Monday, January 29, 2007

Quick update

Feline antibiotics smell nasty.

Not as nasty as feline vomit, though.

The irregular updates shall return shortly.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Weekend gaming recap

I got a little more gaming than usual in over the weekend, since I went to game night on Friday and woke up early enough to make game day Saturday worth it. Friday proved to have quite a variety of games, and was relatively well-attended.

The night started off with Wits and Wagers (BGG, BUY ME!), a good thirty-minute filler/party/trivia game. A lot of people weren't sure what to play, and we have seven, so I pulled this out to start the night off. Unsurprisingly, it went over very well with the assembled crowd of gamers. One day, I'll play with teams.

If you want a good idea about how this game actually works in play, head over to the publisher's site and check out a how-to-play video, courtesy of the vlog Board Games with Scott. What's really cool is that particular BGWS episode is meant to be burnt to a DVD when you give the game as a gift. Last time I blogged about W&W, the designer wrote me to thank me for the write-up. I suppose that my words are reaching a larger audience than I imagined! I still need to replace the included plastic poker chips with real clay ones- it adds a great deal to the play experience.

We still had a large group of people, so I pulled out Carabande (BGG, OOP BUY PITCHCAR!) and proceeded to act as caller for an eight-person race. I still have fond memories of observing people play this at Dragon*Con many years ago; a dozen people surrounding the track, cheering and jeering and encouraging the racers. I strongly feel this game is improved with someone acting as color commentator. It's also very pleasant to play on nice big tables with big flat MDF pressboard to keel the track level.

Next was RoboRally (BGG, BUY ME!). It hit the table because we had eight people wanting to play a game, one of whom had requested RoboRally since he'd never played it. This wound up taking much longer than I would like, and I'm not sure that everyone has as much fun as they could have had. Significantly, the game can drag for too long if a poor starting setup is chosen. I suggested (with eight players) using four flags and two boards. This was waaaaaaaay too long for new-to-the-game players. I should have had one board, no more than three flags. We should have also used my "misread the team rules variant" to allow for more teamwork and less frustration. Everyone still enjoyed it, but we decided to quit when someone hit the second flag. This will be a hard sell for some of the gang, depending on the next setup.

Still burning our brains, we played Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT ME) twice. This is becoming a very popular game in the circles, and I'm pretty good at it; I know I won at least once. Instead of playing touchpiece as the rules suggest, the convention has been to call out "ta-da" to lay claim to a move. Hats off again to Carlos from St. Louis for introducing this to me at BoardGameGeek Con. I can only hope that Asmodee will make this game available in the USA. The game components are all language-independent, and only a rules translation would be needed. Either way, if you know someone going to France or you want to order from Canada, pick this one up.

Last game of the evening turned out to be Wits and Wagers (BGG, BUY ME!) again. Some of the crew who had come in during the first game and wanted to play. An interesting bookend effect.

And here's what got played on Saturday:

I arrived a little late, and the crew was well into a game of Leonardo Da Vinci (BGG, BUY ME!), one of the new ones that's gotten a lot of buzz. I wasn't able to play it, but it looked very engaging.

While I was waiting, two new guys wandered in, having never visited the store. Happily, I got to introduce them to Wiz-War (BGG, OOP SORRY WRITE CHESSEX)! Amazingly, this three-player game of Wiz-War was one of the fastest I've ever played, and I got my tail handed to me nine ways to Sunday. Even so, I still could tell you a semi-epic story about me using a Powerthrust with a 6 to deal 8 points of damage which was then fully reflected back to me. Later, the same guy was able to hit me with Sudden Death; I drew no counteractions the entire game. Plus, to add insult to injury, killing me dropped my own treasure on his home base, which helped him win.

At this point, the other game had finished and I pulled out Dragon Delta (BGG, BUY ME!), another request to introduce. We were all set to start a four-player game, when I invited a random guy from San Antonio to join us. Two of the five (three, counting me) had played RoboRally just before, and this compared favorably. You're still racing, you're still programming your moves, there's still chaos and player interaction. The board constrains movement in a good way, as compared with the potential aforementioned problems of RoboRally. Everyone enjoyed it, and I'm glad that I was able to introduce it to three new players. Some say it's too chaotic, and it can be; I think that the level of chaos does depend on the players. Like many games, I look forward to playing it with those who know it already.

