Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Kid Pictures: Alexis Plays Mousetrap

You know, Mousetrap! I got this copy for a buck at a thrift store and didn't even know if it was complete. It was missing one piece, and had a couple of other bent ones. Alexis didn't care.

As you can see, Alexis was totally into it, and had a great time:

She squealed with excitement every time the marble rolled down the steps, and said, "Again again please!" The little hand-lever is a "fork," according to her.

Alexis knows that the mice go "squeak squeak," and knows their colors: geen, yey-yow, red, and bwoo. She hopped the mice along the spots on the board, and narrated, "Red mouse, red circ-ow."

So, yeah, I'm living the geek dream. Totally worth at least a dollar.

In other news, I picked up a copy of Francis Heaney's Holy Tango of Literature, because I couldn't live without it, even a single second more.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The P500 system, also my Player Aid for GMT's Here I Stand (funny)

GMT is a wargame company. I don't play wargames, but I have a lot of respect for GMT. My friend Anye has always been willing to lay out for anyone who asked how her games were made, and the percentages involved at each step. It takes a lot of guts to publish board games.

GMT made a boo-boo in their calculations, once upon a time in 1999 or 2000. They basically printed up way too many copies of games that weren't being bought. The founders believed in themselves and their business, and took out second mortgages to save their business.

They also asked their fans to believe in them. They created the P500 system, described here on their website. Basically, GMT writes about games they want to make, giving lots of detail to whet the appetite of hardcore gamers. Once 500 fans sign up to buy a game, the fans' credit cards are charged a discounted price, and GMT prints up a big batch of copies to give out, with lots more to sell to actually make money. This system also means that lots of fans get their games at the same time, which helps build buzz around each one. In the old days, a few people pre-ordered, and by the time the first people convinced the second round to buy copies of older games, GMT was having cash problems.

One of the games is "Here I Stand: Wars Of The Reformation 1517-1555," and reading the teaser and rules online, I couldn't help but chuckle at a couple of the illustrations. I couldn't resist, and whipped up this player aid:

There really is a Henry VIII Wife Pregnancy table in "Here I Stand". The full rules are available at the GMT website. I haven't looked up the rating on Boardgamegeek yet. Sometimes, I don't read all the spoilers and analysis right away... it helps keep a game fresh and makes any strategies I find more rewarding when I figure it out myself.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday night: geeks in my house

My good friend Chris Belfi came over, bringing with him another Rice alum David, and new guy Matt, who was cool.

Chris brought along a new copy of Alhambra he got at his recent birthday. It's a shopping game, or a tile-placement game, or a card game masquerading as both. None of us had played before, but Chris prepared before tonight by reading and understanding the rules. I had high hopes. Alhambra won the German Game of the Year and is still #55 on Aaron Fuegi's Internet Top 100 Games List, as of last week.

Basically, each player starts with a fountain tile, and tries to buy more building tiles to get a majority in as many building types as possible, preferably with exact change to get more actions. That description leaves out completely all the tile placement rules.

So: You want to buy things with exact change, but if you wait, your opponents might buy the buildings you want, or a scoring round might turn up. Lots of angst, but the turns play out quickly.

Chris took an early lead and continued to shoot ahead. I will definitely play Alhamba again.

Next game: Filler game of 6 Nimmt! while we decided what to play. Matt and I tied for first place. Someone joked about playing for money, which I would totally do, because I feel like a good 6 Nimmt! player. It's a very short, very random game, and I like it a lot.

Third game: Hase und Igel("hare and hedgehog"), a.k.a. Hare & Tortoise. Chris mentioned that he can't buy another game until he played Heroscape, the game I gave him for his birthday. I apologized for holding him back, and pointed at the unplayed games pile. Chris had heard of Hare and Tortoise, so we pulled it off the shelf and cracked it open. My version is in German, with a translation found online. The action cards are all in German, which was distracting, but there aren't very many of those, and everything else was easy. Our first turn was slow, then it sped up dramatically. It's a cute little race game. I don't think Hare & Tortoise would win the Spiel Des Jahres today, as it did in 1979.

