Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wednesday Magic plan

Tim called last night. He has bronchitis. We are probably going to end up playing Magic tonight using the online version.


Hey, Adobe, make up your mind!

Adobe's reader did an update, and almost everything went correctly.

1. The update didn't reboot my computer right away.
2. The prompt for the download was clearly worded.
3. The download took place only when my connection was otherwise idle.
4. The installation didn't take long.
5. I was given a polite warning that the PDF I had open in another window would close if the update ran, and was that okay?

BUT Adobe, don't put your icons on my desktop without asking. As you could presumably have detected, there was no Adobe Reader icon on my desktop, and you were running an update. That means someone or something removed the icon.

As I happened, I was that something. I had previously decided to remove your icon from my desktop. That's a setting, more or less, and you overrode it during the update, without my permission. Don't do that, okay?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I (heart) Francis Heaney

He's just cool, in the very geekiest way. Here's his latest gem, "Snakes on a Sudoku."

Friday, March 24, 2006 I've successfully loaned out all my money

I've loaned out all my money at I have an average interest rate of over 9%, mostly loaned out to folks with great credit.

More updates when they become necessary.

Thursday Night Gaming: Chris in the house again

Chris B. came over for stew, pie, and board games.

We opened up Dragon Land, and punched out all the pieces. It turned out to be a lightweight game, sorta cute. I definitely want to try it again with 4 people, as well as play again with 3. It strikes me as being a decent game for kids or adults.

After that, Chris and Lee and I brainstormed about what to play, and settled on teaching Chris El Grande. It was a tight game, and Lee won by a small margin.

Chris mentioned wanting to learn Power Grid and Princes of Florence from a mutual friend of ours. I've only played Princes of Florence twice, and want to try it again in a more casual group. Power Grid I haven't tried, but I hear good things.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 59, New game titles played for the year = 15.

Mid-week gaming: Magic Wednesday

Yesterday, Tim came over and we dug into a few Magic $1 repacks my FLGS put together.

We then played several games of Magic. Eeh, not every day has to stretch your limits.

After Tim left, I got out my extra cards and put together a beginner's stack of cards for my friend Tom and his son Chris. Chris plays a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh, and is definitely ready to move up to Magic, at least as far as strategic depth goes. I think Tom will get a lot out of it, too, not the least of it being that the market for Magic cards is a lot less screwed up than the Yu-Gi-Oh card market.

Wow, those commons I picked out were icky-awful bad. There were quite a few skill testers there in the bag. I did manage to include most of the major mechanics in the game for cards in all the colors, a few artifacts, and a couple weird lands. I hope it takes; it'd be sweet to have some more casual players around.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 57, New game titles played for the year = 14.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Saturday summary: nothing but filler

I went to a neighborhood garage sale and bought a Little Tykes xylophone for $3.

Thanks to Craigslist, I no longer own a queen mattress and box spring set. More space in the house, woot!

Other than that, I went to the Houston Gamers and played a few games.

Ark still is holding my interest.

Coloretto is a good introductory game, and belongs in almost anyone's collection.

Hat Trick didn't suck too much. It's a weird trick-taking card game. Meh.

Kevin had me try out his hamster-racing prototype again, but I was too tired after a long day to really appreciate it. It's like a streamlined RoboRally aimed at 12-year-old girls.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 56, New game titles played for the year = 14.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Email from my cousin Beth

Beth writes as follows (I asked her for permission to republish this, and she said go for it.)

"Hi there-

I AM REALLY REALLY MAD. (And this is really long.) From
time to time, I have to get this stuff off my chest;
otherwise I will implode. This is my political and
social rant.

Let me summarize before most of you stop reading. I
want to live in the country I believe in. I believe in
the country that is tolerant of religious differences.
I believe in the country which is accepting of
different races. I belive in the country which has
compassion for its fellow man. I believe in the
country that actually enjoyed and celebrated its civil
rights. The civil rights are a really big deal because
it is so much easier to lose them than it is to get
them back.