And speaking of new players, I got to play my copy of Mystery of the Abbey (BGG, BUY ME!) for the first time. I had gotten this in a trade and had just never had the opportunity to play. In a nutshell, it's sort of like Clue (WP, BGG, BUY ME!) that you played all those years ago, except this time it's actually fun. Yes, there's naturally a Euro take on a deduction game: moving is not random, the rooms grant you abilities to aid your deduction, and the whole thing is dripping with the theme of a murder in an abbey. Rounds are marked by Mass and a little bell, for instance. Instead of Miss Scarlett with the Candlestick in the Billiard room, it's a case of the fat, bearded, unhooded Benedictine Father: Bruno. (Alex guessed correctly. I still had six monks that could've done it.) This is a good one, and there's an expansion that's now included with the game.

The group mixed up a little, and Vince taught us all Midgard (BGG, BUY ME!). This game is very tight and agonizingly evil, so I'm probably going to pick it up in the near future. It's a basic area control game with Vikings and an extremely limited set of what you can do each turn. There's also a confrontational wargame aspect to this title, since you can actually wipe out the other player's guys and send them to Valhalla. (Unfortunately for you, since this is Ragnarok, being dead gets your enemy points.) There's a little brain-burning here if you don't instantly grasp the strategy. Vince won by a nose.

The store was almost closed after many happy hours of gaming, so Vince suggested Nottingham (BGG, BUY ME!) to round things out. This is a lighter card game designed by Uwe Rosenberg, the same designer who brought us Bohnanza (BGG, BUY ME!). There's some similarities with cards pulling double duty as action cards and possible point-scoring cards, making sets with these cards, super fast gameplay, and cards moving between players. Another one for the pick-it-up-eventually list. Of course, there's a medieval theme about the sheriff of Nottingham moving through a forest, and there's a delightfully mean way to set up ambushes for the other players.

The last game of the day was Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT ME). I like having a superfast game in my collection. Play, including explanation, took ten minutes, fifteen tops. Still very happy I have this.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pardon our dust

I'm tweaking my Blogger layout after upgrading from the old non-shiny featurelacking Blogger. Feedback is welcome.

It's over

Less than two minutes left in the game, and the Saints are losing 39-14.

There's always next year.

Geaux Saints

I actually have broadcast television on in my house. I'm watching football and relearning the rules to this odd little game. I'm not fully caffeinated, but my conversation with Cat has consisted of "Okay, so they have four 'downs' to do what now?" and "That's bad and it means they have the ball, right?" and "NOOOOOOO!"

Who has not paid off the Bears? How can they, with a clear conscience, win this game? The Saints have never been in the playoffs, much less the Superbowl.

It's less than two minutes left in the second quarter (out of four, hence the name) and the Saints are losing, 16-0. The other guys (some sort of bear) have made three field goals, which grant three victory points each. The other guys were sitting on the goal line of the Saints; once they put the ball over that line, they took six more victory points, with a chance for an extra point. The game of football is timed, so there's not a given victory point goal to achieve- just the high score at the end of the game.

Saints go all the way, Saints go all the way... Oh, I believe.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nickel Tour: A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Here's the nickel tour:

Bubbling up to the top of the Netflix queue since I missed it in theaters about six months ago, I'm glad I saw this animated feature. Technically, it's a dream. The rotoscoping, I mean- unquestionably the right choice for the film and totally gorgeous on the eyes. Literarily, parts of it are dreamlike, too; the drug culture is pretty pervasive, even with the transplanted seventies-era mentality through a thirty-year lens.

That said, I'm not really sure I enjoyed this, need to see it again, or can positively recommend it. If you like Philip K. Dick, go for it. If you like the director, Richard Linklater, you'll probably like it. I have to say it could be shorter. I give it a "Really good to just look at."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

From the Are You Paranoid Enough Dept.

CNN is running an AP story on Canadian coins with hidden radio transmitters found on American contractors. I can't find any pictures, though.

This story reminded me of the "Thing" found in the Great Seal of the United States presented to the US ambassador in Moscow, where it hung for nearly a decade without detection. For contemporary pictures of its discovery and more details of its history, check out this nice long article. Oddly, the incident's only a footnote on the Wikipedia entry on electronic bugs. The NSA has a replica of the Seal on display at the National Cryptological Museum, which must be full of scary and fascinating devices.

