Wednesday, November 29, 2006

13th time's a charm

I donated blood yesterday for the 13th time in the Gulf Coast region. Given that I had a few donations back in Iowa when in high school, that probably means I crossed the 2-gallon mark a few donations ago.

On paper, though, I'm just at 13. It'll be interesting to see where my cholesterol levels end up.

Other than that, I also just bought an SSL certificate for the first time, and configured IIS for Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition. Yay, nerdery! The new job has been good for breaking me out of the rut I was in at the old job.

It feels good to go back to being a beginner, and prove myself competent all over again.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Day After Thanksgiving Gaming - Also, those role-players sucked

Friday, Lee and I took the girls over to her sister's house to hang out with Lynn, her husband Craig, and their daughters Abigail and Trinity. N.B. - Trinity is not named after that chick from The Matrix and assorted sequelae.

My cousin Beth brought some wine, Lee brought the turkey dinner, and Lynn/Craig/Abby/Trin-Trin provided the house. I fried up a lot of sweet potato chips and brought the gamers. R.J. arrived first, and he, Lee, Beth, and I played Blue Moon City. Kevin Nunn also made it, as his wife was out of town over the long weekend.

Anyway, I played Blue Moon, the card game, against R.J., destroyelating him, and then again against Kevin, who crushinated me. Kevin's a heck of a Blue Moon player.

Kevin got out Desert Bazaar and taught it to us, which was much appreciated. They headed out for Tri-Games for more gaming.

After we got home and got the kids to bed, etc., I also drove out to Tri-Games and discovered Kevin and R.J. once again dueling at Blue Moon.

I said I wanted to learn something new, so Kevin reached into his bag of stuff and got out a cute little game called Ice Cream. It's adorable - each player is trying to serve as much ice cream as possible over the course of four days. We talked about Scream Machine, which is another small-box card game about building roller-coasters, and compared the two.

Did we play something else after that? I forget*. There were tons of role-players doing some sort of good-vs.-evil showdown with D&D Miniatures, with much hootin' and hollerin'. Now, I've played some RPGs in my time, and here's my opinion:

1. RPGs are an inexpensive form of play-therapy, nobly circulated for little profit and much anguish among among the unwashed, the sad, the pathetic, the woeful, and the socially-inept. Role-playing games invite players to understand the motivations of fictionalized versions of themselves, and more importantly, allow an exploration of the consequences of actions in a larger framework that is less punitive than the real world.

2. RPGs inspire creativity, which is not entirely bad if the results of said creativity are never shown to anyone else, ever. The Penny Arcade guys have a great couple of essays up about their visits to 5th-grade classrooms and how giving the kids open license with their old comics and blanked-out word balloons produced word-for-word tracings, then substitutions of new words for the old ones, and gradually matured into awesome, unique creations. Are the products of most RPG-inspired creativity insipid? Perhaps... but they're steps that must be taken to progress toward the GOOD stuff. The PA guys have a saying elsewhere that haunts me more than I usually admit. It goes something like,"There are ten thousand bad drawings in your hands in front of the good drawings deeper in, so you'd better start drawing now to get rid of the bad ones as soon as you can."

3. RPGs are a highly-stylized art form, like shotgun paintings, interpretive dance, any film of feature length with no dialogue or text, and modern comic books. If you're an enthusiast, you should limit your conversations about your milieu to no more than 90 seconds with non-enthusiasts. Also, no one wants to hear about your D&D character. No one, ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. Ever. Not even people with other D&D characters of their own. Watch people's faces when you talk to them.

4. Often, the anger we express towards others is anger we feel at ourselves, for whatever reason. For instance, I'm mad at myself for not yelling at the dumb, pathetic teenager who was yelling "Awwwyeah DRACOLICH GONNA OWN YOU!" and related stuff, disrupting the enjoyment of the 20+ people in the store. I should have at least shouted what Randal says sideways at Jay in the original Clerks movie, as Jay was interjecting unwanted kibitzing. I should also add here that this is the same dumb, sad pathetic dork that I've been irritated by on two previous occasions. He's also a card-bender. Again, I'm expressing misdirected anger that I feel toward both of us for not living in Canada, where he could be given anti-outburst medication at the state's expense, eh?

