Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'm in New Orleans

Cat drove pretty much the whole way from Austin. My brother was in the back seat, and between him, Cineplexity (BGG, BUY ME!), an iPod loaded with comedy, and actually making the drive during the day, the time flew by relatively quickly and without disaster or mishap.

It is so good to be home again.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

My keys are lighter

Yesterday, I relinquished more than half of the mass of my keychain to my former job. No, I didn't weigh it. Yes, I wanted to.

I no longer have a key to the Xilinx Austin office, their server room, or the admin's lockbox; I also don't have a nifty VPN token (handy for random numbers if you forget your dice), either. Now I only have house, car, mailbox, and the ring itself. This is all metaphor that I don't have to strain or stretch to make it fit. I've shed responsibility, burdens, and restraints- the world is my oyster and I can do anything.

What's on your keyring? What do you need? What can you get rid of?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Games played the last week of March

No game session report could be complete without a recap of the last days of Oh Hell (BGG, WP).

This, my last week of work, is going to severely impact my Oh Hell game. Since introducing it at work, it's been extremely popular to the point of having a near-daily game over morning tea. (See my previous post for detail on our house variant.) That's something like 15-20 games of Oh Hell per month, depending on how many actual real phone conference meetings one was scheduled to attend. Part of its popularity comes from the fact that the morning game is one of the only things that the folks in the office could do as an activity together- not even lunch. Most of them aren't working on the same team or even on the same project. I question the logic on having one-man developer (sorry, guys- I know yall are engineers) teams, but what do I know? I personally like to work with someone on a project. I do my best work when collaborating.

I've got a lot of conventions with the game now- language of the game, physical conventions, old rivalries, and so forth. I'm going to miss the most regular and frequent gaming group I've had in a long long time- these guys are closet gamers, and I did what I could to bring 'em out. Maybe I'll invite them out to Friday Game Nights for real strategy games one day before I leave.

Now, on to less traditional games.

I first played Fire & Axe (BGG, BUY ME!) on Friday. At least two guys in the regular crowd have been aching to get me to play this re-release of Viking Fury. On the one hand, the game sounded interesting based on the box and what I'd read online. On the other, the actual play I'd witnessed made me skittish. The box states the game in 90 minutes, but I hadn't seen a single game last under two and a half hours. I really don't mind longer games, honest. I just feel like I miss out on play if a game takes too long, particularly if it's a new one that I'm not familiar with.

Fire and Axe is a good game; don't get me wrong. It has a lot going for it beyond just the cool theme of kicking ass as vikings. In game, you get points from settling, raiding, and trading. While there's no direct player combat or conflict per se, there are still plenty of ways to screw with someone's plans indirectly or with the all-powerful rune cards. Thinking about it now, I recall enjoying the game more than the enjoymnet I felt while actually playing it.

As a literal filler before the next game, we played No Thanks (BGG, BUY ME!) with five. It was a new play for one of the company, and he managed to luck out and win with something like four points. One day I'll start thinking about seat order and how it impacts play.

And what did we play next? A six-player game of Wiz-War (BGG, PRE-ORDER!!!!) that was truly epic and resulted in the other players killing me first, which hadn't happened in ages. We had to stop the game due to the store closing on us, but in the postmortem, we learned that at least three players had been one turn away from winning a few times during the game.

Once the game store closed, we moved on to the twenty-four hour coffeeshop for more fun.

I got to teach a few people to play Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT FROM FRENCH-SPEAKING NATIONS) at the start of the after-midnight show. I'm not sure if it was the late hour or the players, but it might've been the most sedate game session of Carrousel yet. I must remember to try the same set of players when they're more awake. Either that or make a confusingly distracting player aid.

For more late-night delight, we played Die Mauer (BGG, BUY ME!). I don't remember who won, but it went over well. I don't think it's out of print, but it's been a bit slow to arrive stateside lately. If you can find it, snag it.

I next played a new-to-me game called Boomtown (BGG, BUY ME!). It's an interesting gold rush/western bidding/gambling game that I lost big-time. I mean, 6 and 8 are the second most common numbers to show on 2d6, right? You think they'd pay out at least once during the 20-odd rolls. The only time my mine paid out was on a roll of twelve! Crimminy. Next time I play, I'm going to spend a lot less and see what happens.

