Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Stronger than ever...

Okay, I wrote a big rant about a retarded multi-level-marketing pitch I heard today, which Blogger ate, but the important part is, I bought The Incredibles on DVD with a gift card left over from Christmas. Now The Incredibles can be as incredible as they were in the theater when I didn't go see it for A YEAR because we had a baby instead.

Also, Blockbuster could've had my money. I tried on two separate occasions to rent The Incredibles, but they didn't stock enough copies.

A position statement: MLM

Tonight, I experienced something I hadn't seen in a long time: Someone presented a multi-level marketing plan to me.

See, ordinarily, I wouldn't take a second look, because the vast majority of MLM-ers are venal and stupid.

So, this time, I didn't take a second look, because this MLM-er was venal and stupid. Isn't it awesome when you learn someone is **WRONG**? Anything they tell you, you can ignore immediately, because they're **WRONG**. It's liberating.

Once again, for the folks at home: Multi-level-marketing is for scumbags and chumps. If you are in a multi-level-marketing outfit, you're 95% likely to be either a scumbag, or a chump. I don't deal with scumbags (q.v. Circuit City, used-car salesmen, most multi-level-marketers), and I take very little financial advice from chumps.

I bought the Incredibles DVD, so that's cool. I thought it was on sale for some reason. I finally used up most of the balance on a Target gift card from Christmas. I had tried to rent The Incredibles twice, but it was out of stock both times at Blockbuster. The Blockbuster employees were apologetic both times, and suggested that I could call in. Orrrrr, I could buy it for $21.99, they said, in the nicest and most sincere way.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Board Game Party Results - I'm going to buy Empyrean Inc.

Awesome! We had about 20 people show up at the clubhouse for boardgames, including several new people. I taught Citadels, learned Goa, learned Empyrean Inc., which I played twice, and played Formel Fun.

Please add Empyrean Inc. and Formel Fun to my list of wanted games. Empyrean Inc. is a trading game that the Main Man, Kevin Nunn calls, "All the good parts of Settlers without any of the bad parts." Why do I love Kevin? 1. Because he's almost always right. 2. He's testing another set of prototypes now. 3. Once he has enough of something, he gives his extras away.

Goa, I dunno-ah. We played a 4-player game, and I can see how people would like it. The auctions are kinda like Medici, and the advance-your-abilities card is deliciously complex. There wasn't enough player interaction for me, and I had literally NO clue what to do with my turns at first. I still won, by 7 points or so, which is a reasonable approximation of a beatdown. I did some smart things in the auction phase, and I guess I must have avoided doing too-dumb things in the action phases. The players were hardcore auction guys and Puerto Rico badasses.

Empyrean, Inc. is the Kaja and Phil Foglio game of wacky space trading. There are three commodity stacks (purple, green, and yellow), a stack of planets, and a stack of action cards. Every turn, your home planet makes 3 commodities, say, Green, Green, Purple. So you draw 2 green cards, and 1 purple. In each color, there are 4 types of commodity. You'd like to get lots of one kind, and lay them down to corner the market. Different planets are turned up, and you can purchase them either by paying specifically their price (e.g. 2 Soybeans and 1 Robot) or by using 2-of-a-kind or 3-of-a-kind matches (say, you have 2 Soybeans and 2 Purple Hyperdrives, which substitute for 1 Purple Robot; alternately, you pay 2 Soybeans and 3 Yellow Tritiums, since you're substituting Yellow cards for the Purple Robot, you must do a 3-to-1 substitution).

Oh, yeah, and whoever's got the fewest cards gets to draw a card from each player with more than one planet. So, you can either stay small, and try to be efficient, or get big and empty your hand.

The action cards are 2/3 Hurt-Somebody and 1/3 utility cards. All the utility cards give one, maybe 2 cards back, and you have to spend 1 of each commodity color to get them. Awesome! Or not.

You can, and should, buy it directly from the Foglios' website, Studio Foglio: to give them the most money possible.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Two dads who kick ass.

Rob, over at Darn Tootin'. His daughter has a staggeringly-rare genetic condition, and Rob does his best to come to terms with that.

This is one of the entries from the archives, and it's a good sample:

They're fundraising now for a speech device that'll give Schuyler a way to communicate more freely.

