Friday, April 29, 2005

Gathering of Engineers Spring 2005: Day 1

It's time for my gaming group's semi-annual gaming retreat at Sunriver. Doug and I showed up late the night before, and we got some 2-player gaming in before hitting the sack.

First up was Dracula, from the Kosmos 2-player line. Doug took Dracula, and I took Van Helsing. Early on, I landed on his space so I could see whether he had few coffins on the board (I had 2 victims), and he only had 1. He then did some skirting around the board and swapping of cards, which I took to mean he was trying to hide the last coffin, so I worked my way over there and found the coffin; all I had to do next was follow him and keep snagging coffins as he lay them down. He got away from me for a bit, but I player "Battle Lust" which gave me a double-move and time to catch up; after finding the last coffin he laid down, I then played the action card that lets me search his supplies immediately, giving me the instant win as I was able to prove that he had no coffins on the board.

Dracula is a cute game with a little bit of everything. I'm not sure that there will ever be an epic match that will leave you proud of your victory at the end, but I think it's worth pulling our for a quick 30-minute game. Thumbs Up.

Next was Jambo, another in the Kosmos 2-player line. I've played ~12 games of it since it was released, and my record is about exactly .500. In this game, I stuck to my usual strategy of trying to keep 2 wares in my warehouse for maximum flexibility/efficiency. I happened to get a series of ware cards that allowed me to make several trades, rotating goods in and out, and won fairly early. An interesting thing about this match is that neither of us ever took the 1 gold for unused actions!

When I lose at Jambo, I never feel as if I could have done something to improve my chances; when I win, I never feel as if I did something brilliant. Sure, there are a lot of little choices you can make to improve your chances, but it seems that victory is determined by the boons that come your way; in this match, me drawing both Psychics was a big advantage. The game sure is fun to play though, so I have to give it a Thumbs Up.

Last, Doug taught me Al Cabohn, another in the dreaded Bohnanza line. This one is tailored for 2 players, which is weird because the original game is based strongly on trading. Instead, you are competing against the mob, who may be edging in on your bean trade if you are not careful. The mob got an early start in our game, but we were able to come back and keep it close. In the end, the mob had 24, I had 23, and Doug had 20. It turns out we were playing a small rule wrong (we were playing that you couldn't cash in a beanfield before being forced to pay the mob), which would have given me one more point, and possibly slowed down the mob.

I mentioned boons in Jambo; here, they were just obscene. When you are drawing your 3 new cards for planting, if the top card in the discard pile matches one of the cards, then that card gets added to the new card, and this keeps happening as long as there is a match. This means that you could have several new cards of the same type to plant, just from luck-of-the-draw! Also, I thought hand management was much more simplified, since there was no trading. There were a few tough choices in the game, but, overall, I thought it was a bust - Thumbs Down. (Note that it's supposed strength is as a solitaire game, not a 2-player game.) As I told Doug, as with Carcassone, all these expansions and variants of a base game that I used to loathe have the effect of making the original seem great!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

More on 24

Six episodes in now... enough intrigue and suspense to allow me to get past the issues I described in the previous post. I was just about to give up on the series because it dragged too much in the "real-time" format (i.e., it feels like a Hollywood political thriller but extended over 16 hours), but the "twist" at the end of the episode finally got me hooked on this format. By spending so much time in the mundane conversations, you get lulled into a false sense of knowing what's going on, whereas, in a two-hour movie, you're suspicions are proven true or false before you have a chance to disbelieve them yourself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

24

While I do not own a television, I am not beyond watching collections of episodes on DVD (e.g., The Sopranos). I was at the library today, and saw the first 12 episodes of Season 1 of 24, so I thought I'd check it out. Cool gimmick, but, in just the first episode, a lot of things bothered me:
  • People are too pretty;
  • Too much music;
  • The editing (e.g., multiple panels in the view window) is overly stylized;
  • If your kid leaves the house, you don't call people right away if it's after midnight, especially if they are strangers;
  • Keifer looks too much like my gaming buddy Chris.

I'll give it a couple episodes more to see whether I can get past these issues; the first is likely to be a showstopper, though.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Unplayed Games

With others in my gaming group posting about "unplayed games" (Mike, Eric, Chris), I thought I'd take some inventory. I'm not counting wargames and CCGs. Below is my list - games in bold are games I actually hope and expect to play someday. I was surprised the list was so long, but, for a while, I've stop inflicting games I suspected would suck on the rest of my gaming group.

  • Africa 1880
  • Anno 1452
  • Baker Street
  • Battlemist (& expansion)
  • Blink
  • Clue: the Card Game
  • Colorado County
  • Courtisans of Versailles
  • Deadwood
  • Delta V
  • Dungeoneer
  • Europa 1945 - 2030
  • Fishy
  • Heart of Africa
  • Knights
  • Lord of the Rings: The Duel
  • Lunar Rails
  • Magic Hill
  • Mamoonia
  • Pisa (Adlung)
  • Thieves Guild
  • Ticket to Ride: Europe
  • UR, 1830 BC
  • Vino (although it would best be played online)
  • Vom Kap Bis Kairo
  • Way Out West
  • Wongar
  • X-Bugs

2 down, 1 to go (or is that 4?)