Gamecount for the year = 37. Shoot! I'm behind.
Games learned or played for the first time = 11. Woot! I'm ahead.

The week in review

  1. Played a 4-hour stretch of Knights Of The Old Republic. It's groovy.
  2. had a great idea at work, and am attempting to automate a process once believed to be required to be fully manual. Pshaw! I shall dismiss this urban legend, and a nightmare band of robots shall do my every bidding.
  3. had a co-worker leave the company. This is painful to me: he worked hard, I trained him back when we worked for the same guy, and in the back of my mind, I thought if I were promoted to supervisor, I had at least one person whose respect I had earned.
  4. kicked a filing cabinet really hard, upon learning #2. This is painful to me: yesterday, I was worried that I had broken a toe, and it's not my habit to serve the beats on office furniture.
  5. offered to host a small get-together at our house tonight. D'oh. Yeah, it still looks like a place where my meat-body's paperwork is stored while my brain is in here on the Internet.
  6. read something funny about how the House TV show changes attitudes.
  7. read a webcomic that made me happy. The creator comments, "Make sure you scroll all the way down for this one, ladies and gents. It's six panels instead of the usual four. Didn't want to drag this one out over the weekend." YES! Thank you, Jeph.
  8. submitted my Reddit peeve post to Reddit. Nice little traffic boost there. I'm addicted to Reddit. There, I said it. It's ADD-riffic.

My next game-related purchase is going to be another box or two for storing Magic cards. I don't actually HAVE all that many, but I need a place to clear off all the piles on my desk.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Reddit complaint: No way to serve a permanent beatdown to spam sites like automotoportal.com?

I like reddit. It's a news aggregator; people submit web pages with one-word summaries. The problem is this: automotoportal.com can't shut the hell up.

Reddit allows anyone, anywhere, to submit anything. Readers who sign in can rate any link up or down. I feel like I'm reading the entire internet, one sentence at a time. Unfortunately for me and other normal people, automotoportal.com thinks it needs non-zero sentences, and I disagree.

Seriously, automotoportal.com, shut the hell up. Permanent -1, all the time, in Jesus' name, boot to the head, amen.

Unfortunately, some sites worthless to me, such as automotoportal.com, can't keep their traps shut. They, or their underground agents, keep submitting worthless links about motorcars that cost 300,000 pounds, or deformed shellfish, or 'news' of sporting events. Sadly, I don't have any of the sweet, sweet crack cocaine that makes this pseudo-news important. All I can do is send those sites down the memory hole, which I do with all possible speed.

Reddit, I know you're listening. Can I declare these sites anathema? I see that you have narrowed me down to less than a page of recommendations. Thank you for recognizing that I hate everything. Now give me the ability to automate the hate, for as long as I log in, and I'll be set.

Remember the episode of "Itchy and Scratchy" where Itchy the mouse builds a cloning machine to clone his feline arch-foe Scratchy? Itchy gets tired of manually killing the clones of Scratchy, so he builds a killing machine, somewhat like a wood-chipper. The Scratchy clones then are created, have time for half a scream before the conveyor belt moves them into the chipper.

That's what I want for automotoportal.com, except with less time for realization of their fate before they hit the Reddit chipper.

You're smart folks, and I know you can do it.

PS please automatically detect links submitted from multiple people, and moderate duplicates downward. Thank you for your attention to detail. It is appreciated.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Houston Gamers wrap-up: In with the new...

I made it to the Houston Gamers this Saturday, and played 3 new games:

-Ark. Players compete to load animals onto Noah's Ark, to get recognized for loading a variety of "good" animals. Lots of fiddly rules that preserve the theme: The mosquito chases a medium-sized animal out, carnivores can't be in a room with an herbivore their size or smaller, etc.
German artists Doris and Frank are at work on this one. They're primarily recognized for the artwork in Frank's Zoo and Ursuppe/Primordial Soup.

I ended up winning the game after making a couple of good decisions. I liked this game. There's a nice mix of randomness and strategy... I think. I would definitely play again and am thinking about buying a copy.

