Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My weekend: stretch your limits/achieve your secret society goals

Instead of going to a board game party, we went to La Grange and attended my nephew's birthday party. Ow, I think something inside me is broken.

I owned a copy of the West End Games RPG Paranoia back in the early 1990s. It was mostly theme-driven: All the player characters are "Troubleshooters" who live in a giant underground complex administrated by an all-seeing computer. Also, the computer is crazy, and fears attacks from external Commie Mutant Traitors who belong to Secret Societies.

All the player characters belong to a random Secret Society and have a secret mutant power- the instant they display either attribute, they'll get executed by the computer. I don't think I got in more than a single session of Paranoia, but the idea that any secondary priorities are "secret society goals" still has a certain appeal.

So, I went to my nephew's birthday party. In and of itself, this didn't fulfill my (hypothetical) secret society goals.

Stuff I did this weekend that fulfilled my secret society goals: I went to a thrift store, bought a gift for ANOTHER board game party next weekend, made hummus from quasi-scratch, and tuned up my father-in-law's computers.

Oh, yeah. I also taught my wife how to play Jambo. Gamecount=16.

Friday, January 27, 2006

320 gig hard drive for $120; how much storage is excessive?

I don't need this giant hard drive. I have about 80 gig used and 60 gig free on my current hard drive.

My buddy Larry
's been singing the praises of NAS. Basically, you have over a terabyte of space in the form of multiple giant hard drives in RAID array to protect against data loss, and accessible via ftp. He reports it is cosmically awesome and has changed his life for the better. Larry travels a whole lot, so having access to all his files in his hotel-du-jour is totally sweet. It was only a few hundred bucks and is a comprehensive backup solution for his tricked-out rig full of video editing software as well. He's rapidly approaching the "Celestial Jukebox" point.

Is this excessive? Not for Larry. He actively researches his machines' abilities and implements them. His MythTV setup is basically TiVo for free, etc.

My definition of excessive is already stretched. I carry defrag utilities on my USB drive and have successfully burned and used a Knoppix CD for actual data recovery.

The very first guy I knew who burned CDs back in 1994 was a badass. The second guy I knew who burned CDs in 1995 was obsessively collecting mp3 files, more than any sane person would ever need, ever, ever, ever.

Technology's only as good as the legitimate benefits it brings.

Heroscape at Wal-Mart, cheap

Background: Two feet long and weighing almost 6 pounds, Heroscape is a Hasbro strategy game with a ton of pre-painted miniatures and snap-together plastic hexes. It is clearly a cash cow for Hasbro, and is currently being supported with ongoing expansion sets of more figures and terrain.

A nearby Wal-Mart is blowing out of their stock of Wal-Mart Exclusive Heroscape sets at $15.00 each in the Christmas remainders, while keeping the regular Heroscape sets on the shelf at $39.99. Bear in mind, the Wal-Mart set actually has a few extra figures inside.

I am debating picking up one or more of them. I passed up the Amazon 2-for-1 sale on Heroscape back when it was an insanely hot toy.

The sets are going for around $25 on Ebay right now; given Ebay listing fees and PayPal fees, I wouldn't make enough on the deal to consider it.

Checked my credit report

Now that you can check your credit report for free once a year (see the FTC's official site for details), I decided to go for it.

Internetland, I have perfect freakin' credit. My old car loan and student loans show up correctly as paid off, and I didn't see any zombie credit cards lurking around.

The only odd things I saw: One of my credit cards is pulling my history every month, presumably to see if I'm about to become a deadbeat; Equifax doesn't know who my current employer is, after 4 years there; the 3 sites had different levels of challenge to get access to the credit reports.

I mean, I know my zip code from where I used to live, no problem. I don't know my old car loan account number. Geez.

Monday evening games

Uh, when I said I had a plan, getting some kind of stomach bug that's kept me out of work for 3 days wasn't it.

Lee and I played Travel Blokus and San Juan on Monday evening (Gamecount=15), and I woke up about 4 am with stomach cramps. I slept almost all of Tuesday, went to the doctor on Wednesday, and then slept most of Thursday. Bleah.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Giveblood.org gives me a clean bill of health.

