Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tags and labels

If you happen to see anything weird in your feed reader, please let me know. I'm working on updating the labels for my older posts.

I typically don't go back to old posts- I'm a blog-and-forget sort of guy. That said, I'm re-reading my words and remembering things I've forgotten.

And hey, if you want to click a tag and go exploring, that works for me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Didj Sunday in the Park

Robert, Steve and I got together this Sunday for a didj jam.

Here's a nice group photo.

From the top:

  • Robert's Yucca
  • Robert's "Twins"
  • My small blue Mindblower
  • My baby, the same eucalyptus didj I've had since college
  • My new Woolybutt that Cat's cousin brought me from Australia
  • My resin Rob Thomas didj bought on craigslist
  • Both halves of one agave stalk, handmade by me
  • Steve's homemade agave
  • Steve's "Barbie Didj," fiberglass over chickenwire
  • Steve's Woolybutt



Want to hear and see me play? Please enjoy this video, courtesy Robert's camera:

If you're on a feed and the embedded video doesn't show, try this direct link to the video. Huzzah, YouTube!

I really need to go back and tag my earlier posts. It's such a pain in Blogger, though.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Making Comics

Last Sunday, comics guru Scott McCloud came to local comic shop Austin Books as part of a whirlwind fifty-state tour to promo his new book, Making Comics. I haven't finished reading it yet, but his earlier book, Understanding Comics, is well worth reading if you've ever had a passing interest in comics. It's truly a literary treatment of What Is Comics and Why. Cat had it in an Art History class as a textbook.

I assure you that any blurriness in the photo is due to my own motion, not any sort of elaborate photo trickery.

I own all three of these. Start with the first, if you haven't already.

Photo credit: Lea Hernandez.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Filmic Proclamation

My brother's short film, The Trouble with Jumpsuits, will be at the world-famous Austin film/music/media fest South by Southwest. This means that I may actually get to see his movie.

You might want to take a look at the schedule, too.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Mardi Gras!

Haydel's includes porcelain figurines with their King Cakes. What you see here is a two-inch FEMA trailer. Ain't it cute?

So far, nobody in the office has gotten the baby. It's a little odd to have to explain what King Cake means; not only are my office mates not New Orleanians, but the majority (and the plurality, for the record) were not born in the United States. We often discuss America (I am an American) and Texas (I'm not a Texan) and their foreign perspective. It's fascinating to expose and be exposed to other cultures.

King Cake 101:

  1. They're delicious.
  2. They taste a little like cinnamon coffee cake, but heavier.
  3. Icing and colored sugar(purple for Justice, green for Faith, and gold for Power) cover the top.
  4. You get the baby, you get to buy the next one.
  5. Sometimes they're filled, with cream cheese or apple or the like, but usually they're plain.
  6. Buy from Gambino's, Haydel's, or Randazzo's. They all make good King Cake.

Any questions?

We've had a friend from back home stay with us over the last few days, and the weekend has been full of golfing fun. Between virtual golf on the Wii and real live miniature golf (sadly no windmill), I've played more golf this weekend than you can shake a club at.

Geekily, this xkcd comic still makes me grin.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dinner and dessert

My grandmother shipped us muffulettas and king cake!

Josh and Megan came over to eat with Cat and I; we had a veritable feast. Truth be told, my grandmother shipped us three muffs for four people, which is enough food to last us for days. I'll probably bring the leftover king cake to game night, since the office is getting their own on Tuesday. Nobody got the baby.

What did you have for dinner?

Paper and Cardboard, a weekend gaming recap

Just in time for this weekend's actual play, here's a few session reports for this past weekend. I played games on two days: Regular Friday gaming at Great Hall Games, and Dan's birthday party/gamefest on Saturday.

I arrived a little late on Friday, and found a few games already in progress. I didn't want to sit around and kibbitz and watch others play, so I broke out two lighter fillers for myself and two other guys while we waited. I like to keep one or two light and easy-to-teach fillers handy just for this reason- it's good to have titles for a particular purpose. This one plays two with, that one plays up to eight, this one takes fifteen minutes to fit in between other play, this one works well for the colorblind, etc.

