Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sunday: Alhambra and a deacon

Larry and I met up outside the church bookstore after Lee and I dropped off the girls.

I brought my new copy of Alhambra, obtained in a recent trade, and sorted out all the stuff you have to do for the special 2-player rules. I've played twice before, once with 4 and once with 5, so I didn't know exactly how it worked. You have to sort through all the money and sort about a fourth of the deck out. Bleah.

We were about 2/3 of the way through when one of the deacons stopped to ask us to move into an empty room... he knew we weren't gambling, but felt that the appearance of such might be upsetting in some way. We finished up our game, and not having enough time to play a second game, lounged in the outdoor garden, enjoying the breeze and hanging out.

As many times as we've been up there with Attika, at least one of the other deacons has seen us each time and shown friendly interest in the game. Oh, well. I'm guessing having Corinth as one of the cities in Attika may have given us an air of respectability...

Our invitation to move was a friendly encounter, and the deacon stopped by the garden when he saw us, to apologize for running us off. We let him know that wasn't the case - we didn't have time to start another game, and no harm done for either party.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 129, New game titles played for the year = 21.

Saturday wrap-up: 40 years of marriage (not us yet)

Yesterday, we threw a surprise 40th anniversary party for Lee's parents. Lots of their friends from all over drove in and flew in, including one fellow band director they hadn't seen in at least 5 years.

Our friend Jack Potts of Bohemian Photography took pictures, and another family friend catered the event. We had it over at the clubhouse.

I'd write more, but I'm still exhausted after moving tables around and hauling quite a bit of stuff there and back.

Thursday night: Mexica

R.J. and Chris came over on Thursday and we played Mexica. I was underwhelmed. It's one of a trilogy of games consisting of Tikal, Java, and (duh) Mexica itself. I didn't like Tikal's tendency to force people into analysis-paralysis comas, and I traded it away for Runebound, which I think is sitting over in my friend Tom's house in a stack of other games.

In any case, Mexica ended up being more interesting, but not by much. Each player has a bunch of cute plastic pyramids, and tries to subdivide a peninsula using little blue cardboard canal spaces. The end result is that on your turn, you stare at the board, trying to chisel as many victory points as possible, preferably also harming your opponents' positions. There are goofy movement rules, where having a bridge on a canal lets you take a canoe to any bridge that's connected via water. The end result is players basically teleporting from one side of the board to the other. There's also an actual teleportation move if you get really stuck.

Anyway, bleah, too abstract, not my cup of tea.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 128, New game titles played for the year = 21.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Tom's Graduation Party (also publishing Hail to the Chief)

Err, I had a post that I have been mulling over since May 23, 2006, and here it is:

Hail to the chief, he's the chief and he needs hailing...

I almost wrote, "It's always bittersweet when a co-worker leaves." Cliches are the moldy bread and stale butter of bad writers everywhere, I read once. Let me try that again: every time someone leaves, the entire office craps their collective pants. We rely on each other, and when a good worker goes, regardless of the reason, your guts start to churn.

They're good at their job, sure, and they're also good friends. We work hard, we play hard, we drink hard, blah blah blah. Everyone's got a nickname. My co-worker Tom's nickname is "Chief."

In our office, it's traditional to bring in donuts on your last day. Send an email around, gather your peeps, and shake hands goodbye. It takes about a year for people to get up to speed, and more than half the people hired are gone in six months. I've been there 4 1/2 years, so I've seen people come and go.

Today, "the Chief" brought in his donuts. He had been with the company for over 12 years, and had been getting his Masters in Accounting over at our mutual alma mater, the University of Houston, on the sly. I'm still reeling. We lose people to graduate programs a lot, but this is different. This isn't a 24-year-old single woman straight out of college who needs a year of business experience before heading back to get her MBA or a 25-year-old single workaholic alcoholic who wants to take the Bar exam.

The Chief is 47, happily married for 18 years, with 3 kids. If we can't keep a family man who is basically a lifer around, what hope do we have of keeping the young turks? They're gone. They're gone out the door, gone like Gondwanaland, and gone down the American river, which rolls eternally but is never the same water twice.

My department is full of computer consultants who travel nationally and internationally to install our company's business management software. The Chief supervised teams of installers in Mexico for years. That's YEARS, people. He had 6 people reporting directly to him on launches with International clients going up on totally unfamiliar software including extensive data conversion. Seriously, the Chief had a decade of experience doing that and is going to break even with a position that's basically entry level accounting, with good chances of making crazy money in the future.