Jeff, over at Irony Central. His daughter's fine, but Jeff's a freak (he also writes awesome shareware computer games and has been a Cheapass Games playtester, so he's my kind of people):

I'm definitely buying his book, The Poo Bomb, when it comes out. (Yes, I could pre-order it. Sigh.)

Both of these dads love their kid very much, and they're both eccentric and a little foul-mouthed.

This morning, I waved at my 10-month-old girl as I was headed out the door for work. My wife called a couple of minutes later to report she had crawled all the way to the door, then looked around and started to cry because I didn't come back. Soooo, that's a depressing way to start the day!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Looney Labs Freebie Arrived!

So, I got my Looney Labs Mad Labs Rabbit gift. (It occurs to me, if you're not familiar with the good folks at those particular words make NO sense.)

It's a hundred-piece jigsaw puzzle of an Aquarius-card collage of a peace sign. It has no utilitarian value and is strikingly beautiful. Getting it in the mail was completely unexpected and cool.

Current Games I'm Considering...

Although I've stopped buying new games for now, I've got a list of games that would be good additions to my collection:

Hellrail (Mayfair Games): A clever little rail game, played with a deck of square cards that serve as cargo, track, movement, and hand replacement. I played the 3rd edition recently and thought it was slick.

Outpost (Timjim Games): Long out of print game of bidding for moonbase components. I'm not buying this-prices are out of sight for this game. There's a German quasi-remake called Das Zepter Von Zavandor, which hasn't been printed in English yet.

Heroscape (Hasbro): Won't get played, so it won't get purchased, as simple as that.

Tales of the Arabian Nights: Long out of print paragraph storytelling... uh, yeah. I actually saw this in a bookstore a few years ago for NINE BUCKS and passed it up. Worst game purchasing decision I've ever made, worse overall than buying Arkham Horror for WAY too much money.

Camelot Legends and Blue Moon: They're both pseudo-CCGs, with all the cards having special powers. Both look good, and Blue Moon wins points for being expandable with more decks.

Power Grid: I have brain damage for wanting this. I already own one Friedemann Friese title I can't get to the table (Fische Fluppen Frikadellen).

As I re-read this, I realized how happy I am with my current collection. Sure, it'd be nice to have more games, but I've got San Juan, which is enough.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Monday night Magic

I played two games of Magic with Tim, one of the guys from work, and followed it by teaching him Starbase Jeff, a fun little 2 to 4 player Cheapass Games creation. I won both games of Magic (he almost had me in both), and although we didn't finish the Starbase Jeff game, Tim enjoyed it quite a bit.

Lee and I also passed to Tim one of our loaner copies of Your Money Or Your Life. Tim just paid off his car and is about to start saving up for a house; Lee and I think everyone should read the book, hence our purchase of several used loaner copies.

I had a rough day at work, with my sore throat eventually making my totally hoarse by the end of the day.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Brick and mortar game store angst - Cash Flow problems

I stopped by the Houston Gamers last night (learned Maharajah and HellRail, both interesting-I'm jazzed up about HellRail). That's not what this post is about.

At my request, John, the FLGS owner, checked to see whether he had a copy of a Magic card I have been vaguely thinking about grabbing (Future Sight, if you must know). He has two, marked at $5.54 a pop. I had to think about it, and said so. The card costs less than $2 online, although I'd have to pay for shipping, etc.

One of the last few guys in the shop casually asked him if he had made up his mind on the lease, and if they were done negotiating with the landlord. He said he hadn't, for certain. However, if he decides against it, my FLGS will close by April 30.

Now, I'm in Houston, so if I want to fly the flag at a different store, there are a dozen. Some are too far away, some suck. This one is close, and is good.

However, not a year ago, John the FLGS owner was asked this question: There are 8 people in the room. We spend a total of $15,000 on games, every year, like clockwork. What kind of discount can you cut us? His answer: Nothin', flat out, discounting doesn't work. We buy sodas and snacks (okay, when people aren't bringing in their fast food drinks and burgers), and a few games every now and then.

I'd love to be able to help him out, but as the person present who contributed the least to that total (my yearly game budget's more like $100-200, except for now, when I am not buying games), I CAN'T just buy a bunch of his inventory at full retail.

My upcoming games party is drawing gamers away from his store for a day-in essence, I am definitely hurting his gross sales, because I want to have my own party. I can't get my other friends over to the Houston Gamers meetings, and we typically end up with four or five tables of gaming for a long time. Snacks and drinks -communally provided. The Yu-gi-Oh and D&D folks that are at the FLGS don't come to my party, so they're not cluttering up the place (they're mostly well-mannered and odor-free, but I'm not playing their games and they're not playing mine).