I will translate the 4th Amendment from legalese to
English: We have the RIGHT to be safe from the
government. The cannot enter our homes or listen to
our conversations without someone who has sworn under
oath that they have probable cause to believe that a
crime has been committed. Bottom line: THE GOVERNMENT
YOUR PHONE. What the government has done is to tap.
They have not obtained a warrant. They have not had
someone swear under oath that someone committed a
crime and they have a good reason. What the government
did was TAP. No warrant. No ProbableCause.

My country does NOT spy on its own citizens. My
country follows its own laws. My Senate does NOT
create a committee to monitor the ILLEGAL SPYING OF
THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH. My country investigates the
illegal activities and does something about it. Yes,
the president has power, but no more power than what
the legislative and judicial branches give it. The
point is NOT TO SEIZE A BUNCH OF POWER!!!! The point
is to govern the country in a lawful manner.

And what happened to compassion? The janitors in
Houston have organized themselves into a union. In the
South, Union is a dirty word, and a lot of people are
really mad about the union. Right now, janitors make
minimum wage, work 4 hours/day, and most have to work
3 jobs to make ends meet. Most work for 5.36/hour. If
you do the math, if they work 3 jobs for 12 hours/day,
5 days a week, they make about 16,700/year. What is a
single mom or dad to do? They can barely put food on
the table and they can't really raise their own
children because they aren't home long enough to teach
them how to work and live and be good people. The
American dream encourages people to work 3 jobs
because they are convinced their children will become
part of that dream. If we want to maintain a
workforce, we will have to do something to maintain
that dream.

My country abolished slavery with the 13th amendment.
It solidified this decision with the 14th amendment
which declared due process of law for all. The Racial
differences: It is OK to be White in this country. It
is more OK to be Black than it used to be, because
people who look like they are of Middle Eastern
descent have taken the place at the bottom of the
totem pole. This is not my country.

My country was founded on equality for all. The 14th
Amendment ensured due process rights for everyone who
is on this country's soil. It is less ok to be
Hispanic, because a Vigilante group exists in Texas to
enforce immigration law. This group makes citizen's
arrests on people who "look illegal." There are
obvious problems with their logic. First, a
significant portion of the people who live in Texas
are of Hispanic descent. They are going to be
harrassing a lot of people who are US citizens by
birth, US citizens by choice, Temporary Resident
Aliens, and Permanent Resident Aliens (I understand
there are also subclasses of those with temporary
status but the details escape me). I work in the
municipal and justice courts in and around Houston,
and a disproportionate percentage of the defendants in
those courts are people of some sort of color. It
gets worse in the smaller municipalities; racism is
alive and well in 2006. This is not my country.

My country was founded upon equality for all. Post 911
we held thousands of Americans of Arab descent in
custody without rights for months. We held thousands
of Arab people with green cards (legal immigration
status) for months without rights. This is not my

My country was founded upon principles of religious
freedom and tolerance. In 2006, if you want to donate
$$ to your local Islamic charity, you can't. The State
Department refuses to publish the list of Islamic
charities on the terrorist watch list, so you don't
know if you are going to be the subject of an inquiry
for trying to help out your local mosque. This is
not my country.

My country recognizes that Jews are the reason the
Christian religion exists and that Jews and Christians
are the reason the Islamic religion exists. My country
recognizes that the New Age people may be kind of
weird, but hey, if they have a religion, that's just
fine. It even recognizes the right NOT to have a
religion--if you want to go to hell, that's your

And my state, the state I have chosen to call home for
almost a decade has given its collective thumbs up to
Tom Delay in the Republican primary (who has been
indicted for FELONIES and the subject of numerous
House ethics investigations). These are the same
people who voted to impeach Clinton for cheating on
his wife and lying about it. I am sure it is much more
complicated than that, but the message I see is this:
It is NOT ok to betray your wife and lie about it. It
IS ok to betray the public trust and violate your oath
of office. (I know as a defense attorney that he has
only been indicted, and if I were his attorney I would
be screaming about the political motivation behind the
charge, but he has been the subject of multiple
inquiries before. On a personal note: He is slimy and
I don't trust him.) I don't trust my elected officials
not to lie to me, I just want them to lie a little
less about the big things. This is not my country.