Finally, I pulled out the Zendo (BGG, BUY TREEHOUSE PIECES!) set and we got a total stranger to play. My rule was "A koan has the Buddha-nature if and only if it contains more than two colors." I don't see it exactly on the rules list, though there's "it has at least two colors with two or more pieces." (Close enough for government work.) The rule went around two and a half times.

I only played one new-to-me game this Monday at Dragon's Lair, thanks to John from Round Rock. This game was Santiago (BGG, BUY ME!), a mildly vicious game of watering crops on bribery, which was rather entertaining, even though I lost- but not as badly as I feared. There's a sort of built-in time limit to the game, which is only played over nine rounds. Each round, there's a clever once-around bid for land tiles: Soybeans, chiles, bananas, potatoes, and sugar cane. It's done in a way such that there's no ties. Once everyone has a tile, they place them on the game field along with a number of guys to work the field. Then there's bribery to get Pepe the canal meister to place a canal where you want it to go- if your fields are unwatered, they score less points and eventually dry up and are worth nothing. Bigger fields of crops score more points for everyone on that field, so there's some built-in cooperation as well. Overall a nice twist on classic area control, which I historically suck at.

Next, I got the opportunity to return the favor and teach John one of his games that he hadn't played, Coach Ride to Devil's Castle, aka Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg (BGG, BUY ME!), a great mind-reading deduction game. You need at least six to play, and ideally an even number. Half of the players belong to one secret society, and the other half belong to the other- and nobody knows who their partners are. Each team is trying to collect three of the items they need to win, either keys or goblets. First team who can identify their team members and prove possession of all three of their items declares victory. There's a lot of subtlety and underhandedness and one-way information passing between trading items and fighting. It's a tidy little game that I really look forward to playing at a convention with a large group of strangers. I've got to get my own copy- there's a fantastic amount of gameplay packed into a deck of cards. The original German name leaves a little to be desired for the English-speaking ear, however. Also, the cards are bilingual in German and English, so don't panic- even though there's a little "Dengilsch" to contend with.

Next I broke out Wheedle (BGG, BUY ME!), to teach another new game to the crowd. One of the company didn't care for real-time simultaneous games, so we only played one hand.

Ironically, we next played a four-player game of John's copy of Space Dealer (BGG, BUY ME!), a mondo awesome real-time simultaneous trading game. That's about all the two games share- they are radically different. Space Dealer is a flat-out strategy game of production and delivery where each action requires the use of a sand timer. You want to produce in a mine? Flip a sand timer. You need to move your spaceship? Flip a timer. Increase your tech level? Timer. Build a new thing you've just researched? You got it- it's a timer. There's a really clever point system for a built-in catch-up mechanic: as you deliver goods to a player, you both get points. The game is about racing against other players and the clock, maximizing your actions- with two sand timers and thirty minutes, you're going to get less than sixty in the game. Did I mention that the game comes with a soundtrack? If you have two sets, you can play with eight, too. (I came in third.)

Then on Wednesday, my brother Josh invited me out for coffee. He also said those magic words: "Maybe you can bring some games along?" Now the trick becomes finding two-player games that my brother would like.

We played Chopstick Dexterity MegaChallenge 3000 (BGG, BUY ME!), which is exactly what it sounds like, except it only plays with two or three. Some of my regular readers know this game and my enthusiasm for it. What's the opposite of going over like a lead balloon? Going under like a tunneling mole that can tunnel and holds three doctorates in tunnel mastery from Cambridge, Yale, and Oxford with a special license to practice tunneling from the United Nations? Either way, we had an outstanding time battling for small wooden bits with chopsticks. I might soon spray paint my wooden bits for improved visibility.

In line with the dexterity element, we next played Elchfest (BGG, BUY ME!). I figured that this would go over well, since we both enjoyed playing Zopp (BGG, BUY ME!), and I can't wait to introduce him to Crokinole (BGG, GET A CUSTOM BOARD). The final result? Flicking games are awesome. And I won, barely.

Rounding out the kaffeeklatsch, we played a quick tile-laying game called Toscana (BGG, BUY ME!). The game is really pleasing to look at, with the colors of an Italian villa- I would like to sea the all-wooden version, though. Two players: Red clay roofs versus dusty grey-brown roads. Who can make the larger zone? The trick to this game is that each tile contains a bit of the opponent's color- so it becomes difficult to absolutely block off an area. It's not a game to live or die for, but it's one that my bro wants to play again. Score one for the pro-gaming brother!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Game Chef Top Eight

The results are in!