First to hit the table was the brightly colored yet colorblind-friendly Coloretto (BGG, BUY ME!). I bought this after one play, and it definitely fits the lighter-fare requirement. Coloretto is a game about collecting sets of colors, with a twist that some of your sets might be worth negative points. There's also a fun bit of press-your-luck as you try to collect just the colors you want and avoid the colors you want. A certain amount of "take that!" also makes for lighter play. Let me stress again the importance of reading the rules- I discovered that I've played this wrong and missed three different rules. First, everyone starts with a different color card to get things going. Second, the person who ended one round starts the next. Nothing game-breaking, I think, but significant. Finally, you sum points over four games! Yeesh, that one's a doozy. Coloretto remains well-received, and this was a close game- I think I won by only a few points against two new players.

Still with a bit of time to kill before the heavier games made it out, I taught Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT ME) to the same two players. Horsies, colors, chaos. This tiny little French game has players competing simultaneously to manipulate the line of colored horses to match their cards- order matters! I really like this competitive little game, and I'm pretty good at it. It tends to go over pretty well with people, but some complain that there is a learning curve to get your brain to think that way. I'm not disagreeing, but I found it relatively easy to pick up in the middle of my first game. I also find that my brain will usually pick one of the four possible moves to focus on for a particular session. There's some fascinating neurological choices at work here, as in any pattern-matching game.

Now that everyone was warmed up and ready for some gaming, we played a five-player game of Colossal Arena (BGG, BUY ME!), an old favorite. I had brought my copy for play, but we wound up playing Randy's brand-new-just-bought copy to break it in. Two of the group hadn't played it before, two had played it once or twice before. Luckily, I taught it correctly this time, so nobody would have to play with the wrong rule for years. Colossal's the second edition of 1997's Titan: the Arena, itself sharing only a theme with Titan, the classic Avalon Hill title from 1980. Both Colossal and Titan: The Arena are basically the same game, with a few rules clarifications and more creatures battling for your betting pleasure. In both *.Arena games, you can make a secret bet in the first round that's worth more than an open bet. Unfortunately, my creature died in the first round, practically ruling me out from winning. Still a great game, I say. I give it a "strong buy," proving I've been been reading too many articles touching the stock market.

Next, Hamsterrolle (BGG, BUY ME!)! Huzzah! I've coveted this game since Katrina: Judson had a copy, I didn't need one. Then it rained and I learned that I needed to start a games collection. When we got to Austin, one of my FLGS had a copy of this $75 (No, that's not a typo. This one lists for seventy-five USD.) game on the shelf, and I've wanted it since I saw it. Through a mysterious process that I won't explain here, I picked it up for significantly cheaper than list. Huzzah! Each time this wonderful game has come out in the last week or so, it sees at least three plays. The bright yellow wheel and colorful wooden pieces really capture the eye and beg for play. I'm pretty to very good at Hamsterrolle. "Don't get cocky, kid!"

Closing time upon us, it was time for some Jungle Speed L'extension x2 (BGG, IMPORT ME), the even more brain-breakingly awesome expansion for J-Speed. Either I hadn't played it a really long while, or the expansion is trickier than I recall, or the young'uns are learning my tricks, or I just have no mojo with Andre's set. I lost, and lost big time. Twice, even.

The store closes at midnight; luckily, there's a nearby 24-hour coffeehouse. Three other joined me for some late-night and last-minute gaming.