-Ra. After winning Ark, I was invited into a 3-player game of Ra that turned into a 5-player game. I've played lots of games by Reiner Knizia before. Heck, I've even played lots of AUCTION GAMES by this designer before. I own a copy of Amun-Re, an AUCTION GAME ABOUT BUILDING DYNASTIES IN EGYPT. Please, Dr. Knizia, can I stop building dynasties now?

Ra is complicated. It may be the most complicated auction game I've ever played. I got the sense that one can be good at Ra. I also got the sense that it might take a while. I got my clock cleaned. There is a giant bag of tiles, and periodically, auctions occur. In a 5-player game, there'll be between 30 and 70-odd auctions. Sometimes players call for them; sometimes, game mechanics force the auction.

Lordy. There are a huge number of tiles in a big bag, which are drawn out one-by-one. About a third of them trigger an auction. Players are guaranteed to have asymmetric pseudo-money tokens, so it'll be all uneven if someone wants a SEIZURE... oops, I mean AUCTION.

Ra's clearly a gamers' game, full of depth and replayability. However, I doubt I could get it to the table; it takes too long for me and it's too abstract.

-Third and final game, Cinq-O. Eeh, it's a cute little dice game that's broken. You get several chances to re-roll 6 dice to make combinations and score points. It's like a much more forgiving Yahtzee that doesn't involve a special scorepad. The scoring was all jacked up, and there was no point except to roll the dice and see you could get. I had already figured most of it out, when someone else at the table announced it was broken, and that finished sucking all the fun out of the game.

Gamecount for the year = 34. Shoot! I'm behind.
Games learned or played for the first time = 9. Woot! I'm ahead.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mid-week status; state of the Gamecount

Lee and I got in another game of San Juan last night. (Gamecount = 31). (Games learned/played for the first time = 6).

It occurs to me that I ought to be linking any gamecount posts back to my original goals for the year. Eeh, whatever.

I have some money from half.com sales pending, and a board game sale pending. Unfortunately for Uncle Sam, once I subtract out the cost of the original item and cost of shipping, I didn't actually MAKE money... I almost recovered the cost of the original items, and that's it.

My sister Amy is hooked on the Fables comic, which she is finding in trade paperback form down at her local library.

I read this blog entry about the comic book industry. Amazing how any store stays in business!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Monday night Magic

Tim came over last night and we ate olives, drank beer, and played Magic. (Gamecount = 30)

I have met a lot of people who aren't big fans, and I can see why. Tim and I have done an excellent job of reining in spending.

Other than that, I made a giant batch of hummus.

Alexis is teething on her 2-year molars. Cori's got the eye-goop again. Unsurprisingly, I have not been sleeping well.

Prosper: great idea, but will it work?

I've always wanted to start a credit union at my workplace, but I've resisted the impulse so far.

Ideally, there ought to be a way to match borrowers and lenders, by comparing credit ratings, interest rate required, etc. A new company, Prosper, is trying it.

Basically, lenders bid on amounts of loans to accept; the idea is to diversify your loan holdings so each lender is only in for a small amount on each borrower.

Very cool, if it works. Hopefully, it'll drive down interest rates for the borrowers, while still offering decent rates for the lenders.

It'll be interesting to watch it develop. Will I put money in? Maaaaybe. I could see lending out a few hundred bucks and seeing how it goes.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

OwlCon, re-visited

I went to Rice University today to do Cheapass Games board and card game demos. I had signed up for 2 four-hour sessions, with an hour break in between.

Summary: My morning session was great, and my second slot had everyone desert en masse.

In the morning, I ended up with at least one of Richard and Hilary Trapp's kids at my table. I've played lots of board games with them at a couple of different conventions. They taught me Apples to Apples, and Reiner Knizia's Gold Digger, and I was glad to be able to return the favor (plus everyone walked away with PRIZES, courtesy of the fine people at Cheapass Games). I also had one of my long-time fans, who's played in my games at every OwlCon I've been to. Rounding out the table: A weird guy! I also took on a walk-on guy halfway through the slot.