At the same time, I'd estimate that his inventory is 50% Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh, 15% boardgames, 20% Clix, and 15% comics. He's got longboxes of Magic cards, and full Magic booster boxes (at least 6, probably worth $150 or more retail). He mentioned about kids buying Yu-Gi-Oh packs at Wal-Mart, and then coming in to trade away cards. "Wait, you didn't buy it here, but you'll trade it here. No way, beat it!" He's removed his credit-card POS machine, because it was eating hundreds of dollars a month... $200 a month to have it, $.40 a transaction, $.40 a batch nightly, 3% of the take, if I remember correctly.

Mainly, I admire him for doing something he enjoys, and I appreciate that he's coming to terms with the numbers. Would the Houston Gamers be able to change those numbers enough to make it worthwhile? If we could find a way to make everyone happy, that'd be great.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

To think about for game day...

From Fortune magazine:

"Evidence that hard choices can overwhelm our better selves gushes forth wherever researchers look for it. Baba Shiv of the University of Iowa and Alexander Fedorikhin of the University of Southern California gave half of a test group a seven-digit number to memorize and the other half a two-digit number. The test subjects were then offered a choice between a slice of cake or a bowl of fruit. Of those memorizing the longer numbers, 59% chose the cake, compared with 37% of the two-digit crowd. The explanation: The prefrontal cortex was too busy memorizing the number to rein in the limbic system, which wanted the damn cake now. Another experiment, devised by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia and Mark Lepper of Stanford, involved setting up a table of fancy jams in front of a gourmet food store near the Stanford campus. When there were 30 varieties of jam on the table, only 3% of those who stopped to examine them actually bought any. When only six varieties were displayed, fully 30% bought jam. Too many choices made choice almost impossible. "

Every hardcore Houston Gamers member who shows up always brings a big plastic tub of games, usually with 12-20 games in it. I usually have a new person or two and having them sink or swim in a pile of games is not the best strategy for getting them back again and again.

Settlers of Catan drops from boardgamegeek top 10 status to #12

1. Puerto Rico
2. Tigris & Euphrates
3. Princes of Florence
4. El Grande
5. War of the Ring
6. Power Grid
7. Wallenstein
8. Twilight Imperium, 3rd edition.
9. Memoir 44
10. Age of Steam
11. Go
12. **Settlers of Catan**

Soo, what does it mean? Well, all these are niche games that reward multiple plays. Your grandma's not going to play War of the Ring. I have played over a hundred games of Puerto Rico, and quite a few games of Settlers. They're also well-produced (okay, you could play Go with a terrible home-made set, but practically everyone who plays goes out and buys nice stones and a handsome board).

I own #1-4 and Settlers, and the rest of the games, eeh. I'm not going to play them frequently enough to warrant a purchase. Plenty of the Houston Gamers have their own copies for me to play, if it comes to that.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Lego Star Wars Demo

As a kid, I had a lot of little Lego sets, and maybe 20 Star Wars action figures (I had the Anakin Skywalker promo figure, natch).

You can go get the demo at either by just clicking on a regular link, or via a Bittorrent link. As soon as I clicked on the link, my download rate surged crazily upward, then gradually receded (!) to the 80-100 Kb/second rate. Nice.

Notice here that 3dgamers isn't paying for most of the bandwidth. Individual Bittorrent users are serving bits of files to each other. Quite handily, judging from the download rate.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Breaking out is hard to do...

Someone in my department let me know she's going to quit tomorrow. She was headed back to grad school in the fall, and decided she was willing to leave early.

It'll be tough, at least in the short term, to find someone to fill her shoes.

(edited on March 18, 8 pm):

Okay, she's coming in Monday for her exit interview. Interesting to see if her departure will affect the way our department works.

Whooohoo, RSVP!

I have already gotten good responses from the Evites I sent out. (Note: I understand why people hate Evite. Nevertheless, since people don't RSVP unless I nag the crap out of them, I'll automate it. That's just good geekery.)

With Easter Sunday the day after the game party, I had been concerned I'd lose attendance. Not a problem, evidently.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sunday summary: Angst!