Love You All!

Beth "


There you go: my cousin, the patriot.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ted Rall, Patriotic Cartoonist, calls for fight against lying racist Ann Coulter's lies

Patriotic cartoonist Ted Rall is sick of Ann Coulter telling lies about him in public.

Ted, death threats are a liberal's badge of honor and the coin with which America has always repaid her true patriots.

As for Ann, well, uh, someday a man, woman, or coral snake with more venom will become right-wing America's beloved inaccurate blowhard and Mouth Of Sauron, and you'll just be another person who used the word "rag-head" when speaking to a thousand people.

So, yeah, there's controversy in the board game world, too, as the BoardGameGeek site changes their rating system slightly. I'm all about the games, not so much about the ratings.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mid-week update: I get Dutiful Son experience points.

Not much to report. I tweaked a query at work, actually saving people actual time/money/pain.

Tim's wife is off for spring break, so he is being a Loving Husband instead of a Gaming Buddy this week. Good on him. Since I got in about 6 more hours of mid-week gaming than usual on Monday, this is actually the perfect week for them to hang out every night.

I talked to my mom, and along the way helped her fix an email problem she was having. I should note that she didn't call for that purpose at all, and I fumbled into it. Somehow, the Cursormania toolbar had gotten installed on their computer. Like the buggy piece of crudware it is, it was preventing her from sending, but not receiving, email via their dial-up connection.

The Cursormania folks DID build an uninstaller into it, and it DID work the first time, and my mom CAN send and receive email now. So yay, not a cause for huge drama.

I also sent her a link to the good folks at Ad-Aware. It's good for removing adware and spyware. Although it's not the STRONGEST program out there, it's good, and is also reasonably safe. I've read several stories about the super-chainsaw removal programs where their additional firepower against viruses also removed major functionality.

Macs are getting cheap, and I am thinking about considering possibly imagining what it would be like to own a froofy hippie's computer. Heck, for $400 I can get a decent PC, or for $500 I can get a Mac. That's in the realm of possibility, unlike the days when I could get a decent PC for $795, or pay $2250 for a decent Mac.

Because, y'know, maybe it's worth a hundred bucks to not have to mess with the typical PC BS. I'm good at PC stuff. I've done tech support for friends and family. I follow the Hippocratic Oath with respect to people's computers, and overall, have a proven track record of Not Making It Any Worse.

Thoughts, comments, opinions?

Also, if anyone can find the essay where the guy is complaining about Linux being like an airline where you have to build your own seat in the aisle, and everyone else on the plane is treating you like an idiot, but then it clicks and it's awesome, but then afterward everyone says, "You had to do WHAT to your seat?" There are a number of worthless joke pages crufting up Google, and I can't remember the author's name, or any keywords of note.

If I can't find it, well, uh, I'm hosed, because I'm no-kidding the best person I know at finding things with search engines. Even Pagliacci couldn't cheer himself up...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Vacation and Playtesting Day

My friend Kevin brought a few people over to play a boardgame he was excited about. Hmm, that's not exciting... I'll try again:

My friend Kevin Nunn, designer of Dancing Eggplant's Nobody But Us Chickens, brought his latest almost-done prototype over, along with some of my Houston Gamers buddies, Lewis Wagner, Amy Pike, and Joy (the new manager up at Enigma's, my other FLGS). I took today off as a vacation day to do nothing but get a haircut and playtest Kevin's new game, Zong Shi.

Joy's adorable and well-behaved daughters, ages 4 and 6, played quietly in the front room and were just great all day.