My friend and fellow Houston Gamer Amy Pike ran some Days of Wonder demos, and agreed to run another special session for some players who missed her Sunday morning session. I lost most of my afternoon set of players to her. One person signed up but never showed, and one guy wandered up, said he was trying to get into other events because they were better.

I also saw these two kids, a boy and a girl, maybe 8 and 10, whose dad was showing them around the convention. I ran into them 3 times at various places, and never managed to get them at a table. Kids that age can easily play and enjoy The Big Cheese, and I felt bad that they never seemed to get to sit down and join in.

After my second session completely faded into midair, I was left with an empty table. I ended up spending some time talking with Kevin Nunn and Lewis Wagner, saw Kevin Brusky demo an Order Of The Stick game that looked cool and had a lot of people interested, drifted around the dealers' room talking to the various people. Several of the game store owners know me and are cool.

I turned in my remaining prize support at the registration desk... which worked out nicely, since there was still a final Sunday afternoon session. I was free to roam! I got to try one of Kevin Nunn's prototypes, and played through a demo of Hunting Party, which seemed interesting, but not the game for me.

Kevin Nunn and Lewis Wagner found me at the Hunting Party booth, and convinced me to go learn how to play Age of Steam, which is quite involved. I know it's highly-rated on boardgamegeek.com, and it's been on my list for a while. The time and complexity has been an obstacle before - I kept showing up at Houston Gamers meetings an hour after a game had started.

I dropped by the Days of Wonder demo game and gave my "missing" players some small freebies and tchotchkes.

Later on, I heard that my friend Larry, completely independently of me, ended up winning a series of Memoir '44 games run, I think, by an Army recruiter. He had already won a copy of Steve Jackson Games' SNITS!, a two-game-in-one-box reprint of a couple SJG classics, and when he went to claim a prize from the box, he was happy to learn that there was still a copy of Unexploded Cow for him. He had paid for a friend's admission as well, so Larry got his money's worth.

My final gamecount: Give Me The Brain Deluxe Edition, The Big Cheese, Unexploded Cow, Jacob Marley Esquire, Kevin Nunn's Hamster Race Prototype, Hunting Party, Age of Steam. Seven games today. Running total for the year: Gamecount = 29. Ohh, dang. I am pretty far behind.

New games learned: Kevin Nunn's Hamster Race Prototype, Hunting Party, Age of Steam. (Learned = 3). Running total for the year: 6.

Impressions: I can see why everyone likes Age of Steam - playing it is a brain-burning workout, but was fun somehow. Hunting Party seemed interesting, but at $40, there are better choices for me, at least so far.

Back when board games at OwlCon were mediocre and marginalized, the Houston Gamers stayed away to play at their really great venue that they were at every week. That was back when the Houston Gamers had a true every-week hangout, which isn't true anymore. The current multiple-location system prevents the overwhelming groupthink that kills innovation, I think.

I saw a lot of Houston Gamers today at OwlCon having fun running or playing games, so I think they're acclimated to the idea that OwlCon rules. If it had only free, up-close parking, it would basically be my idea of the perfect convention.

Steve Jackson himself was basically hanging out yesterday, and I am sorry I missed him. I've met him at other conventions and found him to be a neat guy who was fun to chat with. He was supposed to be testing Munchkin 3.

As a side note, there was a Munchkin game of some kind or another in every single slot in the convention. Every slot! It's an okay game, and a couple of the versions can be a lot of fun with the right group. It was nice to see lots of families out playing games together, and if Steve Jackson, or anyone else, helps them do that, more power/money to 'em.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My worst money mistake: I lost $4450 to a Farmers' Cooperative

I saw a post over at MyMoneyBlog that asked the following question: What's your worst financial mistake? (How does this tie into boardgames? Read on and find out...)

Growing up in a small farming community in Iowa, I was taught the basics of economics, farm style:

1. Buy used to save money.
2. Buy local to help your community.
3. Multi-level marketing is a pipe dream and only drives friends away.
4. If you borrow too much, there'll be a farm crisis someday, and you'll lose everything.
5. Ronald Reagan is the devil.

I still believe those things, more or less.