5. The Little Red-Haired Girl might play Vampire with you, Chuck, you sly dog, you. Again, the highly-stylized framework of interaction allows the socially-inept gamer to communicate with the opposite sex. The framework limits most forms of extra-game chatting, making it possible for even the most troglodytic gamer to chat with the female womens. Again, it's talking about basically nothing - except instead of the weather or sports, gamers are talking about powers and spells and werebears.

Anyway, the forces of Good were beaten down by the forces of Not-Quite-As-Good, due to a dual-classed werebear or something; I was deliberately trying to hear as little as possible. I was also trying to decide which of the Blue Moon extra decks I was going to buy for a mere $7, well below MSRP. Yeah, my local FLGS stocks them all, and was running a sale on them.

I picked the Aqua deck. I'll let you know how it goes, Internet.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 184, New game titles played for the year = 38.

* Ohhh, yeah, internet! We also played Havoc, the Hundred Years War. It's really a 6-suited poker variant, sorta. Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

That's a long cat

Some days, you need a weird picture of a cat, just to get by.

In other news, I'm at the following numbers:

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 176, New game titles played for the year = 36.

Notice here that I'm only getting in about one game every other day, and am only doing slightly better at learning a game a week this year. Huh. I'm not going to get in almost 200 games in the next 40-odd days. I might learn 16 more games in that time, though, if I get crackin' on it.

Larry and I were talking about gaming statistics at lunch today, and that's got me ruminating on what I'll track next year. Games played and games learned, yes. What else?

Oh, and I'm scheduled to donate blood on Tuesday morning. You know, they've got lots of plasma donors and not enough blood donors, because they PAY for plasma donations. I'm just saying, is all.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Houston Gamers: prototype of Kevin Nunn's Royal Stables

I went to the Houston Gamers last night. It was a cold, clear night, and the drive up to Enigma's passed quickly.

There were three tables going when I got there, along with a little miniatures game set up on the counter that Will, the owner, was playing with someone. The two Dougs, Tim, and a couple of the other folks had just started Power Grid. A 4-player game of Tigris & Euphrates was winding down slowly, as everyone groused about bad tile draws. Finally, Kevin Nunn, Michael Denman, and Jennifer Curry were playing Desert Bazaar.

I watched things progress, and could tell that Desert Bazaar was going to wrap up first. I perused the sale table, and ended up grabbing 3 games at 50% off: Nobody But Us Chickens, Big Top, and Flowers & Fluxx. The first two were designed by Houston Gamers, and although I've given the games as gifts, I never managed to add them to my collection.

After Desert Bazaar wrapped up, I joined the group and got to play one of Kevin Nunn's prototypes with Michael Denman, Jennifer Curry, a new guy named Rick, and Kevin himself.

It was Rick's first time there, and it was neat to talk to him. He is an air-traffic controller who lives in Spring, and has some Euro-gaming experience, mainly with Puerto Rico. Michael joked, "S'weird because you're not a teacher, computer person, or accountant."

Kevin's prototype: Royal Stables
The prototype is tentatively titled Royal Stables, and centers around a king's desire to have lots of magical animals in his collection. It's a short game, maybe 30 minutes. There's some luck, but the majority of the game centers around tough, skill-based decisions that revolve around cash management. The king's a fickle, fickle punk, and keeps revealing more wants, which makes it tempting to sell off animals, but selling off an animal for cash means you don't get points for it. On the other hand, animals the king doesn't want very much score negative points! The scoring mechanism makes it a tight game - just because you have the most of a good animal doesn't guarantee victory.

Overall, Royal Stables as-is would be a good fit for my current gaming group, and I hope I play again soon.

I also chatted with Kevin about his plans for Nobody But Us Chickens, which is now out of print in the US. The German edition continues to sell well, and the current plan is to wait for that to sell through, then reprint both language versions at the same time, possibly with a deluxe edition including new cards and a deck-building variant.