Upon request, we played a short (four rounds) game of Njet! (BGG, OOP ENVY ME), another Judson-is-on-the-Left-Coast game that I had to buy on eBay Germany. Yes, one could make their own version of this game from two regular decks of playing cards, a small board, and tokens, but the Cold War look-and-feel of the game would be missing. Njet! is a partnership trick-taking game where the rules change each hand. If I played Bridge, I could talk more about the implications of the unpredictability, of the fact that your trumps and supertrump can change at a whim, and that a significant amount of information can be passed with each Njet-stone. I look forward to playing this one with people back home who play a lot of Bridge (Bennett and Leslie, I'm looking at you) so I can learn more about partnership games.

After that, one of the company asked about the game they had seen me playing earlier, so Coloretto (BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table again. With four, it's even more evident that conservative play will not get you the win.

The next day was Dan's birthday gamefest, dubbed DanCon. (Kelly has more pictures on her blog.) Amusingly, they had a game schedule and misspelled badges. I've got a pretty difficult name, but I generally don't have spelling problems at cons, so I don't get it. But anyway, on to the games!

First on the docket was a six-player, three-on-three battle of Memoir '44 (BGG, BUY ME!), my first play for this game. As you might expect from the name, this one's a WWII wargame. However! It doesn't have dozens of tiny cardboard chits and arcane rules. It does, however, have handsome plastic miniatures and a very clever card and dice mechanic; overall it's a very accessible and intuitive game. Dan/Ian chose a scenario called "Bastogne Corridor West," available for free via Wargamer magazine. I played on the side of the Axis of Evil with Ian and White JP, facing off against Dan, Phil, and Norman. We trounced their Allied asses, 6-0. This is definitely a game I'll need to pick up when I have more people to play with. I understand that some scenarios allow for four players with two side-by-side boards, so that should make getting this two-player game to the table a bit easier.

After that, we played the most excellent Modern Art (BGG, BUY ME!), an auction game that is tons of fun. I'm generally not very good at it, though- I'll usually score comfortably in the middle. Like most economic games, I play it more on instinct than any actual sense of numbers or business acumen. It's always fun to talk up the art as though you're actually selling it to the other players, and getting into the spiel is part of the fun. "And here we have a lovely new work by young upstart Christin P, who was so absent from last season. You can see how the artist's use of color symbolizes and reveals the inherently tragic nature of man's inhumanity to man. I open the bid at... two?"

We also got to play a nine-player game of Coach Ride to Devil's Castle (BGG, BUY ME SOON), also known as Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg. In the vein of Werewolf and other social-deductive games, each player is a member of one of two secret societies (The Brotherhood of True Lies and The Order of Open Secrets), needing to collect three of their item (goblets or keys) and declare victory over the other. The twist is that nobody knows who is on their team, and everyone's affiliation is kept face-down. Only by attacking other players can you look at their cards, but you can exchange a lot of information by offering items to trade. There is a ton of politicking and bluffing that makes Werewolf look like a walk in the park. Plus there's no player elimination. I had originally ordered this for Dan to fill out an order, and after two plays I know that I'll need to pick it up myself at one point. Most of the company kept talking about the game after the end, proving to me how involved and engaged everyone felt. Also- don't let the German intimidate you; all cards have both English and German text.

I also played two super quick games of Gold Digger x2 (BGG, BUY ME!) with Bryon and Kim. I don't have much to say about this- it's quick, but not really quick in a good way. It's not a bad game, but I ultimately feel I'd rather be playing other games. I suspect this has its place, perhaps as a decent intro to non-gamers. It's also interesting historically as an early (1990) game by a prolific game designer, Reiner Knizia, who now has some 225 games to his credit. I have to suggest that you play this one before buying it to see if it's right for you.

The last game of the evening was Cranium Hoopla (BGG, BUY ME!), a cooperative game in the style of Cranium itself. Everyone has a set of cards (Who, What, Where) that they want to get rid of. The twist is the shared fifteen-minute timer. Everybody is working together to do the usual Cranium activities- Charades, Pictionary-a-like, Alliterative verbal clues only, and a bigger-than/smaller-than clue. Overall, not bad. I've had more fun with regular Cranium, though. I can see the appeal and I wouldn't turn it away, but I wouldn't choose it.