We have 9 open full-time jobs and 6 open part-time jobs. Where are those people? They're not getting killed by an axe murderer between the front door and the recruiting office, are they?

A momentary pause in demand has more of my peers back from the road and stuck in the office. They're using this time to ramp up their efforts to get interviews and jump ship. If they all bring in donuts at the same time, it's going to be a rough autumn. Heck, it'll be a rough winter -- remember, it takes a year to make someone competent to do their job here. Anyone we hire today is useless until Thanksgiving at best.

The Chief and I are staying in touch. Heck, I've given and loaned his family a stack of board games and card games. I hope whatever I decide to do, whenever I decide to do it, I make the transition as smooth as he did.

Great work, Chief. We'll miss you, and thanks for the donuts."


As it developed, we did hire more people. I referred fellow Thursday-game-nighter R.J. but after some grueling interviews, he ended up getting another job instead.

Today Lee and I took the girls over to Tom's house, ate snacks, and celebrated his graduation. Tom, his wife Oma, and their kids Chris, Amanda, and Sara were there. Also present were lots of his friends, and I ended up talking to a nice lady named Trisha, who owned Ticket To Ride. As it developed, her daughter took classes at school from one of my old Houston Gamers buddies.

Tom's son Chris and I finally got to get in a couple of games of Magic: The Gathering. I had pointed Chris at a free tutorial available online, and provided him with stacks of commons that I wasn't using at the moment. He built some test decks, and was actually playing with a friend he had taught when I arrived. As Lee and I got our plates of snacks, they finished up, and his friend built a new deck on the fly and started playing.

His friend had to go, and so I finished out that game with Chris. After that, I broke out one of my own decks... which is goofy and only moderately degenerate. It involves Future Sight, Tolarian Academy, and a lot of wizards. Chris shows good judgment, and I'm impressed by how much of the game he's researched on his own.

I ended up calling the positions for a few pre-teen girls and my wife playing Twister as Cori roamed on the floor, and Alex spun the spinner in a rousing game of Don't Wake Daddy. Meanwhile, Oma and Trisha finished out a game of Scrabble...

I gave Chris another Magic card to add to the cards he already got from me: a Treasure Trove... woo-hoo an uncommon that gives reuseable drawing power.

We headed back and the girls went to bed almost immediately.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 127, New game titles played for the year = 20.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thursday night: The gang learns Jacob Marley, Esq.

Chris B., R.J., Tim F., and Crystal joined Lee and I for a rousing game of Jacob Marley, Esq. since I had been hankering to play it again. It's a cute little game, but the whole thing took us longer that I would have wanted: we finished out in about an hour and a half of play.

Chris suggested using hidden victory points, which would have sped up the game by at least 20 minutes. As the clear leader from about 20 minutes in, his loans were repeatedly hammered into the Bankrupt status, costing him points and extending the game. He finally engineered a scenario where he was able to move and win.

I like this game more for 4 or 5 players... there's very little to do on other people's turns (except look at loan stacks where you have left a calling card. Two of the stacks of loans actually ran out, which I hadn't seen happen in the 4 or 5 player games I've played. As it happened, this cost me the ability to get loans at least once, since I landed on an "empty" neighborhood, and had no calling cards to be able to jump ship. If I had been planning ahead, I could have dropped a calling card earlier on, and given myself some flexibility.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 124, New game titles played for the year = 20.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Awesome Math Trade List on Board Game Geek Part 2: Results

Well, the results of the big trade were posted, and I did... okay.

My 4 games turned out as follows:
  • My Big A, Little A/Frank's Zoo -> Settlers of Catan Travel edition - my 32nd pick of 66 entries
  • My umpty-odd Magic white uncommons -> Hoity Toity - my 36th pick of 66 entries
  • My German Starfarers -> Monkeys on the Moon - my 47th pick of 59 entries
  • My El Grande -> Hacienda - my 5th pick of 6 entries - most of whom dropped out with no listings, or had only 3 picks each. Bleh to you guys, too.
As I predicted, over half my El Grande picks dropped out of the list completely. Out of the top 10 most wanted games, I had listed 4 as wanted for my El Grande, and 8 of the 10 on my other 3 games.

With respect to probable game values... well, I broke even, maybe even came out a little ahead. I ended up with 4 games I wanted, and moved some stinkers out of my collection. Now I have to pack and ship all the games I promised, which is terrible.

I will absolutely and definitely participate in more of these trades. I can see listing 100+ Magic uncommons or 500+ Magic commons on every single list that will take them.