Passive and undetectable spy stuff is A) cool and B) not new.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Playtesting and prototypes

I've got another boardgame design post up over on the Flywheel. I talk a little more about prototyping than playtesting in this post, but the other guys talk about their playtesting efforts. Good stuff over there.

I'm dreaming of a white...

Zamboni's birthday? National Religious Freedom Day? Teacher's Day in Thailand? Death of Ennis Cosby? Take your pick, a lot happened on this day in history.

At any rate, it's snowing here. Yes, snow. Yes, Texas. Yes, snow in my presence so I can no longer deny the phenomenon as a conspiracy of meteorologists!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A brief video interlude

Meh. I'm sick and feverish. Watch these videos.

Here's an octopus escaping through a one-inch hole, courtesy Hilary.

More mollusk goodness: An octopus eating a shark.

A live-action stop-motion battle: Tony versus Paul.

My favorite, an Honda Accord commerical: Cog. (More at Wikipedia.)

If you've ever played a console "RPG," watch the forty-minute College Saga (parts 2 3 4), a Final Fantasy parody.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Birthday roleplaying

Scott and Jen hosted yesternight's RPG session, and they surprised me with a chocolate birthday cake!

"Hieronymous" ran a one-shot of Hystoire de Fou, an RPG by French author Denis Gerfaud- the same fellow who created Rêve. The premise is something out of Terry Gilliam's idle nightmares, where characters are suddenly in an alternate world of surreal madness.

At one point, we all rolled on a chart to see what sort of strange clothing we were wearing in the mad world. Someone quipped: "An RPG with a fashion accessory table? That's how you know it's French." One of us had on ice skates, another had yellow high-heeled shoes that fit perfectly, and I had some weird kind of sock with traction rubber on the sole. (Yes, evidently there's a word for such a thing in French.)

The session itself was a little off-kilter, since it had been a while since we'd last roleplayed. The game has a few interesting things going for it: Character creation is done on-the-fly, so it feels sort of like the Matrix when Trinity needs to pilot a helicopter. "Of course I can climb! Even though I'm a distinguished surgeon, I have a rock-climbing hobby." "Naturally, I can fight! Even though I'm a dirty hippy slacker, I once took Tai Chi." It was fun to make up in-character justifications for why you suddenly have the skill to do things that you might not normally.

Another interesting aspect of the game is that you can disbelieve nearly anything, and if you roll successfully while your insanity word (mine was "ISOLINEAR"), you can reveal a new shape to whatever it is. So instead of being beaten with baseball bats, we could've been beaten with cotton candy instead. The whole session felt a bit like a fever dream.

At any rate, I had delicious cake in reality.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Monday night games

I usually show up to the Monday night group a little late, but this is starting to change as I start being the guy who brings games.

When I got to Dragon's Lair, five people were playing the old printing of Cloud 9 (BGG, BUY ME!) as a filler while waiting for others to show. Cloud 9 is a cute press-your-luck game with a bit of strategy to it. Do you trust your neighbor to be able to carry the hot-air balloon to the next level? Since it's basic colors, this would be a good one to bring to children, but there's still enough there to keep a more serious player interested. At about a half-hour, I think it's a little too long to be a great filler, but it and Diamant/Incan Gold (BGG, BUY ME!)scratch the same itch for me.

Tall Guy Jeff also showed at the same time I did, bringing a few games. He had just picked up a vintage copy of Booby-Trap (BGG, PUBLIC DOMAIN) at Goodwill, and we played a quick two-player dexterity battle against physics. I'm sure you've seen this game before- there are colored discs of various sizes that must be removed without causing the spring-bar of doom to move too much. There's a bit of interesting choice, since players have the option to pass. I would've liked to play with more than just two, but it was a quick and fun game with a fair amount of tension- both literal and actual. Ultimately, I'm cranky I didn't see it at the Goodwill for a buck. Oh well.

