Monday, December 31, 2007

Laptop bag

I need a laptop bag for my MacBook.

I'm looking at a nice Brenthaven bag, partially because I like the protection their cases offer. Tom Bihn's Empire Builder gets rave reviews, but goes over my $200 budget; I don't like having to buy a sleeve and strap as an additional feature. He's got a few other bags that are on my radar, though. Timbuk2 has another few options.

I'm also strongly tempted to go to the new model of Booq- I liked my old one a lot, but it was a touch too small.

Maybe I'll throw a dart. What are you using?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I play a new game

Can you believe it? I do occasionally play a new-to-me game. Last night, I played B&L's copy of Pirate King (BGG, BUY ME!), about which I had only heard a very few things.

Short story? Pirate King is quite a bit like Monopoly (actually) where you have a relatively huge degree of control over your motion around the board and can fight the other players with a mini dicefest instead of paying rent. The components are all right, and evidently much improved in the second printing, but still have a hodgepodge unrefined feel. The art is great fun, but the game is ultimately just okay; better for the right crowd or the right mood, but far from awesome.

Long story: You've got your pirate ship sailing around the Caribbean, trying to buy island properties for the docking fees (rent) and make smuggling deliveries for income. Eventually, you fortify all your properties to the point where you have enough victory points to win. Alternatively, you go and kick the Commodore's ass, who has more cannon and crew than you'll ever have, for an instant victory. You have a few other ways to get points and income with Great Treasures (powers) and cards, but that's the game in a nutshell.

Movement is simultaneously clever in its design and aggravating in its execution. You just don't roll and move, mostly. First you drop a marker on a nearby space where you want to go- say, on the Free Parking Buried Treasure spot and not on the heavily built-up Boardwalk Tortuga. Then you roll a d12 and consult a chart to see if you made it- otherwise the wind is better or worse, and you can find yourself up to four places away from your marker and your desired destination. This isn't so bad for the smuggling deliveries, since you can do a drive-by with a bonus if you land on your target exactly. I do wish they would've spent their production budget on a custom die for the single most used mechanic in the game or opted for a d4 and a Fudge die (with its pluses and minuses). Same odds, less handling time for a player.

You land on a spot, you can buy it for the capture price on the chart if you're the first one there. This means a colored flag and a token to show the level for that property. If someone else owns it, you have to pay up the rent Docking Fee based on the location and how many houses and hotels its level of fortification. The way to get victory points is primarily through castles, so it's in your interest to build up as much as possible all the time. There's no penalty to mortgage reduce a place's fortifications if you need cash.

Speaking of money- it's colored glass beads in different denominations and plastic coins for the cheapest denomination kept hidden in a plastic treasure chest. Cute, but potentially a dealbreaker for the colorblind as well as a learning curve to remember how many rubies there are in a diamond.

If you don't want to pay rent, you can opt to fight instead and hopefully take over the settlement. Roll dice per number of cannon; high number kills a crewman. Not enough crew to man your cannon, you don't get 'em. Enough dead crewmen, you lose and have to pay big. You get crewmen and cannon by making deliveries or simply buying them at a friendly port.

The path around the board is a sort of double figure eight, and you can only change facing in a few situations. Scattered on the board are Community Chest Pirate's Booty and Chance Captain's Log spaces, where you pull a card and do what it says. I like the variety of art on the cards, but again, the components are an issue when facing matters and player colors are too similar in bad lighting (brown, black, beige and white). The first printing had small assembled ships and magnetic cannon; the version I played had hard plastic standees and tokens to keep track of cannon. I feel that a little more effort in the production design here would do wonders- a player aid mat with quick info, pawns with more obvious facing, maybe sliders for ship stats.

That's pretty much the game. As I said before, it's okay. It plays a little too long, but it overall has its ups and downs in terms of fun and tension. You definitely have the moments of excitement when you're waiting for someone to land on your high-rent properties, and it's fun to watch two of the other players duke it out; but you're also fiddling with too many bits and squinting at colors while staring off into the distance while you're cash poor with no prospects. I can't give it high marks, but you can feel the love poured into its creation. You probably know already if you want to play this or not, but: If you like pirates in your beer-and-pretzel games, you should think about playing it or a buddy's copy and give it a whirl. If you're no fan of luck in your games, or hoping for something deeper than the theme, then run far far away.

Finally, let me give a big end-of-the-year thanks to everyone who bought games through my FunAgain affiliate link- I'm going to use that accumulated customer credit next month. The Google money is much less, and the Amazon money is drips and drabs. But hey, ten bucks is ten bucks, right?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Read more

Jess Hammer has read nearly a book a day this year.

I'm way behind on my reading. It doesn't help that nearly all of our books are in someone else's attic. In the back apartment, not even one square foot of space is dedicated to books.

What have I read most recently?

Map of Bones, James Rollins. If you liked National Treasure, you'll like this. Cat pitched it as a "Da Vinci Code done better," and it seems that's about right. Religious conspiracies, action/thriller, globetrotting puzzles and a treasure at the end. Fine fodder for a plane ride.

Anthony Bourdain's The Nasty Bits. More of Bourdain's signature rants on food, eating, and the industries of feeding people. Evidently this collects several previously published sort essays into one volume. Not so good a read when you're hungry and trapped on a plane with no decent prospects.