Only 2 people wanted my Magic cards.
Only 2 people wanted my copy of Big A, Little A.
Only 8 people wanted my copy of Starfarers, and was listed as last pick on 4 of those lists... people wanted it but not all that badly.
20 people wanted El Grande, and it was listed as the first pick on 6 of those lists...

Very interesting. I've already posted Amun-Re to another trade list, since it made the top-10 most wanted on the one that just finished.

Awesome Math Trade List on Board Game Geek Part 1: Selections

Whew! I just came home from work over my lunch break to finish my want lists for a giant Math Trade list on Board Game Geek.

The list itself is here. There are 185 games on the list, 4 of them mine (from best to worst: awesome-and-collectible, untranslated-but-fancy, small-but-good, and mediocre). The basic idea: you put up games for trade. After a set time, everyone says which games they want, and it's run through a computer program to find the most daisy-chained trades possible. Albert sends his game to Bob, who sends his game to Crystal, who sends her game to David, who sends his game to Albert.

All that's pretty simple until you look at what I needed to do: given a list I saw at 9 pm, evaluate which of the 181 remaining games on the list would be fair trades for each of my 4 games. After that, rank them in order of which ones I would want first. Yes, the computer program first makes the most trades possible, then if it can make a trade that gives Albert his first pick instead of his tenth pick, it picks that trade chain.

It's possible that nobody will offer a game you want, in which case, you just submit that, and you're off the hook. There are several games involved that are worth $60-$125, due to their collectible status, so probably one or more of those won't get traded.

As it happens, out of the 181 possible games, I only felt 6 or 7 would be a fair enough trade for my out-of-print copy of El Grande. Remember, we still have to ship these games to each other. There was a Seattle-area-only trade that evidently worked great a year ago, since everyone paid low or no shipping.

I'm eager to see who ends up getting what. Overall, I suspect somewhere between 60 and 100 games will end up being shipped... the top few people will probably drop out, others will only have wanted the top stuff, and some people's lists will overlap completely.

Overall, this is way easier than using the trade finder and proposing trades for individual games. I never would have made the offer of some of this stuff... it's too piddly to consider, and too time-consuming.

I think I'm posting $50, $30, $20, and $12 in the 4 games, but I'm not really sure. It'll be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Webcomic Tip: No one cares about your stick-figure days

Hey, webcomic artists!

I was tempted to write "Hey, fat kids!" Some of you are not fat. You like drawing fox-people instead, which IS a debilitating handicap, but at least that doesn't give you diabetes, as far as I know.

Anyway, here's 2 tips for having a successful webcomic:

1. Keep posting regular content (no more than 40% fillers).
2. At the end of the year, strip out all the fillers of the last 12 months. Spend December 31 removing anything involving stick figures, pin-up art, scribbles of yourself in bed sick, scribbles your friend did while you were out of town, MS-Paint drawings of you sad with a broken scanner, etc. After that, sure, eggnog it up.

Ask yourself, "In 5 years, will this help someone reading the archives?" If not, take it out.

Artists in other media that carry around a portfolio don't keep everything with them - they pick out 10-20 works that are representative of their current style AND actually the best work they can do at this given moment.

If your archives don't meet that standard, redraw them or axe them. If you hit it big, you'll have to redraw them all anyway. Get started now for the extra practice.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Today Larry and I met up at the church and got in 2 games of Attika. He won the first one when I blundered badly, and won the second one with his emphasis on efficiency. We were setting up for a third game when I realized we had about 5 minutes before I needed to pick up the girls.

We also talked some about the need for one or both of us to buy Power Grid. I let him know I'm working on it by trying to get trades on BoardGameGeek. We'll see how it goes, but we'll probably have to suck it up and just buy it.

While I was at the Houston Gamers yesterday, I saw For Sale, well, for sale. It was 15 bucks for a medium-sized box. However, inside that box are 40 cards and 75 chips and a small set of instructions. It's a good game, but seriously, that's Cheapass Games fodder. For $10-12 more, I could have a copy of Ra, one of the most highly-rated games of all time and a much more complicated auction game with lots and lots of tiles, a board, a bunch of wooden bidding tiles, etc.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 123, New game titles played for the year = 20.

Houston Gamers: I learn some new games

My Gamecount posts track two metrics: the number of games I played this year(3 games of Power Grid, 5 of San Juan, whatever) and the number of games I played for the first time ever.

The first requirement makes me eager to get gaming anywhere and with anyone cool. If Lee and I can get Wyatt Earp or San Juan on the table in the evening, great. The second one forces me to be more aggressive about playing games I have lying around unplayed, and be more outgoing at the Houston Gamers, so I play different games with more people.