Zong Shi revolves around 3-5 players trying to get promoted to the status of master artisan by making various art objects and projects in ancient China out of silver, gold, bronze, and jade. We played a plain-vanilla version first, and then played again and tested some tweaks. Kevin kept notes afterwards and we suggested a ton of ideas. This game is almost done, and we didn't find any massive rules holes or strategic secrets. We managed to play twice in 3 hours even with having to teach me the rules and chat about possible changes... that is a duration I can handle!

To cleanse our palates, I got down Entdecker, and discovered that the rules I learned a long time ago didn't match the rules in the box at all. My previous group had been misplaying at least 4 things, or using a different translation (very possible, as our original group ended up with a lot of German stuff with mediocre English translations printed off the 'net somewhere). Frustrating, since I was thinking I actually knew how to play!

Lee brought the girls home as we were getting into a third game of Zong Shi. Alexis sat in her high chair and ate eggs, diced tomato, carrots, and pretzels.

Overall, this day was a blast. Zong Shi reminds me of Goa, except faster and with more interaction. Kevin's planning on even more playtesting all this week, so I hope I can make it out to the Houston Gamers this Saturday. I'm also hoping he tries a couple of the other tweaks I suggested.

Kevin's been talking about doing limited-edition small runs of another trick-taking game he designed, The Great Migration. I'm a big fan, so it's cool to see him getting revved about bringing even more of his games into print.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 52, New game titles played for the year = 13.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Prosper update

I have transferred a thousand dollars to, and it's pretty cool so far. I've bid the $1,000 into $50 bids, the minimum, to 19 people (okay, I liked one guy a lot and bid twice on that loan). As you bid, the money is reduced from your available pool of money. If you are outbid by someone willing to accept a lower interest rate, you can re-bid the money over and over until you do win.

Right now, I have $300 in loans that have funded, at an average interest rate of 8.43%. Since I'm lending to people with good-to-great credit, that sounds pretty good.

I have current bids in on loans that are not yet funded, to the tune of $700, with an average interest rate of 9.38%.

It looks like there's a lot of money moving around, and that overall, this will be a valuable tool for responsible borrowers.

Board Game Madness

I threw away my oldest computer case today. It was for the 133 MHz Pentium that I bought back in 1995 for $475. I used it mainly for writing papers and playing video games, mostly Angband. It was also the first computer that I successfully upgraded hardware on.

I also cleaned some more books off my bookshelves and took them to Half-Price Books. They paid me $40 for the lot. In the past, I have been advised that classical-studies books are high-dollar, and today was no exception.

Immediately, I called my Friendly Local Game Store and ordered Attika, which will set me back $30.32 after my discount is subtracted and taxes are added.

Monday, I am taking a vacation day to not have to be at work. Hopefully, emergency calls will be kept to a minimum.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wednesday night Magic

After the toughest day at work I've had in a while, it was nice on Wednesday to come home and relax with some games.

Tim came over and we played 6 or 7 games of Magic. He had forgotten his other deck, so we played the same decks over and over.

After that, Lee and I played a game of Hellrail. I think we are about ready to try a game with the special powers.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 48, New game titles played for the year = 12.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sooo, I'm voting against hate-monger Dan Patrick

Sweet! Per Dan Patrick, all we Texans need to do is close our borders, and we'll eliminate the following scourges:

1. Mosques on the Texas border.
2. Skyrocketing health insurance rates.
3. Texans being married 100 or more times to give immigrants legal status.
4. Babies born to illegal aliens in Texas hospitals.
5. Bi-lingual education.
6. An increasing crime rate.
7. Malaria and leprosy.
8. Terrorists in Texas.

Texas, per Dan Patrick, needs a bigger fence, along with deputies armed with night vision goggles and MORE FIREPOWER. He also supports a Minuteman-style militia, and taxing all legitimate funds sent to Mexico via banks and wire transfers to cover immigrant-related costs.