I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention we played a four-player game of Flick Wars, Ian's latest game that's sort of a cross between Crokinole and a fantasy wargame. Right now, it's pretty far along the design pipeline, so I wouldn't be surprised if you could buy a copy by the end of the year. Unlike others, I don't keep track of the prototype games I play. But Ian's got a real winner with this one. I don't expect it to be prototype for long.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Valentine's Day is today, which you should already know if you're even vaguely connected to any kind of published or broadcast media. Chances are, you fall into one of five categories with respect to this holiday.

  1. Love it
  2. Hate it
  3. Looking forward to a nice evening
  4. Indifferent
  5. Self-consciously indifferent to avoid crying alone in the dark
It's also pretty likely that you've belonged to more than one of those categories in your past.

If you're in the "Love it" category, plan for next year to remail your mushy stuff via one of the small towns in the States named Valentine.

Whoops, I nearly forgot your obligatory link to Wikipedia.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hamsterrolle is a great game (now with video)

Hamsterrolle (BGG, BUY ME!) is a fantastic dexterity game. Firstly, it makes Nick act like a giant hamster.

Secondly, I'm a rockstar at this game. See?

Thanks to Kelly for capturing my awesome move on video.

Videogames save lives in New Orleans tornado

I'm not making up any part of that headline. Last night at about 3AM, many folks in New Orleans woke up to the sound of a tornado.

Uptown, Westwego, and Gentilly all suffered damage. Specifically, folks still in FEMA trailers (STILL!) found their trailers turned over, moved, smashed, bashed, and generally in disarray. A motel full of people with no homes nor trailers due to Katrina had its roof pulled off. At least one woman is dead. Some 20-30 thousand people have no power. The Picayune says that there was a touchdown very near to an old apartment of mine.

One friend of mine was woken up by another friend of mine at 5AM because his roof came off and he needed a place to crash. As far as I know, everyone is okay.

How do videogames save lives? Well, as I hear it, there was a kid up late playing videogames in his trailer when the tornado came through. He woke up the other people in the trailer, and evidently they all took cover. When my friend's roof crashed through their trailer, it crushed the bed where they were sleeping. If the kid hadn't been up playing videogames to wake them, they might've been killed. True story as it was told to me.

So let this be a lesson: Always have one person in your household up late, playing videogames, to keep an ear out for tornados. It might just save your life.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Friday, February 09, 2007

Nickel Tour: The Illusionist (2006)

Here's the nickel tour:

It's been a while since the Netflix fairy brought me anything, much less something good. (It helps when you actually send the movies back instead of letting them get lost on the coffee table.) The Illusionist is a pretty good movie, a love story/magical realism piece. The story itself was a sort of typical boy meets girl above his social station, boy moves away mysteriously for many years, boy meets girl as an adult and she's going to marry the bad guy, etc. However, the characters here are really interesting. Edward Norton is a really great actor, Paul Giametti is lots of fun as the chief inspector ("Are you completely corrupt?" "Not completely, no!"), and Rufus Sewell from Dark City has some good moments as the price of Vienna. Jessica Biel is passable as the love interest, but I think she's just there for the asses-in-seats factor to get guys to watch this with their chicks. All the actors do a decent job with accents, too.

The production itself is very fitting- part of the story is told as flashback, and that section of the movie has a slight iris lighting effect and a bit of flickering, as though seen through a magic lantern or zoetrope. The overall lighting and cinematography was a pleasure to watch in and of itself. If anything, some of the magic so central to the tale falls a little short- the 19th-century audience were amazed, but I had a hard time not seeing the CGI. I give it a "Rather good and definitely worth watching once."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

License to drive

I recently got my Texas driver's license in the mail.

I had put this task off for quite some time, for a variety of reasons- not wanting to deal with bureaucracy, trying to schedule time to go to governmental offices with nonconducive business hours, not wanting to have "TEXAN" branded on my ass.