The Playboy Winner's Guide to Board Games, second edition copyright 1979, Jon Freeman. Quaintly amusing, with some interesting historical value- contemporary reviews of games, several strategies on Monopoly and a scratch-the-surface assessment of Go, and a ticklish lumping of D&D into the Wargames category. Got this one in a trade.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hello, computer

Back in NOLA, back on the 'tubes. Hope yours was jolly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This city of mine

"Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to be here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio." — Lafcadio Hearn, 1879

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Best Lifehack Ever

I just unsubscribed from Lifehacker- that's some 300+ unread posts I don't have to think I need to read to stay informed.

In a few weeks, I'll reexamine and see if I miss it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Glow-in-the-Dark Cats

Evidently, scientists in South Korea have genengineered cats that fluoresce under UV. Bonus: Cloning is involved. News articles have details. I have video.

(YouTube video link for my non-embedding readers)

Better living through science!

Mischa's pesto recipe

Simon and Ariel had a housewarming party, and I decided to make pesto. I love the stuff and it's vegetarian-friendly, which is a plus if you're not sure of a guest list. It uses cheese, so no love for the vegans here. (As you no doubt know, I love Frank Sinatra brand pesto sauce.)

What goes in my pesto? Basil. Garlic. Crushed red pepper. Black pepper. Lemon juice. Romano cheese. Pine nuts. Olive oil. In this batch, I added Asiago cheese, walnuts, sea salt, plus the secret ingredient: one packet of Splenda, I kid you not.

Whenever I cook, I do so in a very gestalt, organic fashion. I don't really follow a recipe from a book, but I will look at what others have done and extrapolate amounts and quantities and proportions. I taste my product constantly. One downside to the back apartment is that my mise is tiny- I've got barely a square yard to prep and measure and hold the food processor.

I bought four packets of fresh basil (one day, an herb garden). I started with two: wash in cold water, pick off the leaves, and toss the stems. Toss into the food processor.

Take a bulb of garlic. Peel it. Put all of the cloves into the processor. Chop. Add a bit of olive oil (Never don't cook with extra virgin olive oil. NEVER EVER, no matter what.) and blend a bit- ride the throttle and pulse, don't just whale it to "on." Pick out the whole chunks of garlic that didn't get food processed and just mince them. Re-add your freshly minced garlic.

Throw in some crushed red pepper, then a bit more because when you make it, you won't use enough. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze some juice in. Pick out the seeds. Put the other half in the fridge, but keep your squeezable half handy- you'll use it frequently. Grab a small handful of pine nuts, and process. Do this again: EVOO, lemon, small handful of pine nuts. Now add a small handful of walnuts, and remember the cheese.

Cut your Romano into thirds. Take the first third and run it through the processor. Add your third pack of basil leaves (no stems, rinse 'em), adding EVOO and lemon. If you have fresh ground black pepper, grind it into the mixture, otherwise use regular black pepper. Add more, because you won't use enough. Then throw in more crushed red pepper, another small handful of pine nuts, and more lemon. Skip the EVOO this go. Process in waves.

Grab your sea salt and put in a little bit- but not too much. Chances are that your sea salt has large grains and won't dissolve or get crushed easily. So: sprinkle, pulse, sprinkle, pulse, sprinkle. You do not want to add too much salt.

Remember your middle third of Romano? Grate that into the mix. Might as well add half your Asiago, too. You want to get your crumbles of cheese all throughout the mixture.

Take your last bunch of basil and add its leaves with a bit more lemon and pine nuts. Process a little bit to mix things up, and tap in your packet of Splenda while spinning.

You can put this into the fridge for a good while- at least a few days. About an hour before you serve, pull it out of the fridge and let it get to room temperature. Take a healthy spoonful of EVOO and stir, do it again and probably a third time to get to the right consistency. Finally, drizzle a bit more olive oil on top- the first bite is taken with the eye.

This method sounds a bit insane, but it works. The method behind the madness is to avoid homogeneity in your pesto. You want layers of flavors and textures. One day, I shall make pesto like an Italian grandmother. Someone find me a quality cooking board and mezzaluna!

Mystery and engimas

For those of you in the know, my Saturday went extremely well.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What makes a good game?

A few days ago, I played Junta (BGG, BUY ME!) for the first time. I've had this game on my radar for years, one of the older classics from the 80s (really 1978) that I had heard about but had never personally played.

I didn't love the game. I'm not sure it got a fair shake at the table. Pushing around chits and looking at old badly worded perforated cards didn't help my enjoyment factor- let's just say I'm spoiled by games with real components. I know that I want to give it another go at some point, because I'm pretty convinced there's a good game in there somewhere. But all that is beside the point.

A bit more research on BGG turned up a great quote from Filip Wiltgren:

Up until, say, 2 years ago [2004] I thought that Junta was an OK game.

But playing Junta at a gaming club was a real eye opener for me. I went from a tight gaming group where every game was good to an environment where I didn't know the players very well. And I discovered that a good game is a game that can be played with people you don't particularily know/care about and still be fun - it's when the game itself is fun, not the company playing it.

There is a ton a truth in that quote.

When you can pick up a game — hell, any activity — and enjoy it with your friends, that's super awesome and congrats. But a shared activity does not a good game make- I learned this lesson to my embarrasment about a year and a half ago, when I tried to play a game that came out of several episodes of 1000 Blank White Cards (BGG, WP) with a group of relative strangers who didn't get any of the references.

I like this reminder; It's a good wake-up call.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I <3 Gmail

Just under three and a half years.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


For a variety of reasons (Holiday shopping, BGG Secret Santa, Birthdays), I just realized that my Amazon wishlist still had my Austin address on it, not to mention an email address I haven't checked in more than five years. I sure hope nobody has bought me any surprises in the last three months.

Now I really need to go through and prioritize things.