He also quotes Ronald Reagan: "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers if we have the moral courage to do the right thing." Uncle Ronnie, one of America's worst presidents, certainly had a way with sound bites.

I'll take his posthumous dare: Texas doesn't need a racist fearmonger in the Senate. I have the moral courage to write that, and I'll back it up with the moral courage to vote against him in November.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jambo: Lee's Remix 1

Lee and I got a chance to play Jambo while Alexis was down for her nap today. We used the stripped-down deck I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Basically, Lee trimmed out all the animal cards except parrots, all the guards, and some of the boring people and utility cards.

How does it play? Faster and tighter! Drawing cards is far more likely to get you something useful, and it's now more likely to get more and better utility cards, to build combinations.

We both agreed it was an interesting experiment. Lee wants to experiment more with altering the rules about drawing cards, to speed up the game even further.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 46, New game titles played for the year = 12.

Houston Gamers: I serve the beats

Saturday night, after getting the kids to bed, I left Lee with a DVD of "Hitch," starring Will Smith, known hottie. I made the trip down to Midnight Comics and gingerly tiptoed past the Magic players already hip-deep in drafting cards for a tournament.

Upstairs, I discovered that I had narrowly missed out on a newly-formed game of Fury of Dracula, and politely declined an invitation to be the 8th player at a game of Shadows Over Camelot.

I ended up playing Attika with John, who has mellowed a little since he's closed his board and card game store. I like Attika a lot: there are these hexes, you have four stacks of upside-down city buildings, and you've got to connect 2 shrines or put all your buildings on the board to win. I ended up blundering about five turns in, and John boxed in one of my streets.

Attika supports 2-4 players. In the 2-player, there's not much land on the board. John did a much better job than I did at picking starting locations, and got most of his building groups adjacent. I think I still had 8 or so buildings left to play when he placed his last building and won. This was my first time to play the 2-player and I liked it. With only 1 person to wait on, instead of 2 or 3, turns fly by.

From there, John and I rummaged through Jeff's box. I hadn't been formally introduced to Jeff before, although I think I've seen him around. We pulled out his new copy of St. Petersburg and went to town on it.

I've only played face-to-face St. Petersburg about 3 times, and I augmented this knowledge with lots of sessions of the computer version, available for free on the St. Petersburg page of BoardGameGeek. Evidently, I learned something during that time. I totally wiped the floor with them, finishing with 100 points to Jeff in the mid-80s and John in the mid-60s.

Fury of Dracula was still going on, and so was Shadows Over Camelot. Jeff suggested Cannibal Pygmies in The Jungle of Doom, but I saw San Juan in his box and got it out. I'd feel guilty about passing up a chance at a new game except:
1. all the b-movie games are supposed to be mediocre.
2. I freakin' love San Juan.

What followed was a weird game. Since no one cares, I'll skip most of the details. It started badly for me, and didn't get much better. I ended up talking Jeff into doing something that was a better move for him, AND a better move for me, and dropping a big building for a 12-point gain in the last round. Final score, me 29, John 25, Jeff eeh, 19 or so. A victory, but a dirty one.

During the game, Doug C. came up and watched. I asked him how furious Dracula had been. "Kinda, not all that furious, though. That sucked. I sat on the right of Dracula and every turn, I ended up going somewhere to find him, and didn't. Then someone else on the team would get to the OTHER location, since I had narrowed it down, and beat on Dracula. The team victory felt sorta hollow." Fury of Dracula came back into print recently after years of being a Holy Grail for collectors, fetching crazy $150 and up prices on Ebay.

After that, I hung out a little, bought a couple of small boxes to organize some trading card games that are cluttering up my life, and bailed. Kevin Nunn was trying out another of his prototypes I'd never seen yet. I didn't get a chance to look at it closely, but I think it was something about Mexican gods wandering the earth to reunite animal tribes... uhhh, as a partnership rummy variant.