I knew that I would have to surrender my Louisiana license to get a Texas license, something I learned when Cat got hers. I hadn't wanted to give up my Louisiana license, with my New Orleans address where we had lived for five years and change. It made me feel good to have the ability to display it to people who have forgotten about Katrina or the city, sort of an in-your-face reminder of what we all have gone through- of what some of us are still going through. Losing the bit of State-issued plastic that identified me as a New Orleanian made me apprehensive. Would I ever get it back? Was I selling out? Was I turning my back on my home, my family and my friends? Did I really want to be a Texas resident? Have I taken one more step further away from New Orleans and normalcy?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again- all this would be different if we came to Austin (or anywhere else) by choice.

The days leading up to my birthday found me a little apprehensive; not just because of the relentless beat of the passing clock, but because I knew that not getting the paperwork done before my birthday meant I'd need to jump through additional hoops to get a license. Namely, pass a driving and a written test as though I was a first-time driver.

The DMV (or the "DPS" as they call it in Texas) near me has late night hours on Tuesday. Of course, this is the guv'mint, so "late night hours" means open until 7pm. Thanks to the death of Gerald Ford and the resulting day of remembrance, the first Tuesday in January found me at the door of a closed and locked DMV, no license to be had. Happily, the second week in January had no dead state officials, so the office was open to receive my twenty-four dollars.

Texas is really backwards- I had to wait two or three weeks to get my license. In Louisiana, you can walk out with your the same day you get it.

At any rate, I no longer have a suspicious (and temporary) bit of paper as my sole legal identification. I was semi-obsessively checking the mail every day; not having real photographic ID can do that to you, thanks to contemporary "security measures." Oddly, once I had the cheap-feeling bit of plastic, losing my Louisiana license was no longer an issue. When I get back home, I can run to the DMV, slap down the Texas license and say, "Give me my real one back."

I'm still a New Orleanian, and I will be a New Orleanian wherever I am.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Casual electronic gameplay

I spent a good deal of this last Sunday playing videogames, which is a little unusual for me.

I've found a new-to-me site for those wonderfully addicting Flash games that are so popular these days. On the plus side, the eponymous Jay of "Jay is Games" does a good job of reviewing/overviewing each game, adding tags and such so you know what is Flash and what is downloadable: Windows (usually) Mac (sometimes)... Sorry, Tux, you're vastly underrepresented. On the minus side, prepare to lose track of time.

Here are a few picks; N.B., I take no responsibility for your lost productivity.

There's literally dozens, if not hundreds, more games to choose from. I have at least three or four tabs open with what to play next.

You'll notice a theme here: Casual. This is sort-of-a buzzword for the kind of gaming that things like the Wii or mobile phone games try to achieve: Imagine the person with only drips and drabs of free time: the commuter on the subway with ten or fifteen minutes to kill, or the office worker with a thirty-minute lunch break, the new parent with a napping infant. These people like entertainment, but might not have hours and hours to devote to play. (Somewhere Greg Costikyan has a great essay on the growth of casual gaming, but I can't find it at this point in time.)

At any rate, casual gaming is great stuff. Electronic games don't need to cost $50 plus a subscription fee, run only on the latest hardware, or require you to devote tons of time to squeeze out the fun.

What are you casually playing?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Grown men playing with balls

The Superbowl is today. (I don't care because the Saints aren't playing, but I hope the Bears lose.) I might watch the commercials, though.

Stealing a line from Marc, this game is like curfew for mundanes. There's no traffic, stores are empty, and you can get what you want done with no hassle.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Good-bye histamines

Hello, world.

Please accept my apologies for the recent interruption in my blogging. Between vists to the vet, the change in the weather, and high pollen/mold counts, my allergies have been in super high gear lately. I have gotten in a regular dose of gaming and geeking, but I just haven't really felt up to blogging about the experience. Suffice it to say that it's been bad enough that I actually made an appointment with an allergist.

Breathing is actually quite important, wouldn't you say?