Spent a little time at Barnes & Noble today, browsing around. Man, they sure sell some mediocre boardgames (Cranium, Disney Chess, etc.). I goofed around online reading some finance blogs, and came across this article, which I printed out at work a while ago when it got linked over on the Fidelity website:

I talked with two buddies and exchanged email with another one. I failed to send the game party invitations. I applied for a credit card online to get a $50 signup bonus, making me a horrible person.

I threw away Space Hop. It's a crappy space-teaching game from the mid-eighties, and my beat-up, incomplete copy wasn't ever going to be saleable, tradeable, or playable. The space facts are out-of-date, and basically it's a roll-your-dice, move-your-mice affair. Next up: my copy of Mouse Trap.

At Washington Mutual, while getting some grocery cash, I got asked if I wanted a home equity loan. What's the proper response to that? "No, do you want sugar in your gas tank?" "No, I like my equity right where it is!" "No, they're morally wrong." There's a big sign telling me to spend my home equity on a vacation. That's wrong, and just bad. Bad for me, bad for them, bad for everyone.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Sold off some books at Half-price books

Made $13 by selling off horrible crap at half-price books. I looked them all up on first, and sorted out a pile of books worth $5 or more. Hopefully I'll list them tomorrow.

Okay, so go look at the top 200 books on shows by popularity.Now look again: showing the lowest-price books first, then showing the highest (mostly textbooks, and ahem, The Tao of Sexology).There's plenty of books that have dropped down to $.75, which is as little as any sane person would want to sell anything to anyone over the INTARwebs.

(Remember the theory of mental transactional cost, which says we'll buy a newspaper for fifty cents, but would rather skip paying a penny apiece online for fifty articles, because it HURTS YOUR BRAIN to have to think that much and figure out whether to spend your grimy fistful of electronic nickels.)However, there's also plenty of middle ground. I'm interested-my arbitrage senses are tingling. I'm not going to quit my job and become a merchant who has to haul between 600 and 800 books to the post office every week. I would, however, keep my day job and spend a weekend finding books for a buck a pop, and selling any number of them for $12 a pop, only shipping on Saturdays.

I first sold something online in 1998-I sold a promotional card from the Rage card game. You remember, it was the card game about werewolves that sucked (the game, not the werewolves). It, like every other collectible card game, plummeted in value. Fortunately, I got that card free at a convention, so my five bucks was PURE PROFIT.

To appease my inner 11-year-old, I bought a copy of Arkham Horror a long time ago, and sold it last year, at a loss, sort of. Having all that money tied up in a game I never played and had no adult interest in playing was awful. All I wanted to do was cash out, and hit the mortgage for as much damage as I could, which I did.

I've put some money into boardgames, and I'm happy about most of my collection right now (see for details). I feel like the majority of my collection is either good, or cheap, or both. A goodly percentage of my total collection's dollar value is in games I enjoy. I'm happy with that.

Likewise, even if a game sucks, if I paid $15 or more for it, I'm obliged now to try and sell it or trade it away, rather than just give it away. Yankee ingenuity will not let me toss it, no matter how much it sucks. I even sold Rat Splatter for actual coin(s) of the realm.

Sold another DVD at

Yay! 6 bucks, and now I get to drive to the post office.

Fortunately, the thrift store's close, so I can go scout out gently-used games.

Minus 50 Hitpoints?

I took a late lunch today and ended up at Gamestop. They had some Magic booster packs and theme decks. My buddy Tim and I split a box of Champions of Kamigawa boosters. I bought them on Ebay, then the bastards in Georgia who SOLD the product without having it in stock discovered it was backordered. They didn't bother to tell me this until I sent them two emails and then called them.

They only leave punitive feedback. Yeah. Think about that. They do SO much crappy business, their policy is to leave retribution feedback on anyone who rates them a negative seller.

Of course, I only paid $8 for shipping and handling. Here's what I got: Shipped four weeks after I paid via Paypal. Put into a box 3X the size, with 5 sheets of tissue paper. Shipped USPS, Parcel Post, no tracking, no delivery confirmation, for $2.58.

Once we got the cards, it was all cool, and I've enjoyed having Wednesday night sessions where I destroy him. I won twice last week, although I wouldn't have won either game if he had been more aggressive.

Friday, March 11, 2005

That won't work...