After donating blood on Friday, I finally made it back to the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Donor website and logged in to check my cholesterol. It was a healthy 149. My blood pressure was 122/88, and my pulse was 76. The American Heart Association says my blood pressure puts me into the Pre-Hypertensive category. Thanks, AHA!

I also realized that I've been out of the blood donation loop for years. As in, I haven't given blood since the girls were born. As in, I haven't given blood since we moved into this house.

Donating gets you points that can be traded in at the donor store. Critical blood-shortage days give double or triple points. The week of Saint Patrick's Day are double points days. The days before and after Memorial Day, and the entire Thanksgiving weekend, are triple points days. I gotta admit, the insulated travel mug for 550 points looks like a sweet deal. At the top of the list, there's a sweet MP3 player that's a mere 1400 points, which my math seems to indicate could be mine in just over a year if I donate as often as possible.

Whoo, saving lives is cool, and I'm glad I got back into it.

Houston Gamers wrap-up: First trip in a while

Yesterday, I went up to Enigma's off of Hwy 249 on Spring-Cypress. Several of the influential Houston Gamers are big fans, partially because it's blocks away from their houses, also because the owner, Will, is a great guy who's given the boardgamers a lot of consideration.

The owner's adjusted his store's layout to conserve on rent, but it's still got plenty of room. There were about 20 people there when I showed up around 9 pm; including a lot of my favorite folks; Tim, R.J., Kevin Nunn, James, Lewis, Amy P.

I played Tsuro for the first time; it's a tile-placement game where you're trying to force other players off the board while staying alive yourself. It is a beautiful game, and supports up to 8 players. There's a strong hand-management aspect: only 35 cards are available, and as they're laid on the board, options get smaller and smaller. When someone dies, their cards get redistributed, so there's a definite advantage in vicious play.

Will rounded up a few people's orders for a great Chinese place not far away; I held off but regretted it once I saw how much food people were getting for a mere $4 or less. I tried not to drool over Jean's shrimp spring rolls, which were a mere buck a pop. I will definitely check that place out sometime.

I played Attika with Tim, Amy, and Laurence. There are two ways to win Attika: either connect two shrines on the board with an unbroken chain of your buildings, or put all 30 of your buildings on the board. I've played this a couple of times before. There are tons of difficult choices. The other times I played, someone made an error in play, allowing someone else to get a surprise win. This time, we had a lot of satisfying back-and-forth. I ended up winning the game and also feeling like I had earned the win.

I played James' prototype "Rocket Jockeys" for the first time. It was interesting as a filler. James has a trick-taking game about the stock market that he's shopping to a major German company. It was getting late, so I couldn't offer much in the way of coherent advice.

Other than that, I also talked shop with Kevin Nunn about his new Ice Heist game (I playtested it back when the working title was Hollywood Diamond Club). Evidently, Will, the owner of Enigma's, is backing Ice Heist to be published under Kevin Brusky's A.P.E. Games logo.

I'll see most of the Houston Gamers next in February when I go to run some games at OwlCon. Kevin Nunn is acting as Gaming Coordinator, Amy Pike is running some Days of Wonder demo slots, James is running a Magic tournament, etc.

That brings my Gamecount for the year to a mighty 13, and my games played for the first time to a mighty 3. The astute among you will notice that I'm already behind on my goals. Rest assured, I am working on it.

GameCount 2006: Wednesday Night Magic

(Catch-up posts due to Alex being sick...)

Tim came over and played Magic. He has been building new decks, and I have been tuning a single deck. It's about at the point where I like decks to be: varied enough to be a different experience, tuned enough to be a challenge to Tim. Gamecount=10.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Donated blood

Blood donation is even more high-tech than the last time I went.

There's a small donation bag hooked to the large donation bag now. It used to be that after the regular bag was full, the tech would fill four sample vials used to test for the signs of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Also, the interview process involved more Microsoft Access databases than I remember.

I get 100 donation points, I think. There's a reward system now where the more you donate, the more points you earn, giving you access to additional donor levels, blah blah insert Dungeons and Dragons joke about levels here. Anyway...

They gave me a calendar where some days are worth double or triple points, such as the Memorial Day weekend and the week of Thanksgiving when need is highest.

I also got an attractive long-sleeved grey t-shirt that is affiliated with KSBJ, a Houston radio station that loves Jesus a lot. Lee said the t-shirt is the one she wanted me to get last year, but I was sick/tired/lazy through the season and missed my chance.