It was #2 that got me in trouble. Almost every year, I'd lead cattle around the ring at the county fair, and the proceeds from the sales of those cattle would be put in an account at the local Creston Farmers' Cooperative. The Creston Co-op paid a few percent, a little higher than the local bank. I had a few thousand dollars there, earning a paltry bit of interest. My dad and I went to their offices a few times to pick up seed. There were other small co-ops around the county that bought seed and fertilizer and vet supplies, and we stopped at those, too.

(I also saw a poster about investing that I might write about separately; it was the most insightful thing about human nature that I've ever read.)

I went off to college at the University of Houston in 1993, met my wife-to-be in 1994, began dating her in 1995, and married her in 1997. Every quarter, I'd get a statement showing my interest earned, and didn't think much of it. Due to my scholarship, most of the money I got from my part-time jobs was spent on my car, food, and used books. I didn't ever think much about the money, figuring that I would leave it there in case of true emergency. Plus, I was diversified, right? I had money in banks AND a Co-op.

At that point, the dot-com boom started. The Creston Co-op leaders got ambitious, and raised funds to buy up some of those neighboring co-ops. Of course, the paltry 4% interest paid into that on-demand account seemed small for most of the depositors. The Co-op also bought up some hog farms (!!) and began running a couple of other businesses.

I wasn't very up on these diverse, complicated, non-traditional investments, but hey, I could get my money ANY TIME, out of the on-demand account. Besides, dot com boom, can you say hallelujah? Our small stack of tech stocks were skyrocketing, so most of my/our mental energy was devoted to figuring out how long until I could retire if all our stocks went up 20-40% per quarter.

Anyway, I got a nice letter from a nice girl named Brandi who used to go to high school with me. She worked in the Co-op office, and sent out all the correspondence. I had been getting quarterly newsletters and statements since 1994, and felt like I knew all about the co-op's business in a state I visited once a year. The nice letter offered me a chance to buy some preferred stock in the co-op. Once a year, I'd get a massive dividend of 10%. My investment would be locked in for 10 years, but still, a nice dividend check every August after the harvest.

So, I ended up investing $1,900, leaving about 2 grand in the on-demand account. I don't remember why it was an odd number, but that's what I invested.

I got the first check for $190 a year later, and that was sweet. I also invested $1,000 with a company called ABFI, at about 8.5% interest, responding to an ad in the Wall Street Journal. I got a lot of letters from ABFI, offering me lots of high interest rates. ABFI had tried to sell STRIPS (basically, they bought cut-rate mortgages, sold the interest that they thought they would get, and kept the mortgages. Oops, then everyone refinanced and they owed all the interest on the now-gone mortgages. D'oh!) and messed up. I got a bad feeling about ABFI, and right around the time I got my second $190 from the nice, trustworthy Co-op, I took my money out of ABFI. Sure enough, ABFI went bankrupt not long after. My, how clever I was, and so handsome, too!

I don't remember whether I got the 3rd dividend check or not. Somewhere along the way, the high-finance schemes of the Co-op didn't work. I know the Co-op got stuck with a big bin full of mixed genetically-modified and regular soybeans, which most of the big agri-businesses stopped wanting to buy. I heard rumors that the hog farm was a loser from the get-go, and that when the price of hogs dropped like a rock, that was a strain. I also heard vague rumors that some of the other businesses, like the hardware supplies store, had a lot of supplies never be sold, only to reappear later at various locations in the county. I also never considered: how many people were going to buy in on the Preferred Stock deal, and how much would the Co-op need to pay out every August?

The result: I got a letter telling me that the Co-op had gone bankrupt. Preferred stock in
a bankrupt company is worthless, so I took a $1900 hit on the preferred stock.

For a while, I got regular updates from the bankruptcy court, on my remaining $2400-odd of on-demand cash. It's been a few years since the whole fiasco started. I got a lot of mailings for a while, and haven't gotten one in some time. I presume they're still wrangling about what to do with the dwindling pile of cash, which periodically has attorneys' fees, copying charges, stamps to mail out notices about the case, etc., deducted out of that pile of cash.