He also talked about his experiences as a mid-list game designer. He's at the point where publishers are open to talking to him, but he's not so famous that he can write his own ticket. His next game to be published soon, Zhong Shi, is likely to boost his reputation further. Since I've seen some of his other prototypes, I suspect Kevin's got enough good, polished games that after he gets a hit, he can get at least a game a year out after that, for 5 years, minimum.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 176, New game titles played for the year = 36.

I signed up for OwlCon

I signed up to run games at OwlCon, the Rice University gaming convention in early February. I've gone as a participant a couple times, once as a coordinator (I'll do that again... once I don't work for a living), but mostly I've run Cheapass Games demos there.

This year, I sent in 2 Cheapass Games event slots, and one Power Grid slot, all for Saturday. The con starts Friday afternoon, runs all day Saturday, and goes into Sunday afternoon. There are overnight events on both nights, and lots of gamers end up working Friday, then rushing to Rice and being awake for another 3 days straight, crashing about 4 p.m. By running games Saturday instead of Sunday, I avoid most of the sleep-deprived people.

The slots are four hours each, with a one-hour break in between. I'll game from 10-2, 3-7, and 8-midnight. This is sorta bleah, because I'm an old fart in my thirties, and it's tough to stay energized that long.

I got a quick note from Andy Solberg, head honcho of the con, letting me know they've already got a Power Grid event, and he'd love to have me run stuff, just not a second Power Grid slot. This is fine, and I appreciate his candor. Now I gotta figure out, "What do I like enough to run?"

The problem is the part where I'd like to keep 5 or 6 players busy...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Love for a black dinosaur

If you ask Alexis what kind of animal she is, she says, "A dinosaur!"

If you ask her what kind of dinosaur, Alex laughs and says, "Black!"

That's what parenting is all about.

PS Alex says Cori is a black lion. Lee and I are also black dinosaurs.

I don't know what it means, but it's awesome.

Thursday night: Tim gets feedback

Chris, Tim, and R.J. made it over.

Lee, Tim, and I played half a game of San Juan while waiting for Chris and R.J., and when Chris arrived, Lee took Alex upstairs to put her to bed. Chris finished out the game, and won by a point (final scores 26-25-22). R.J. got here just in time to watch us count.

After that, Tim brought out a pack of re-written event cards, changed based on our playtest of his initial prototype of a cyberpunk game modeled around a Johnny Mnemonic-type scenario. Tim had only seen the movie, and I loaned him an Omni anthology with the original William Gibson short story version of Johnny Mnemonic in it.

Tim took notes as R.J. and I listed off different ideas we had. Chris waited patiently during this, since he had missed the original playtest session, and helped provide more hardcore gamer knowledge.

What are some elements of a good game?
  • Isn't too long
  • Length isn't crazily variable
  • Offers multiple paths to victory
  • Has compelling theme
  • Has meaningful choices
  • Has risk mitigation - players can be risky or play it safe
  • Offers player interaction
  • Rewards are somewhat variable
  • Value of rewards are not able to be exactly matched to risks
  • More cowbell
Tim's already got a good theme, and I'm fascinated by the way he's picking out and developing the ideas and comments we have. Cool stuff, even if we keep listing games he "ought to play." Tim endured about 87,000 such comments, mostly centered around Merchant of Venus, a sci-fi pick-up-and-deliver game that's not much like Tim's game at all, in the final analysis.

We then played Ark, which was universally agreed to be more complicated than they expected. I think we're going to figure out a beginner version or starter rules, or something.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 175, New game titles played for the year = 35.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blue Moon City - Reiner Knizia spins off a near-hit

Sunday I dropped off Lee and the girls at church and headed over to Larry's place for a quick game of Blue Moon City. We broke the shrinkwrap off and punched all the pieces. Since this is a Rio Grande game, every piece popped out of the sprues with no effort at all. I like that in a game that retails for $40.