So, woo, free shirt for Lee, free calendar, free juice and cookies, free cholesterol check (results available in a day or two once they determine the butter content of my samples), lives saved. My goal for the year was 4 donations, and this was a good start.

I'm eligible again on 3/14/06.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sunday night status update

  • Still working on getting a game packed to send to a fellow geek.
  • Visited the Gulf Coast Blood Center website, verified they need my blood. Duh, they're down to a day in almost everything, shown via a cute little graphic. I searched by zipcode and I have NO excuse not to get my veins down the street tomorrow night.
  • Packed my box cutter to remove my old Texas registration sticker. My new sticker has a second sticker with it. I don't know what to do with it exactly.
  • We have successfully assembled and used our Selectcomfort mattress. We went with king size, not the Cali King, which is 4 inches of bed extra. The bed is stellar, truly awesome, and much needed.

The weekend's events, in brief:
  • Friday's parents' night out.
  • Saw Steph and Alan's baby. She's a cutie and has way more hair than Cori does.
  • Didn't help Larry move. He was totally packed and evidently moved everything in record time with lots of help.
  • Went to Half-Price Books and didn't buy anything. This is the second time this week it happened, and I don't know what to think.
  • Read most of "The Child That Books Built," and it hit me hard. Rough summary, "An English guy talks about growing up reading everything." A $1 Half-Price Books clearance purchase; definitely glad I picked it up.
  • Read most of a Suze Orman book, written prior to the dot-com crash. On one hand, it's got some good ideas. On the other, it has some flaky new-agey stuff. Also, her teeth are way shinier than any normal person's teeth, and her physical person frightens me.
  • This post, way later than usual.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Weekend Catch-up Post: Friday Parents' Night Out

Lee and I dropped off the kids up at Houston's First Baptist Church at the parents' night out. Lee had mentioned the salmon at Chili's, so we went there. The waitress was young and mediocre.

Errors in waitstaffing:

1. My wife is not a guy. Ergo, addressing the two of us as "You guys," not once, but repeatedly, is not actually correct.
2. Our water glasses got empty and stayed empty.

I dunno, I like it better when I eat/shop where people like their jobs and are good at them, such as the Collina's Italian Restaurant down on Richmond. Having a 30-something flamer career waiter rules. Having a 20-something sullen tattooed waiter of either gender sucks.

After that, we went back to the church and sat in the gigantic, empty lobby (probably has some frou-frou architectural term, but that is invalidated by the presence of lots of sub-structures attached to the main church).

We played two games of Ticket To Ride,Alan R. Moon's big Game Of The Year in 2004. Gamecount = 9, excellent... Lee and I agreed that the 2-player games feel more cut-throat than the 4- and 5-player games we've done. Partially, this is due to a rule change about routes. Mostly, it's due to the attention you pay to the other player. Can you afford to block them? Can you afford NOT to block them?

Good stuff.

Weekend Catch-up Post: Wednesday Off - Alexis Goes to a Pet Store

I took Wednesday off. Mom, Dad, and I took Alexis to Petsmart for a first trip to a pet store. As she is only 20 months old, she still doesn't understand the concept of stores.

She enjoyed the birds, guinea pigs, and fish. She signed for "more" and said "Mo fish." I was particularly taken by the ghost shrimp, who are available for a mere 30 cents apiece, but resisted temptation.

She was thrilled by the chinchilla and tried to get the glass walls open to get in after him/her.

There were two cats up for adoption who both did their best to be cute for us.

A teenage girl with an inquisitive beagle brought her dog past Alexis. We had Alex say hello, and Alex pulled up her shirt to show off her belly. Without a moment of hesitation, the beagle leaned forward and licked her belly button, which Alex thought was hilarious.

The beagle was full-size and probably had 10 pounds advantage on Alex, so I hovered a little. Alex was cautious but didn't retreat from the dog.

After that, we dropped her off at day care and went to El Gallo, a Mexican restaurant right down the street from my house. I've lived there four years and never been there; that will change. We fed three people for under $20. With a coupon from a Kroger receipt, the total bill was closer to $6 a person, tip included.

Lunch concluded, it was off to the George "Not The One Who Tortures People" Bush International airport.

Once I was on my own, I returned my library books, a mere day late, and that was it.