My biggest shock in the whole bankruptcy was looking over the notes and seeing that some MORON put about $500,000 into preferred stock. I was asking the Co-op to come up with $190 every August. Some country bumpkin thought the Co-op was going to keep their HALF MILLION SMACKEROOS safe as brick houses, and give them fifty grand come hell or high water every August, to boot. Yeah, I didn't trust them that much.

My sisters, my cousins, and my parents all lost varying amounts of money. If I had to put a number on it, I'd make a wild guess and say somewhere between 50 and 70 grand, spread out across quite a few of us.

So, that's my worst money mistake: I lost $4450 or so by trusting the wrong people, not understanding an investment, locking money into a contract that was too long for the overall market cycle, mis-judging the risk of lost principal, and diversifying in the wrong direction. If I had put that money into tech-heavy stocks, I'd still have half or more of it today. I'm not going to cry about the tech stocks here; I knew the risks, and again, I had every chance to put that money elsewhere.

To bring this back to gaming, my game collection represents about $1100 worth of games. Had I not lost that money by investing in the Creston Co-op, I could have FIVE TIMES AS MANY games today, or a bigger house in which to play bigger games, or be $4450 closer to having my current house paid off, so I can buy more games.

To reiterate the lessons here: Diversify not only for return, but for safety. Never invest in anything you don't understand. Keep your eye on your money or you will lose it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Elizabeth Grigg updated her blog; On Hiding Things

Elizabeth Grigg had about 6 catch-up blog posts in the last day, but the ones I liked best were this one about leaving painful phone messages and this one about blogs that admits failure and human error, as opposed to presenting a single side. I identify strongly with both. I like the notion of writing about weakness, as well as hoped-for strengths.

I write for a lot of readers, including but not limited to Elizabeth herself.

My family and my wife's family.
My "hip" co-workers who I have clued in.
Various friends and gaming buddies.
Bloggers and other friends I rarely meet face-to-face.
Everyone on the internet.

Two stories, basically true:
One of my co-workers said her 8-year old son told her the following joke:

Q: What's a word that begins with F, and ends with UCK?
Q: Mom, it's firetruck. The word is firetruck.
A: But... but... you know the other word?
Q: Yeah, but I don't say it because it's not nice.
A: My baby is growing up! **WEEPS**


My wife and I were driving past the mall at I-10 and Gessner.

Q: Oh, wow. They're opening a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in the mall.
A: Mmm, chocolate.
Q: Yeah, it's not as popular as the Brokeback Mountain Chocolate Factory.
A: (Laughs so hard she nearly drives off the road.)


I'm also writing for my current and future employers. See, nothing about VERY SENSITIVE SUBJECTS or CURRENT WORK CONDITIONS, GOOD OR BAD. I'm cool like that. Sub-zero stealth bloggin' is what I do best. I hear a certain company got new laptops that are totally awesome, though.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Amazon Mechanical Turk Vs. Google AdSense: state of the blog

Not to make direct number comparisons, but I've earned more from Amazon's Mechanical Turk program than I have from Google AdSense.

I like AdSense better. It's cooler, and it feels much more automatic. Mechanical Turk is piece-work, and carries no future dividends. I like making money on the internet, but both programs are unreliable so far.

I've gone to Amazon's website to see what they recommend. Unfortunately, I told them too much about my purchases, or not enough. Telling it I liked a few novels a friend gave me has convinced Amazon that I need K.D. Lang cds. ....(tasteful pause)... I do not.

On the bright side, a buddy at work bought Freakonomics last week while traveling for business, and said I can borrow it when he's done. Since even used copies run about ten bucks, that's great.

I also bit the bullet and did a Half.com order for the PC version of Knights Of The Old Republic. My best friend and old college roomie Jacob got 30 or 40 hours of fun out of it before it palled for him, and it's got great reviews. I've had it on a list of games to buy, and vacillated for a long time. Since I didn't get it for Christmas and have been to two different Half-Price Books locations multiple times without finding it, and can't bear to take it off my list of stuff to consider, I'm buying it. Since I had a gift certificate from my sister Rachel lying around, I only had to spend two bucks out of pocket to check off an item on my overall goals list.