I didn't make the Top Eight, but my game ranked in the top third against some pretty stiff competition.

But never fear! This is only incentive to make my game(s) better.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The paradox of choice

If you had three months with no vocational obligations, would you take the opportunity to pursue your dreams? How would you change your life if you find yourself no longer tied to your job?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Exceptionally weird dreams

I didn't sleep long enough last night, and had very weird dreams the whole night- the only bit I can remember involved me personally testing various prescription eyewear and prostheses for Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

I completely blame this. Safe for work, but a total time-sink if you let it become one. Worth at least five minutes if you haven't seen it before.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New intro to new gaming

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to game with a new guy. I'll call him Ed, for that was his name.

A guy in one of my gaming groups wanted to intro a bunch of games to his buddy, who had previously only been exposed to a very few of this new style of board games. Admittedly, they were good "gateway" games: Blokus (BGG, BUY ME!), Carcassonne (BGG, BUY ME!), Chess (BGG, WP), Liar's Dice (BGG, BUY ME!), Poker (BGG, WP), and Settlers of Catan (BGG, BUY ME!). There's nothing wrong with these games, even though I prefer nickel-dime-quarter poker to Texas Hold 'em (geography not withstanding), and I've played enough Settlers in the past that I generally don't need to play it in the present, and I've always been a little lukewarm with Carcassonne, and I've lately played more Four-Handed Chess- that's partnership chess with four sets of chessmen on one board, not Bughouse.

Arguably, a gateway game only serves its purpose for a limited amount of time; eventually, one must put such games behind oneself and move on to play other games.

When selecting the menu for the day, I had to pick games that could handle six players, and that I knew well enough to teach on the fly- moreover, I didn't know our host at all, so I needed to pick games with a high "fun" factor, with enough of a dash of deeper potential if need be. Once arriving, I laid out every game I brought and gave a quick one minute elevator pitch of each, then all six of us took turns picking a game to play.

I chose the first game to hit the table: No Thanks (BGG, BUY ME!), which has been pretty popular on Mondays after a relatively recent introduction. It's deviously simple, with barely two or three rules and can be played in about ten minutes. You can make your own, but I fully support buying the game. It's ten bucks retail, folks. I also attest to the greater likelihood of seeing a game plays if it looks more professional or otherwise legit- particularly with No Thanks, which is so deceptively simple.

The object of the game is to not take points. You've got a deck of cards numbered three to thirty-five, but nine have been removed randomly. Cards are points; points are bad. But if you collect a sequence, only the lowest card counts. So a 4 and a 5 only counts for four points; likewise a 23 and a 25 (48 total for the kids at home), can be reduced to only 23 points if the 24 is in the deck. On your turn, flip the top card of the deck and you have one decision: do you want the card? If so, take it. Otherwise, put one of your eleven chips on it and your turn is over. Whoever takes the card gets the points- as well as all the chips on it. If you have no chips, you must take the card. At the end of the game, chips are good, subtracting from your total points. Lowest score (negatives are possible) wins. Overall, a good filler to kick things off.

The next game selected was Die Mauer (BGG, BUY ME!), a longtime favorite mind-reading wall-building game. (Susie was always scary good at this game.) If you have a decent enough collection of Lego, you can make your own set- but the wood is so much nicer.

The object of the game is to get rid of your pieces by building the wall- everyone has the same set of game components, five wall sections of different lengths plus a gate and a tower. Walls go next to anything, but the towers and gates must have a wall on each side; you can't build 'em next to each other. Each turn, someone gets to be the Master Builder and everyone else must try and guess what section the Baumeister wants to add to the wall. Guess right, and you can build outside of your turn. Guess wrong, and only the Master Builder gets to build. There's also the bid of "empty fist," a sort of wild card for the Master Builder. If nobody else guesses it, then the M.B. builds anything. If exactly one other person guesses empty fist, they donate a piece of their choice to the Master Builder. I also just discovered that we've missed a rule after all these years- the donation is done in secret.

Every time I play my copy, I think of Judson's Katrina-destroyed copy and the set I bought him to replace it.

