a didj teacher. No barbeque due to the rain, but he and I hung out and jammed for a couple hours. Playing didj in the rain was immensely enjoyable and somehow more primal.

One day, I'll put something up on YouTube so my loyal readers have something to listen to.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gaming foursome

A few weeks back, my old college buddy invited Cat and I over to his place for dinner with he and his lady. We had seen each other a few weeks back, but we hadn't gotten together for games in several months.

Dinner was awesome beef fajitas and Jen's kick-ass homemade salsa. Desert was even more awesome from-scratch raspberry sorbet.

We played:

I first pulled out Die Mauer (BGG, BUY ME!), the competitive building game. I remain convinced that this a good intro game for non-gamers. It's a no-luck mind-reading game of bluffing and not bidding. The 'Geek makes mention of an early edition of the game made from metal that would set you back about sixty USD per player, which would add an immeasurable amount of satisfaction and aesthetics to play. As is, the pieces are a nice unfinished wood, allowing your inner architect to run wild. I suspect that the metal pieces would've fared better when kept under water for three weeks.

Judson had originally picked up Die Mauer way back in the iRev2 days after Y2K. His copy was destroyed due to Katrina. I've got a good amount of memory associated with this game; Susie being scary good at this game, for one. Maybe the tactile nature of the game, coupled with the need to second guess your opponents while playing at mind reader simply causes a stronger imprint that your average German game. I like this one a lot; I recently surprised Judson with a copy I had acquired specifically as a present.

After a few rounds of keeping score, Cat won over me by one point, Jen was a close third, and John decided to collect points instead, reaching a solid last place.

To exercise a different area of the brain, I suggested we play My Word! (BGG, BUY ME!). I brought this word game because I remember Jen had enjoyed the previous word game. The way I see it, if someone like mainstream game X, there's a better designer game Y with the same theme or mechanic or overall objective. Because a player's skill at this game has more to do with pattern recognition than dictionary memorization of obscure Scrabble words, I tend to score high. In four hands, I beat second place by twenty-five points. Go, me!

For Sale (BGG, BUY ME!) came out next. This quick little auction game went over very well; we played twice. Jen, in fact, was the one who uttered those three magic words: "Let's play again!" Scores were relatively close for four people, with a max spread of 17 and 21 between first and last in both games. First game ranking: John, Jen, Me, Cat; Second game: Me, Cat, John, Jen. I still have no idea how to pitch this game so it sounds fun, but it is a nice and tight little box of fun.

Note: I've just read over on the 'Geek that we've been playing this wrong due to an ambiguity in the rules. Instead of taking back half your bid rounded up, you actually take back half your bid rounded down. I wonder how much differently this will play.

At this point, Jen wanted us to play one of their games: Phase 10 (BGG, BUY ME!), a rummy variant. Let me state up front that I'm not big on rummy games. I hated this game; hated it for two or three hours as time stood still for the duration of play. I'm not kidding! This is a simple card game with four players that took more than two hours for one game.

When I last talked to Leslie about Phase 10, she told me she loves the game because it reminds her of her grandfather. I can respect that, but Phase 10 is way too long for the fun it delivers. And I'm not big on rummy, either. I can tell that there might be a fun game buried in here, but here's the ultimate indicator of how much I don't like this game: I'd rather play Monopoly. Seriously.

EDIT: Cat won.

Interestingly, all of these games have relatively low BGG game numbers, to a one under 3000, implying a batch of older games. Phase 10 is from 1982, For Sale came out 1997, Die Mauer 1999, and My Word! was published in 2001.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Filmic updates

Elrod has some pictures up for the forthcoming Pepper Island films production. They've done some location scouting and have their four cast members. I'm sure we'll see more as the production moves forward.

I particularly like this one of my brother:

Safe and sound

Huzzah! MacBook is safely back from a non-routine Apple checkup. I've got to scoot, so I won't get to play with it and get everything back in place until later today or the weekend.

I'm amazed at the fast turnaround time; it went out Tuesday afternoon and I got it back this morning, Priority Overnight.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Huzzah! My laptop has arrived safely at Apple for repairs.

This means that I will be without laptop for a few days, at least. I've appropriated a loaner laptop, bringing a second Windows machine into my home.

Current standings of powered systems:
Windows XP gaming machine ("trogdor")
Windows XP loaner laptop ("elvis")
Cat's Ubuntu all-purpose machine ("rubicon")
Red Hat 7 mail/web server ("deathstar")
Gentoo multipurpose server ("monolith")

Unpowered machines include:
Gentoo (?) music box ("toonz")
Debian mail/web server ("stevemartin")
Red Hat 7 fax server ("faxbox")
Unknown Linux phone server ("redline")
Dumpster-dived IBM luggable (unnamed stepstool of a box)

FrankenMac's offsite with Josh indefinitely, so those pesky Windows computers are number two.