Blue Moon City is a 2-4 player boardgame that's spun off from the Blue Moon card game (Reiner Knizia's Blue Moon, by Reiner Knizia). With over 200 games under his belt, the German mathematician has cranked out another decent game.

The board is made up of 3" cardboard squares, each showing the plans for a building in the fantastic ruined city on the world of Blue Moon. Each is tied to a particular race, which coincidentally has a deck of cards assigned to it in the card game. See how this works? One game is an ad for the other!

On your turn, you can either play cards from the different races (basically suits) for the special power on the card, or as building materials to fix up a building.

Beyond the lush production values and most of the good-to-great art, the two games can be described as "mainly hand management." The end result, much like the card game, is a game that leaves me scratching my head. It's fun so far. It feels like you're doing something. In the end, though, is luck too much of a deciding factor?

I've also heard complaints from several opponents that "the score at the end of the game is too close." Ultimately, Blue Moon City is a racing game disguised as a building game, much like Fische Fluppen Frikadellen is a racing game disguised as a pick-up-and-deliver market game.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 173, New game titles played for the year = 35.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Welcome to the present day

Okay, so there was a party at Larry's about 2 weeks ago, involving Transamerica, Fluxx, Apples To Apples, and Blue Moon(x2). That's 5 game sessions with no totally-new-for-me games.

There was a night of boardgaming here at the house, involving much wine and taboulli. Shear Panic got played, but not by me, and I led a rousing half a game of The Big Cheese. I called it short as two people's heads almost hit the table from sheer weariness/overindulgence. As the herd left, Todd C. sheepishly asked, "Uh, so I got here too late for games, I guess?" So we played Blue Moon, and I won. That's 2 game sessions, nothing new.

At the Order Of the Stick release party at Tri-Games, I talked a lot with Kevin Brusky, designer of the Order of the Stick game. He's thrilled and exhausted, and is hard at work on a new license, the identity of which I can't disclose, except to say it holds a lot of promise in Kevin's hands. So, yeah, could be anything. I also got to play Blue Moon City with Amy Pike and Debra Joyner. Joy, the owner, also taught me how to play Terra Nova, since she had played once and wanted to try it some more. That's 2 game sessions, and one totally-new-to-me game.

Tonight, we got in a lot of games: Loco and Fairy Tale with Beth, RJ, Tim, and Larry, then Tim had to go, so RJ and I played Blue Moon as Beth and Larry snuck a smoke. When they returned, we opened my new copy of Ark and played that. It's a head-scratcher, deceptively tough to explain and play well. Three sessions, with 2 totally-new-to-me games.

Final Tally:
Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 172, New game titles played for the year = 35.

Notice here that I'm down to fewer than 60 days to play almost 200 game sessions and learn 17 new ones, to meet the goal of averaging one game session a day, and learning one new game a week. I do have a few sitting around unplayed ever, but they're all weird niche games that are particularly bad for game nights.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hiatus (not mine)

The guys who write and draw "A Lesson Is Learned, But The Damage Is Irreversible" are on hiatus, but have been sketching and playing around in Flash.

Normally, I hate Flash like I hate getting Tabasco in my open wounds, but this little Flash thing of an adorable puppy is irresistable. It's also tiny, and takes no time at all to load.

Other than that, tonight, I replaced the leaking faucet assembly in the kitchen. It only took about 2 hours and one beer. Good thing I was almost out of beer. If I had done things in a slightly different order, it would have taken much less time.

I'm still not willing to do any freelance plumbing. The plumber's putty I got was easy to use, and the whole thing ended up looking and feeling professional.

We'll see if I change my tune if it leaks tomorrow. My hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders are so sore that everything is cramping.

Oh, plus we had a kick-ass board game party on Thursday, and that's all I'm going to say for now.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Track it online!

A tip: it's worth getting a Gmail account just to forward stuff you might need later, such as maps to anywhere you're going, schedules you don't want to lose, etc.

I have a package coming via UPS. It is set to arrive Friday. Fortunately, my mom is in town while my wife is out of town at a Bradley training conference in Dallas.