Speaking of blasts from the past, Kill Doctor Lucky (BGG, BUY ME!) also got some game. There's not better intro to this than the Cheapass tagline: "Why do all mystery games start just after all the fun is over?" Everyone wants to kill the good doctor for their own reasons- it's part of the fun to determine why you want to off the dottering old codger. About half of the card deck is movement cards for either yourself of J. Robert Lucky, the other half are various weapons and failure cards. The trick is that the failure cards, once played, are out of the game- so eventually someone will be successful. The biggest, baddest death is the Monkey's Paw in the Foyer for a whopping 8 points of damage, but I prefer the absurdity of the Tight Hat or the Civil War Cannon, or even the Loud Noise. It's also fun to say "with the Pinking Shears in the Lancaster room!"

We played with (a possibly incorrect learning of the) Spite rules now present in the super-deluxe edition, and the game dragged a bit. I'm pretty sure that it just needed a tweak or two, perhaps even the actual rules for play.

At this point, someone needed to break out the Jungle Speed (BGG, BUY ME!), which remains awesome, even catching the eye of our host's wife's friend. It's fun, I promise! I forgot to ask about colorblindedness, so after one or two rounds we broke out Jungle Speed Flower Power (BGG, IMPORT FROM FRANCE) which has no color match. That edition is full of weird shapes that nobody has yet to really master.

As for J-Speed in general- I'm getting slow in my old age. Just means I need more practice.

Speaking of killer fun — Ca$h'n Gun$ (BGG, BUY ME!), baby. Cash and Guns. Mexican Standoff, the board game- complete with foam pistols and an all-but-required smacktalk phase- it's everything you think it is, except one of the advanced games has super powers and the other has an undercover cop. Looks like the forthcoming English edition has bright orange pistols- it's hard to say for sure until it goes cardboard.

I only played one game of this, then sat out so that Ed's wife could play- which was hysterically awesome when her cut of one pot was $50,000- no small sum- in the same game where Chad died in the first round.

Hats off to Chris of Seaborn Games for introducing this to me.

I cracked the seal on my new Wheedle (BGG, BUY ME!) deck this day, too. My original dirty and beat-up copy now lies in the hands of Andre, who will likely take it to Iowa in a few months and proceed to school the other law students there. If you've ever played Pit (BGG, BUY ME!), then you know the basis for this real-time stock-trading game of madness and shouting. Wheedle adds a bit of strategy and more choices to be made, plus a tad better graphic design, and the scoring actually makes sense. This is a great crowd-pleaser, very well suited for non-gamers (Read: Buy this for the next time you go home for the holidays or a family reunion or office party).

I'm generally very good at this game, but sometimes the plebeians I play with are all in confederacy against me by the last hand and refuse to trade. Schmucks. But they still ask for this game... perhaps they even do a bit of wheedling in order to see it played.

This is yet another Judson game, for those keeping score.

Category Five (BGG, BUY ME!) also hit the table, and was relatively well-received. I love the tension in the game, which makes me come back to it again and again.

Once again, points are bad in a deck of cards numbered from one to 104. Each card has a certain number of points on it, either 1, 2, 3 or 5 or the single card with 7 points. Everyone simultaneously selects one card out of an initial hand of ten, then all are revealed and played out into one of four rows according to four rules: The cards must always increase. If you play a card lower than the last card in all rows, you take a row of your choice and your card is the new leader. If your card could go into more than one row, it must go into the largest row. Finally, if our card would be the sixth card in a row, you take the five cards and your card is the new leader. Pretty simple, but there are some truly difficult choices to be made each game. Admittedly, I like this game so much partly because of this effect- it's not one I can readily duplicate.

Unless everyone wants to play again, I usually only suggest playing one hand, instead of several hands to a set number of points. Nobody has yet to score more points than my record-breaking 47 in one round several months back, though.

I've got to try some of the included variants at some point.

As a change of pace, New Guy Nick taught us all Sheepshead (BGG, WP), a bizarre little German partnership trick-taking game that's popular in Wisconsin. I had heard of it a week ago and read the article on Wikipedia, but the game didn't click until we played it. It's a little reminiscent of the Italian game Briscola (BGG, WP) in terms of card values, but the similarities end there. Sheepshead has 14 trumps out of a deck of 32. The zero-sum scoring makes much more sense to me when I picture drunk German immigrants putting coins into the pot to determine who buys the next round.

Nick taught us five-handed Sheepshead, though variants exist for different numbers of players. For six, one person sits out and deals. Interestingly, partners are secret and not balanced: two to three.

I liked this quite a bit, though I lost most after the final scores were tallied. This is definitely going to see more play over time.