Lee and I cleaned up the house a little, in preparation for the arrival of a new bed.

Weekend Catch-up Post: Tuesday games

Lee, Mom, Dad, and I all played Can't Stop and Gold Digger (Reiner Knizia's Gold Digger, by Reiner Knizia, ha ha). Gamecount=7

We had been intending to play more Ticket To Ride, but it just got too late, i.e. 9:20 p.m. or so. I think Dad ended up winning both games. They're both fillers.

I think part of my exhaustion was coming from my association of Can't Stop as an end-of-evening closing game. "Okay, I rolled two 4's, a 5, and a 6. That means I have an 8 and an 11 or Zzzz.... " SFX: HEAD HITS TABLE, SNORING NOISES CONTINUE.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ticket To Ride Monday

After an exciting day at work, I came home and had dinner with my cousin Beth, the girls, Lee, and my parents.

After putting the kids to bed, the adults (minus Lee) played Ticket To Ride (Gamecount = 5). It won the Game of the Year in 2004, and spawned a tiny expansion pack, another sequel, and a second sequel on the way.

I traded off some games to get my copy, and have only played 3 or 4 times, including tonight. Beth absolutely destroyed us. If I remember right, she's undefeated at Ticket To Ride. Mom and I's scores were only a point different, and Dad was trailing the pack, dragged down by a mid-game draw of a set of bad tickets.

The sequel includes trickier rules; we haven't gotten enough plays of the original yet. At my current rate, I should be ready to buy Ticket To Ride: Europe right when the house is paid off, whenever down the line that will be.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The weekend's Gamecount

Friday night, Lee and I played Wyatt Earp, a fast card game that's basically a rummy variant. Usually it plays out in 3 or 4 hands. Our game ended after 2 unbalanced hands. We would have played again, and decided to call it a night. (Gamecount: 3)

Saturday I picked up my parents at the airport and brought them back to Casa De Los Boardgames. I found them a motel not far from us that ended up being much cheaper and nicer than I expected. Lee and I gave them a brief explanation of the kiddos' schedule, and left.

We swung by Collina's Italian Restaurant and picked up 3 calzones to go, as dinner at Larry's apartment. He bought his first big plastic tub for hauling games around. Most of the games were ones he learned with me, and he has a first-rate collection in there.

After eating the calzones, we launched into another game of Caylus. Larry didn't hold back, and freakin' slaughtered us. Even with no kids around, it was still about a 3 hour game. We understand all the mechanics now. Caylus is a gamer's game, with LOTS of little ways for players to mess with each other. James S. over at the Houston Gamers would describe it as "having a high screwage factor," which is dead on. (Gamecount =4)

After two plays, I am coming to the opinion that Caylus is a great game that is too long. It also isn't necessarily MY game.

We twisted Larry's arm and he loaned us a ton of DVDs. As a film buff, he's got a ton of arty movies, and as a single guy, he's got the disposable income to pick up totally sweet boxed sets. He is moving farther south and east, so we'll have to throw more games parties to get him back on our side of town sometime.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

It's official: I'm an OwlCon gamemaster again this year

Here I am. Lots of my good friends from the Houston Gamers group are also demonstrating various games.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Houston Earthlink/Time Warner website still sucks, again.

The automatic bill pay we set up last month failed to work. Of course, we got no email saying that had failed to occur. No late fee applies, fortunately.

Also, if you send them an email concerning anything, you get an emailed response that advises you to call them, instead of handling the problem.

Seriously, I want to give Time Warner forty-odd bucks a month. Why is this hard? My mortgage, credit card, cell phone, power company, and insurance company all managed to make usable websites.

It's a media company. How is it possible to be SO incompetent?

GameCount 2006: Wednesday Night Magic

Tim came over and we played Magic. This wasn't a mind-expanding experience, and it wasn't supposed to be. It's low-key fun.

Games played today: Magic (x1). Technically this is three games, but eeh, same activity.

Games played total: 2. It's day 4, so I'm behind two games.

I still owe for the year: playing 353 and learning 51.

Monday, January 02, 2006

GameCount 2006 begins with a tough one: Caylus

Today's games played: Caylus (x1). This is a new game for me.

I have 364 games to play and 363 days to play 'em in. Bah, behind already.