Since the other players were still playing their game, I pulled out Chase (BGG, OOP MAKE YOUR OWN), a two-player abstract strategy that uses dice in non-random ways. Jeff beat me in a very close game, as I recall. I think I made a few stupid moves, since I'm still learning the strategy. I've always enjoyed two-player abstract strategy games, and this one is no different. Play takes place on a hex board with nine six-sided dice per player. Each die can move exactly the number on its upper face. The super clever thing about this game is that as you lose pieces, you must keep the total showing on all of your dice constant. It's a trade-off that's sort of a death spiral, except for rules about exchanging pips and splitting dice. I picked this up as a trade, and I'm very glad I did. You can play online for free, if you like. Feel free to challenge me to a game, since I really enjoy this one. If you even remotely think this sounds interesting, you really should give it a play, or you're really doing yourself a disservice.

By this time, everyone else had finished Cloud 9 and folks were ready to start new games. Since we had eight people total, the group split into four and four. I would up teaching Coloretto (BGG, BUY ME!), another lighter game that fit the players and their mood. Coloretto is fundamentally a game of collecting colored sets, which might normally prove a problem with the colorblind. However, each color has a very distinct background pattern that solves this problem fairly neatly. The clever thing about this is one is that if you collect too many sets, some start to be worth negative points. I bought it after a single play. Lowell, Laura, Edie, and Astro (sp?) got into it pretty quickly, and I do believe that Lowell won, which doesn't surprise me in the least- I think he's a card shark underneath the pleasant exterior.

While I was teaching the one game, Tall Guy Jeff, White JP, and "No-Nickname" Ben were working on misunderstanding the rules to Carrousel (BGG, BUY FROM FRANCE). It didn't help that they didn't see the English translation at first, either. By the time I had the one group settled with the other game, I had to practically pry the French rules away from them to play and teach. Carrousel is a simultaneous puzzle game, sort of like Ricochet Robots (BGG, BUY ME), where players are competing to arrange the first three out of five colored horses according to cards; the trick is you only have a limited number of legal moves, and you may only make one move in order to score. There are no turns, and everyone is competing with the same configuration in order to score their separate chards. Unsurprisingly, there's a decent amount of chaos to this one and I like it lot.

I first played this a few times at BGGcon, thanks to a fellow named Carlos, and almost instantly wanted my own copy. Many thanks go out to Francois, who brought me back a copy from France. Carrousel almost instantly hit the table a second time (small wonder, since it plays in no more than fifteen minutes, even if you're slow), quickly hacked to allow for five players with the addition of Sarah.

After those two games, Lowell and Laura had to leave, putting us at seven players total. Since I had brought Cash n' Guns (BGG, BUY ME!), I wanted to see it hit the table, so I offered to teach it while sitting out so all six people could play. As expected, people enjoyed pointing guns and backstabbing each other for cash. As expected, people also pointed their guns at the moderator (me) and at themselves. Ben and JP both died, and Edie walked away with the bank, having more than $30K more than the person in second place.

Next, JP really wanted to give Sucking Vacuum (BGG, BUY ME!) a go. We split with Sarah and Astro playing Carrousel, and JP, Ben, Jeff, and myself playing Sucking Vacuum. I last played this about eight months ago, and it hasn't seen the table since. I recall enjoying it as a light beer-and-pretzels backstabby game, but I think my tastes have changed. Setup time was too long, the rules were confusing, and play just wasn't engaging. I want to like this game, but it just didn't fly. I can't help but think that a few tweaks and clarity in the rules would really make this one a lot better. I'd mock up cards to replace the chits, but the thin cardboard box doesn't have the room. I have this up for trade now, and I might give it one more play to see if it's more fun, but I really don't think this will get to the table anytime soon.

My last game for the night was Vegas Showdown (BGG, BUY ME!) with four. It was Jeff's first play and he nearly won if not for Sarah and the killer Theatre of mucho fame; he and I tied for second. I made some blunders at the start, bidding on Fancy Slots I couldn't build, and the lack of income hurt me at first; I staggered along and only scored as high as I did because the game ended quickly. I really need to get this to the table more frequently. Yall know how much I like bidding games, even if I don't grok them in fullness. This was another game that I nearly bought after one play- someone already owned a copy, though. I lucked out and bought it on sale. Good fun, bad marketing.

Rounding out the evening, Ben and Astro played a few rounds of Boggle (BGG, BUY ME!). I've played it before. Oddly, not very well- I really need to work on my word pattern-matching skills. Cat kicks my butt at anagrams.

I almost added a disclaimer at the top of this report about football, given the title, but I decided the gag would work better as an outro.