I can't remember who chose For Sale (BGG, BUY ME!) , but we played it next. Normally, folks compliment my skill at teaching and explaining games and look forward to hearing my patter for a particular game. As much as I enjoy this auction game, I have yet to be able to pitch it well. Folks warm up to it in the middle of the first game, and sometimes ask for a second once they grok what's going on. Maybe I just need to deal a sample hand or two.

For Sale consists of two thirty-card decks of cards and a stack of money. One deck is properties, from 1 (the cardboard box in an alley) to 30 (the SPACE STATION!). The other deck is checks, two each of 2-15 plus a VOID check that's worth nothing. In the first phase of the game, players bid on property cards, which they then use in the second phase of the game to bid on checks. The most money wins.

It's not an easy game to pitch for me. Trust me though, it's a good filler that plays in 20-30 minutes, works with 3-6 players, and has a high replay value if you like bidding games.

The last boardgame we played was Heimlich & Co (BGG, BUY ME!), which I remember enjoying very much in the past. It didn't fly very well with the crowd, and I think it's my fault for not playing with the advanced rules for guessing other player's secret identities. I think it would be better with 5 players. I haven't played the new edition with its addition of special cards.

After that, I learned to play Ping-Pong (seriously) and lost horribly at pinball.

Overall, this was a smashing success. Here's hoping this list of games will help someone else introduce new players into the hobby and kick the Yahtzee/Bunco/Monopoly/Farkle habit! Friends don't let friends play bad games.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It's backup time

My man Tom back home had some data problems, both at work and at home, to the tune of a 2.5 terabyte (Mega, then Giga, then Tera- imagine about a quarter of the Library of Congress) disk failure and a flaky home system.

I'm doing my backups right now. I use a handy program called Synk to do the dirty work onto a 300GB external drive. I also set up a monthly reminder for myself to run backups. What is it about April that makes me think about backing up?

I don't do it frequently enough, and I know better. You can get a blank DVD for about a buck, so compare spending less than a crappy meal and one evening's time versus days and weeks and months if you need to recreate everything on your machine. Just imagine that for a second, that you have to retype every document, rediscover all your contacts, remember all your emails, take brand new photographs, redo your taxes, find new porn, rip your music, etc etc etc.

When was the last time you backed up your stuff?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I love being a geek

My brother shot me a link to this most awesome gallery of geek culture and computer rigs. Some I like, some I covet, some I admire, and at least one or two I fear.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In Good Company

According to the New Yorker, former President Bill Clinton learned Oh Hell (BGG) from Steven Spielberg. It greatly amuses me that Clinton dropped Hearts (BGG) in favor of Oh Hell. Smart dude.

And by "smart dude," I mean I can't fault his taste in games, people. Don't jump to conclusions. Feel free to comment, though.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Game inventors make game designers look crazy

Or maybe it's jut reality television.

Check out this five-minute video from YouTube (direct link for my RSS friends). You've got a fellow on the American Inventor reality show pitching his game, Bulletball, which looks like ping-pong without paddles, or handball played on a circular surface. Inventor (not "designer") Marc Griffin pitches his game with an enthusiasm that just doesn't seem all there. Maybe it's an editing trick?

Digging a little deeper, I found an interview with Griffin where he talks more about the game and his life, defending himself as accepting the trade-off of looking foolish for national exposure for his game. I can respect that. I can't respect selling one's house and living in a car for what looks like a bad game.

I certainly don't think it would make the Olympics. Maybe I'm wrong.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Update your resume today

The absolute worst time to update your resume is when you need to; you really should look at it every three months, at least to make sure your contact info is right. You never know when a better opportunity will come along, or if you'll find yourself in a position of need.

When did you last update yours? Don't put it off any longer.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Every moment changes your life

I finished my Game Chef entry last night with about two hours to spare, which gave me enough time to do a final proofread and tweak the layout. Today, I got 30 days' notice at the office.

I can't help but feel these two events are linked.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I love April Fool's Day

Seriously, it's like the national holiday of geeks everywhere.

Google's in on it.

So is BoardGameGeek, not to mention that classically forgotten game, Poisson d'Avril.

Slashdot gives us a good article on top pranks.

Who could forget the quaint Kremvax?

Or IP over Avian Carrier? (That's teh webbernets flying around on little birdies, kids.)

The day is young! Do you have Prince Albert in a can?