I have 51 games to learn and 363 days to learn 'em in. Excellent, ahead already.

Where do I start? Caylus is the hot new designer boardgame. I can see why. It's got considerable depth, lots of replayability, resistance to scripted openings, and is pretty. There's a number of threads devoted to it on Boardgamegeek right now. My favorite is this one, full of non sequiturs. For a few years, Puerto Rico has been #1 over at Boardgamegeek; now many geeks like Caylus better. I have played Puerto Rico upwards of a hundred times, and taught it to no fewer than a dozen people. When the 'geek says a game is great, it's at least good enough to try once.

So when Larry called and said he got Caylus for Christmas, I told him to bring it over.

Lordy. Each player is a bad-ass artisan attempting to get the most prestige by making a really nice castle for Philip the Fair. In actual practice, it means managing money to put your flunkies on little buildings, all in a row. Since the buildings are small, only one flunky can be in each one. After arranging all the flunkies, each building triggers in order. This is all laid out on a sumptuous gameboard and thick cardboard building counters. The money, unfortunately, is slippery little plastic disks suitable for Tiddly-Winks. We shot one under the edge of the board and had to lift it to retrieve the errant coinage.

As there are a huge stack of buildings requiring different combinations of goods, no game includes them all, and no game will see them built in the same order. Blah blah, need for money, commodities, opportunities to build, and victory points must be evaluated endlessly. Very clever, indeed. I can see why the geeks are impressed.

Larry came over and we started right at noon, having just put Alex down for her nap. Larry had only played once himself, and did a great job of teaching Lee and I how to play. Alex then woke up an hour later, instead of the two or three hours we usually get. Given our inexperience, I was figuring we'd finish in about 3 hours. As it developed, it took 6 hours due to frequent Alex breaks. We finally powered through the end, and Larry finished up ahead, probably due to our failure to rein him in on using a couple of certain buildings.

So, what do I think? Well, too soon to tell. Lee and I are arranging another game with Larry in the near future, which is positive.

Since money is constantly expended to place flunkies, there's a certain amount of 'running in place' that players must do. If they fall behind in cash, it's hard to place flunkies to GET cash, either. Victory points come from all over the place, and it's a constant balancing act between generating easy points versus making money, building needed structures, etc. etc. Tough decisions abound.

Caylus also reminds me of Goa, another game with advancement tracks (oh, yeah, Caylus has advancement tracks...) that clocks in at 2.5 to 3.5 hours. At first glance, any option seems as good as any other. It requires a lot of work to figure out what you can do to get ahead. As the tagline from Goa says: "Will you make your ships more efficient? Enhance your plantations? Recruit more colonists?" Aaaargh. Puerto Rico didn't make me work this hard. Caylus has perfect information, so the analysis-paralysis crowd is going to DIE as soon as the opening set-up is randomly determined.

I'm going to make the wild guess that it's an 8 out of 10 for me. It's good, sure. But even counting today's freakish session, I figure we'll get 3-player games trimmed down only to the 2 hour mark. Adding a new player means adding an extra hour or more to their first game. It's long enough that unless you've got all day, there's no way to play a learning game, then play a second. I'll never be able to get my parents or Lee's parents to slog through the explanation, let alone grind through 3+ hours of the first game.

My bottom line: Like Goa, Caylus is too long for me to get to the table regularly, so unless my situation changes, I won't buy it. I'll still try and get in on games when I make it out to the Houston Gamers, though.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New year's resolutions, also, my problem with holidays

I don't like holidays. This should come as no surprise to my friends and family, but hey, I do like blogging. My new year's resolutions:

1. I am going to participate in my workplace's informal weight-loss contest, and lose weight in the next three months. I am doing this partially because I am vain, but mostly because my knees hurt all the time now, and they didn't used to, 15 pounds ago.

2. I am going to repeat my 2003 experiment of recording all games played on my blog, and playing a game a day. This decision was a fantastic motivator last time. Since Lee and I have a number of card games we already enjoy, this should be easy.

3. I am going to give blood at least 4 times in 2006.

4. I am going to play 52 games I haven't played before.

5. I am going to save my money and not buy any games until I've either played or traded away all the unplayed games at my house. I also am not going to buy any games until I've played them at least twice. I will also update my owned-but-unplayed lists as changes occur.

That's all for now.