Oh, wait, the 26th is the day after Good Friday, and before Easter Sunday. Yeah, that's going to pull lots of people. Not only that, but I also will have to return the clubhouse key the next day. I've done worse.

Horrible Easter story I heard from a professor, way back when:
Professor randomly making phone calls on Easter Sunday [full of good cheer): He is risen! (expecting traditional response, "He is risen indeed")
Friend: What the F***! I've been up since 5 am! You son of a b****!

Okay, so I'm not cool on Cranium. What am I willing to play? Fluxx, Six Nimmt!, Coloretto, Wyatt Earp, San Juan, and Can't Stop.

I just checked our mortgage balance online: $45,621.98. Finishes out on July 1, 2017. An extra 128.10 next month would trim a month off the end. Aargh! Glad I'm living somewhere cheap, and not California or New York.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Woo-hoo, another board game party soon

I got an email back from the management company representative for our townhouse community, saying I can reserve it for March 26.

Sweet! Another all-day board game event featuring the Houston Gamers. On the list to get played: Aladdin's Dragons, Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, Medici, Ursuppe, and Hare & Tortoise.

Yeah, if I got any two of those five played, I would call it a success. The last few times, we've managed to get 5 tables of games going at once.

I still hate party games. I know, they could be a gateway game to something better and cooler; frequently, they're not. Evite has a Cranium party kit, which I guess is good, if you like the idea of Cranium.

Anyone need a copy of Dragon Warrior 1 or 4 for the Nintendo? Just the thought of selling this makes me older.

Photographic Evidence

Here's a link to photos of a recent Houston Gamers meeting:

Special features: couple of pics of Alexis and I, as well as a big Settlers of Catan cake.

One game pictured is Alexandros. I cannot stress how much I did not like playing Alexandros. I should put it on my resume, or tattoo it on my forehead.

'You look like a good fit here at X-Corp, especially since you hate Alexandros! When can you start?'

That'd be nice. Thought: What game opinions would be significant for employers to know? Is 'Likes Cranium' a requirement, or a must-pass?

Next time: Why I hate party games...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Games this weekend

Went to the Houston Gamers and learned "Ole," a card game with a sombrero and a cactus on each card. There are four colors (suits) and the cards are numbered from 1-11 (basically), showing their point value Top half of the card is sombrero, bottom is cactus. Points are bad, avoid them.

On your turn, you play a card that is either a "better" color, or higher number. If you do both, you immediately take another turn. If, on either your first or subsequent turn, you can not play, you take a chip worth 5 points from the table. Once someone runs out of cards, or everyone passes in succession, the hand ends.

The twist: At the beginning of each hand, one player (who took the most points last hand) chooses either cactus or sombrero. If they pick cactus, the rank of the colors is reversed.

I came in second. I'm not sure how much of that was clever play, and how much was luck.

There was also an elaborate cake with an entire Settlers of Catan layout in frosting on top. Nice.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Demo Followup

One of my demo sessions was great, one was painful on every level, and one was mediocre.

The great one felt right. Doing game demos is so much fun when it clicks; you play a game with someone, and maybe hand them a prize, too. If I could do that every weekend, I would.

The painful one was wrong on every level. I had two people show up, and two no-shows. What was wrong with those two girls who bothered to show up at my table? Were they druggies? Hung-over? Painfully sleep-deprived? Don't know. One of them had the sheer gall to wander away from my table for 45+ minutes. Yeah, I drove across town, and walked the length and breadth of a college campus to watch some chick's purse for an hour. If she had taken her crap with her, I could have semi-gracefully bailed.

The mediocre one was painful, too. When you KNOW that something can be good, but everyone's not really into the scene that day. I also had mini-drama at my table as a sleep-deprived LARPer argued with her mother over her cell phone. LARPers, like all humans, can be jerks. Many humans are jerks. Many humans are LARPers. I'm not saying anything on a grand scope, here. I know LARPers that are cool,

Seriously, it's my table. I'm a volunteer, I don't have to be there. Why would anyone pay good money to sit down and be a worthless sack of whiner for four hours?

The most heart-wrenching part of the painful game demo: It wasn't even 8:30 pm, before I realized the next four hours were going to be shitty, and all I wanted to do was go home, sleep in my own bed next to my wife, who would also be asleep, right across the hall from my baby, who would herself be asleep. Why was I there? What did I expect to gain? Conventions are for the young. Regardless of my age, I'm married with a kid, and that means I'm old.