Gamecount for the year: 45 individual game sessions played, 12 new game titles learned.

Strongly considering buying soon: Attika, St. Petersburg, Ark. Gaah, maybe I can trade away some games for them.

Jambo! How far do you go to fix a game not to your liking?

Jambo is a 2-player trading game by Rudiger Dorn, best known for the elaborate Goa. I have mixed feelings about both games. Friday night, Lee and I sat down and played Jambo instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour. This was her third playing, and after it was over, we talked about Jambo.

There are a few basic types of cards: wares (goods to be bought/sold), animals ('take that' cards that hurt your opponent), guards (protect from animals), people (one-shot specials), and utility cards (recurring specials).

See, I've never run into anybody who thought Jambo was awesome. They either say, "Yeah, that sucked," or "It was okay, maybe a 6 if I'm in the mood." Jambo's BoardGameGeek rating is actually 7.1, which seems a little high.

When I probed around for the flaws, I got different answers. Kevin thought the animal cards weren't mean enough. Lee thought they were too mean. The cards are either too good, or too bad. You get 5 action points, and, uh, there are either too few or too many. The deck has too few cards, or too many cards.

The only thing everyone agreed on: "I'd also like to try Jambo as a 3 or 4 player game, but there's already too much down time."

Lee and I talked about it, and she hit on an idea that we both liked: Look through the deck and set aside all the cards that look cool. Make a second pile of all the cards that don't excite you. Play again with only the first deck of cool cards. We also talked about modifying the rules for spending action points to draw cards in several ways. I hope they work out.

Gamecount for the year: 42 individual game sessions, 12 new game titles played.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Thursday Night Gaming: Chris in the house

Chris Belfi came over and brought a chicken, some potato salad, and desserts. We finished that off, and then I taught Chris and Lee how to play Hellrail. It's a weird little railroad game: all the cards are loads of sinners being delivered from one circle of hell to another. The cards are your track, your fuel, your victory points, and your movement points. It's a very neat little game, capturing the feeling of the larger, complicated rail games without taking all night. Chris won with 41 points, Lee and I were neck and neck at 30, then 29 points.

Since I was teaching it, I left out all the wacky powers and random stuff that is excessive for new players.

After that, we broke out the desserts. I then took the shrinkwrap off my copy of Aladdin's Dragons, which I played once at the Houston Gamers, far off in the mists of time, and then bought without ever having it hit the table, until now. Capsule summary: there are treasures in dragon caves that end up being stolen and used as currency to buy magic artifacts. Whoever collects the most artifacts wins the game. Uh, then everybody does lots and lots of blind bidding.

We played a semi-magic variant, using the artifact powers but leaving out the magic spell cards. This kept the complexity to a manageable level. There are a lot of tough decisions to be made, but it's hard to really agonize for long about them - the information you need to decide is simply not there. I like Aladdin's Dragons a lot; it has not lost any appeal since I tried it way back when.

It being a work night, Chris said his goodbyes, and then Lee absolutely destroyed me at Wyatt Earp. After the first round, she had 20 grand to my 5. The game finished with her at 41 grand, and me at 24. I love Wyatt Earp so even getting slaughtered doesn't faze me.

Gamecount = 41, so I'm 20 behind if I want to make my Game-A-Day goal for the year.
New Games Learned/Played for first time=12. Aladdin's Dragons counts. Man, I could barely remember how any of that worked.

Chris also borrowed my copy of Modern Art to read the rules, so hopefully we can get that to the table soon. All in all, a fine evening.

Wednesday night Magic

Tim came over yesterday and we played a few games of Magic. I am happy with our current arrangement. We are playing enough and doing just enough deck-building to not be obssessive about any of the aspects of the game, while still being fairly entertained.

Skill to work on: adding more creature removal, also knowing when to mulligan. We played 2 good matches and 2 blowouts.

Gamecount for the year = 38.

New games learned/hitting the table in 2006 = 11, still.