Over the past six weeks, I have read the first two books in the A Song of Ice and Fire trilogy: A Game of Thrones, and A Clash of Kings. Some quick impressions (possible minor spoilers):
  • It was my third time trying to read A Game of Thrones (first time made it about 25% through, second time about 50%). What made me get through it this time was my greater familiarity with all of the characters - even the minor ones - given my increased involvement with the AGoT CCG.
  • The things that bothered me the first two times were the gratuitous sex scenes involving a 13-year-old girl (even though she's considered a "woman" in that time and place), and how the plot was driven by over-the-top acts of extreme cruelty. My desire to "meet" all the characters I knew from the CCG got me past these issues (as well as Catelyn's endless moaning, the incongruous Daenerys chapters, etc.).
  • Most folks preferred the first book because of the more complex motivations and dillemas facing the various characters. I agree with the positives, but, overall, my reading experience was marred by two things. First, most (third-person) narration being from the point-of-view of very young children. Second, with so many of the points-of-view being Starks, there is a lot of repetition as the various characters react to the same major events - thank goodness this wasn't written by Stephen King!
  • It bothered me somewhat that the second book was more simplistic in terms of characters (motivations were either lust for power or survival), but the action came a lot faster, with the battle scenes written in a much more engaging fashion. I really enjoyed meeting the Greyjoys - I cannot wait for the Martells in the next book! - and the narration was more action-driven rather than reaction-driven.
  • Another difference in the two books is that the first had very few "magic" elements, while there were many more in the second book. I definitely liked having more there.
  • With the exception of Jon Snow's journey, I find very little in the book to be the least bit transcendent; rather, it's the literary equivalent of a demolition derby. I am surprised to find it ranked #1 on the Internet Top 100 SF/Fantasy Books; if this is as good as it gets, it looks like I'll be going back to classic lit after this one.

It is my interest in the CCG (and, to a lesser extent, the board game) that will keep me reading this series. With my sabbatical ending this week, I am fairly certain that it will take my much longer to read the next in the series.

Clean-shaven

Although it's looking like it might not make of a difference anyways, I have decided to abandon my annual tradition of growing a Spurs Beard this year. Among other things, with my new position at work, I am occasionally required to go into the fab, and even my love for the Spurs cannot overcome my aversion to beard covers.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pride & Joy

Today when I was having lunch with my daughter, we were listening to some piano music. When the disc ended, the CD changer brought up the new Helmet. As the opening riff let loose, Ruoda - for the first time - started headbanging.

You've done Daddy proud.

Monday, April 11, 2005

WMVs for April 11

FYI, I finally posted #89 on my top 100 blog; hopefully, that will get me primed to update it more regularly.

Mastodon - March of the Fire Ants: Mastodon is one of the "hot" metal acts these days. I just bought their latest album, Leviathan, which has its interesting moments, but overall seems kinda overrated. What convinced me to get the CD was this video from their previous album, which demonstrates their blend of Grind, Death, and Power Metal, and highlights their chief gimmick - the drumming.

Neurosis - A Sun That Never Sets: Neurosis is now one of my favorite bands, and this is the title track from my favorite album of theirs. It is one of their most accessible songs, as it sounds a little bit like a Soundgarden ballad. About 90 seconds have been edited out of the song, but this will give you a taste of what they're about.

Nile - Sarcophagus: Nile's gimmick is that they write songs about ancient Egypt (reading the liner notes is informative and fun), blending top-quality American Death Metal with creepy atmospherics. The low-budget video doesn't do them justice, but it *is* a really good song of their latest, excellent release (see allmusic.com's gushing review for more details).

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Fatherhood

For the most part, I think I did an excellent job preparing myself for the most important aspects of fatherhood (e.g., marrying a woman who is willing to handle all of the poopy diapers). After three weeks, I've identified only three shortcomings:
  • Lack of conditioning of my back muscles (among others);
  • An inability to say things like "nut milk" with a straight face;
  • Lack of knowledge of a suitable lullaby.

For the lullaby, I do know "Rock-a-bye Baby", which is a bit too gruesome to use for a child that was abandoned herself. I thought I knew enough of "Mockingbird" to get by, but when I tried to use it, it came out something like:

Hush little baby, don't say a word
Daddy's gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don't sing
Daddy's gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring don't shine
Daddy's gonna buy you a copper mine
And if that copper mine goes bust
Dad'll hook you up with some Angel Dust

And it just went downhill from there. One night I was really desperate, and, out of nowhere, I started singing Genesis' The Carpet Crawlers, which has been effective ever since.