1984 Prime exists as an Apple Pages file, and now that my only reasonable means of editing said document is now out of the house, my brain has helpfully decided to turn up the heat on the ol' back burner. Maybe this is a good thing; I can take loaner to a venue where I can work and start from scratch. Hell, maybe I'll just bring paper and pen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

It's not easy being green

You may or may not have heard that some of the new white MacBooks experience extreme discoloration after a few weeks or months of regular use. It seems as though the nice textured plastic likes to pick up small particles from users' hands, turning the normally white plastic a dirty yellowish color that resists all attempts at cleansing. I've been using a black ShaggyMac microfabric screen protector and my white MacBook turned green. A similar thing happened to this guy, so it's good to know I'm not alone. ShaggyMac has since discontinued that shade of product.

The good news is that Apple's acknowledged this defect. The bad news is that I have to ship my machine off for service, and will be without laptop for too many business days; like five to seven.

Have you backed up your data recently?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Organizational Disaster

Shock horror! The shelving in the games closet pulled out of the sheetrock, crashing everything down. We suspect that someone else hammering may have been the ultimate straw that broke the camel's back here.

Luckily, there's no casualties. Syzygy's purple letter tiles spilled everywhere, and the only box damage happened to Strata 5, and luckily it's not too bad or irreplaceable.

All my games are in the hallway for now. Needs must soon I figure out a good storage solution. Hmm, maybe we'll drive to Ikea in Houston...

How do you store your games?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gaming Light and Gaming Heavy

Whoa, I'm behind on my notes. This is from a game session at Great Hall two weeks ago.

We had a hard time deciding what to hit the table first; New Dan had brought a bunch of games, I had only brought a few. I also recall that Norman and Katelyn had started a long game already with a few of their friends, and Dan and Kelly had shouldered showing some new-to-the-hobby people (Phil and Robin) some intro games: Through the Desert and Carcassonne.

Java (BGG, BUY ME!) (not the coffee, not the language, but the island) became our first choice. I and New Dan had only played it once, and Sean had never played it before. A long review of the rules later, and we got down to playing. Just as teaching a game requires skill, writing elegant rules also requires careful attention. Java plays much lighter than it reads; its rules are a little too complete. Java's a clever buildy 3D tile-laying German game of area control with an elegant high-ground/king-of-the-hill mechanic for points. In short, this is exactly the sort of game that Cat would hate.

Players are building up the island of Java with hex tiles of villages and rice paddies: a communal pool of identical triplets shared by the players, plus a per-player limited number of singletons and doubles. You've got action points that let you deploy tiles, move your guys, build and improve cities, lay down water, and buy cards. Throwing parties is free. Parties (paid for by cards) earn points for whoever has the most guys on the highest level in the city. There's a possibility for analysis paralysis, but with three new players, we found ourselves looking for moves for each other, suggesting the best play.

BGG says that there's a sort of unofficial set of games by the same designers, Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling: the Masks Trilogy, consisting of Tikal, Java, and Mexica. Interestingly, another game I recall liking greatly, Torres, is also by these same two designers and precedes all three games.. I recall not liking Tikal, and I've never played Mexica. But it makes me feel better about sometimes confusing Tikal and Java.

We had a close game: Dan won by four points over me, and I fourteen points over Sean. Total play time plus rules review was around two hours.

King Me! (BGG, BUY ME!) came out as a filler for New Dan, Jeff, Marc, myself, Sean, and another guy whose name I can't read. Light as it may be, there's strategy here, I know; the experienced played (me) won by a hefty margin.

For some reason, I've noted down that others were playing San Juan, Fury of Dracula, and Mall of Horror. Not me, though. One day I'll play Fury of Dracula, though.

And, of course, Jungle Speed (BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table. Such an excellent game! I've also just gotten the Expansion (it's from France), which is full of evil delight.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Today's Escapist has an interview with Steve Jackson. He talks about their new MMORPG (!), UltraCorps, his history as a designer, and sheds some insight on the game industry. Regardless of what you think of the guy, his company is in the top five RPG imprints, and his enthusiasm for the hobby shows.

Kenzoid points out that the Royal Society now has some of their old old journals available online for free until the end of the year. This is primo history, from primary sources. Some of this dates back to the 17th century, and it's particularly notable to read Ben Franklin, publisher, discuss electricity in his own words- as a PDF.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Social Contracts and Board Games

I stumbled across a GeekList posing questions about handling potentially uncomfortable social situations at the game table. An interesting thought exercise, plus I like seeing what others think.