Other than that, I made more hummus (with paprika and cayenne this time) and bought a lot of vegetables, beans, and juices at the grocery store. I can't believe how many of the juices have high-fructose corn syrup, a.k.a. The Devil's Candy, in them.

I have board game demonstrations coming up in a week for OwlCon, and need to get out my game kit, read through the instructions, and polish my presentation for all the games I'll probably play.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Games at Chris B.'s 30th Birthday party

My good friend Chris B. had an all-day games party on Saturday to celebrate his 30th birthday.

Alexis woke up several times in the night, and Lee decided to stay home and get some rest. I took Alexis and headed over for a few hours, then brought Alex back, put her to bed, and returned for MORE GAMES. Woot! Unfortunately, I missed the pizza and the musical guest.

Games played: Category 5 - This re-theming of 6 Takes/6 Nimmt hasn't changed the rules at all, and has had only minor graphics changes in the new edition. Fast, fun, right up my alley.

San Juan - We exceeded the maximum 4 players and shoehorned in a fifth person. Sure, the box says it only supports 4, but somehow I talked everyone into playing with 5... prefacing it with comments like, "Yeah, it's different, but I don't know if it works so well." We reshuffled about a dozen times. I love San Juan, and I'm glad to play it. Once we tallied up the final scores, Larry came in first, and I came in second. This variant injects a lot of extra money/cards into the game. Much complaining was had, all around.

Metro (x2) - I've only played Metro twice before this, once at another party Chris had, and once a long time ago at the Houston Gamers. It's a tile-placement game about building the subways of Paris. I picked it off the table because one of the female party-goers was hanging back. "C'mon, you've got to play it. It's easy... and it's pretty!" That was the tipping point. Metro is good-looking, with a sturdy board. The tiles are a little thin, but the tracks on them are clear. Overall, it's evocative and appealing.

Travel Blokus - I finished the night by showing Chris my copy of Travel Blokus. My two-minute explanation turned into a 4-minute game.

Gamecount for the day: 5
Gamecount for the year so far: 22. I'll get a boost from OwlCon next weekend...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chilling effect: Parry Aftab, director of Wiredsafety.org claims free speech by teens can be contractually limited

To quote the last paragraph of http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20060202/ts_csm/acampusblogs for details:

"Aftab suggests establishing a policy at the beginning of the school year, which outlines acceptable Internet use and disciplines students who violate it. "Then it's a contractual issue," she says. "

This is entirely unacceptable. This implies that individuals can contract away their First Amendment rights. Much as you can't sign a contract to be murdered, and the other party claim that your signature frees them from legal responsibility upon your death, you can't sign a contract that allows a company or organization the ability to gag your speech in this manner. The right to free speech is inalienable, and inherent to all Americans... even teen-age ones.

This idea, carried to the logical bounds, would result in broadly-written McCarthy-style loyalty oaths at the high school level. Ms. Aftab, you do our nation's future leaders a grave dis-service, and you should be deeply ashamed to have said something so abhorrent in a public forum.

I am sure that my old teachers in the tiny high school in Iowa I attended would expect me to speak out against this tyranny. Yes, internet access on school grounds can, and should, be filtered, to conserve precious bandwidth. The mere fact of attendance (and signing of mandatory contracts to hold harmless) should not be a legally-binding contract against criticism. The schools' mandate to educate students extends to all; not just the kids deemed media-friendly.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wednesday night Magic

Work was a workout! After a tough day of straining my brain, it was a relief to come home and relax... by playing Magic with Tim.

We got in 4 games, of which I won 3, if I remember correctly. Our last game ended with him at 0 life and me at 1, after much back-and-forth. It was nice to have a nail-biter ending, rather than a blowout in either direction.

I own a Sliver Queen. I bought it a few years ago for $10 online, and today it's probably worth $30 to the right person. Tonight, I finally got it into actual play and used the special ability. Eeeh, it was kinda cool.

Gamecount=17 for the year.