Saints go all the way

I don't want to jinx anything, but I seriously hope that everyone has been paid off to make sure the Saints get to the Superbowl. They've never made it this far before, and it's something that we all need, not just the fans and the city. More than any other time, the Saints deserve to win.

Yahoo! has a good human interest piece about the game. The angle covers people missing a wedding for the game, giving away $600 tickets.

Plenty more coverage and photos over at the Picayune, of course.

Geaux Saints!

We once again return you to your irregularly scheduled non-football blog.

Can't Stop mania soon to hit my social circle

According to Boardgame News, Sid Sackson's Can't Stop (BGG, BUY ME!) will be back in print from Ravensburger and Face 2 Face games in a month or so, and should be hitting retail soon after that. How can they possibly improve on the old classic? Not with a mountain-climbing re-theme, but with tiny traffic cones as pieces. How super awesome is that? Of course, now I need to decide if I have to own two copies.

Every time I bring this out, folks ask me where they can get a copy. Sadly, it's been out of print for a while, and I have to refer them to eBay or to simply make their own personal copy if they need their Can't Stop fix. I'm very happy to know that people will soon have the opportunity to play this aqain.

Thanks to Dan for passing this along.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's my birthday

So far, I got: gift cards, cool geeky toys, and Cat got me a cool German mechanical metronome! Woohoo! I busted out a didj last night a played for a little bit and it really helped me keep my rhythm. I can't wait to practice in earnest.

Oddly enough, I received two pirate-themed birthday cards in a seemingly uncoordinated fashion. Maybe they're trying to tell me something?

Later tonight is dinner with my bro and our respective ladies at Katz's (a 24-hour deli), with possibly a game or two to round out the evening. I also believe the Renegades are having a roleplaying game this week for me.

Can you guess how old I am? Hint: it's a power of two, which is geekily awesome in and of itself.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Vintage weirdness

It makes me happy to see surreality, particularly in earnest. Why is this man sitting on a dead horse in a top hat?

More info over at CNN and the Sheboygan Press.

Nickel Tour: Superman Returns (2006)

Here's the nickel tour:

In a nutshell, Meh. Superman is too much the perfect Boy Scout with no real flaws; his moral dilemmas aren't even really dilemmas to him. Plus, Supes is a freaking alien. I didn't really like him as a kid reading comics, or even as a young man reading comics. Four days from my 32nd bday, I wasn't impressed with the big-budget movie. Almost from the first ten minutes, I was in the curious-but-bored phase, and I didn't get out of the zone for the whole two hours. About the only good thing I can say about the movie is that the guy they cast as Superman looks the part, Lex Luthor once again has a real-estate scheme, and the production has made an effort to tie in to the previous movies.

I give it a "Not worth the time, even if you're a fan."

PS- How stupid of a criminal do you have to be to shoot Superman with a gun? Also, how stupid do you have to be to try your pistol after the big-caliber Gatling bullets just bounce off?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year Resolutions

This year, I resolve to:

De-clutter. I'm going to craigslist or eBay one thing a week, minimum. This includes trading/selling any media I have: books, games, CDs, etc. This also means actually throwing crap away and unpacking/sorting boxes of stuff I've been hauling around, getting rid of clothing that doesn't fit me, and trying to simplify. I'm a packrat by nature, so this is a big one.

Publish. By the end of the year, I will have at least one game available for purchase by strangers. If this means revamping 1984 Prime and going through Lulu, or finding a printer and putting out a card game, or photocopying the back of a napkin and handing it out with pencils on the street corner, I'm going to get at least one game out there.

Blog. I will blog more regularly, focusing on at least one movie review a week and more timely game session reports.

A few other bloggers I read have posted their resolutions.

I'm using these tips to come up with a few resolutions I'll actually keep instead of dozens of "to-do" style items that I'll let slip. Like most of us, I have a good number of other hopes/dreams/desires/self-improvement things on my (to borrow a term from GTD) Someday/Maybe list. Some of these things I'm already making significant progress on- particularly in the realm of personal health (yay, insurance and Diet Dr Pepper), but I'm going to try and focus on achieving a few resolutions this year. As my mom says, "Done is better than perfect."

Steve Pavlina and Alexander Kharlamov also have New Year's articles worth reading.