Anyway, I went to the Houston Gamers and learned Perudo, a Liar's Dice variant that slows the game down and has more complicated rules, both of which are bad. I also learned Havoc: Hundred Years' War. Havoc turns out to be a 6-suited 6-card poker variant that's timed for aggressive play. It has some interesting rummy-like card drafting mechanics, and I hear it's fairly cheap, maybe $16 or so for a copy. I'd definitely pick this up... it's not too hard to explain and I thought it had some depth to it.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 121, New game titles played for the year = 20.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Post Office (not by Bukowski)

Lee headed off to LaGrange with her sister, taking baby Cori in tow. That was about 10:15 a.m. from here. Scheduled departure from her sister's place was 9 a.m.

I packed up some Magic cards for a BGG auction, and headed to the post office.

The nice guy behind me had malt liquor breath, and there were 32 people in line in front of me.

As it turned out, he has 5 kids ages 7-22. The clerks processed someone every 20 seconds, so it only took 10 minutes to get up front, which I think is pretty impressive.

We headed out, and Alexis is down for a nap now. Once she wakes up, I'll take her to PetSmart to see the furry folks. Being 2, she doesn't understand that they're for sale.

After that, it's off to Half-Price Books to sell off anything that doesn't meet's standards.

Thursday night: Two Knizias

I've sung the praises of Reiner Knizia before.

We played Modern Art and Medici, two of his highly-rated games on Thursday. R.J., Chris B., and Crystal came over and we lost no time in diving into a game of Modern Art.

As you may recall, I got Modern Art in a giant box of games I ordered. I threw it in to get free shipping. I did that, oh, over 3 years ago, and Modern Art is the reason why I don't do that much anymore. I meant well - It's by a designer I like, it's rated as one of the best dang games of all time, and I have some friends that like it.

Yet it took me 2 years to break the shrink wrap, and another year or more to have it hit the table. Never mind that I have a whole gaming group of novices who will play anything- ANYTHING- I pull off the shelf, plus another whole gaming group in the Houston Gamers who will play almost anything except Rocketville.

Modern Art is played in 4 seasons. You start with a hand of 8 cards, each with a painting that is an artist and an auction type. On each person's turn, they put up a card for auction, and then either someone else pays them to put the card in their collection, or the auctioneer overbids and pays the bank to put the card in their collection. It's all zero-sum at this point.

After 5 paintings (cards) of one artist hit the table, the season ends, and each person gets paid out based on the popularity of the artist. The more paintings, the more you get paid. If you bought unfashionable artists, well, tough.

Anyway, Crystal won with a score of about $540,000. Chris had ~$450,000 or so, and Lee and I were in the $370,000 range, $3,000 from each other... perfectly appropriate for being married over 9 years. R.J. was stuck out with something under $200,000.

Modern Art is supposed to be a classic. I guess in Germany, where they'll play a game over and over, that's great. We don't typically have a game hit the table often enough for every player to play perfectly rationally. I gotta rate this a solid 5.5, or "MEH" in you primitive humans' language.

If I ever get 5 people together that understand Modern Art completely, well, I think the outcome will depend totally on how good they each do at card-counting everyone's money, and which paintings they draw. Wow. That means the absolute best rating Modern Art can get is a 6. I don't approve of card-counting OR total randomness.

Then we played Medici and I lost, lost, lost, lost. Lee won by a good bit. It's a 9 out of 10 for me. Wow, do I love this game. Don't know why. I just do. Maybe it's the cargo, maybe it's the stack of goods, maybe it's the little ships.

I'd like to play some more of these games, and the other Knizia auction games, to see where the group finally says, "Enough! No more auction games, ever!"

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 119, New game titles played for the year = 18.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dorothy Gambrell of Cat and Girl gave me free stuff!

Remember how Dorothy Gambrell wanted to give out free stuff?

I got my SASE back a few days ago, and overlooked it in the constant vortex of chaos that surrounds our dining room table.

Inside: black stickers that have a skull and a "FUTURE CORPSES OF AMERICA MEMBER" logo.

Sweet! It's a memento mori that sticks to your bumper, I guess.

Houston Public Library website, why you gotta cut me like that? (scroll to end for awesome library hack)

I logged in, tried to renew all my books, and got a warning message, "THIS WILL ATTEMPT TO RENEW ALL BOOKS, IS THIS OKAY?"

Yes, please, I will click on your superfluous window. Oh, noes! An error message:

My record is IN USE BY THE SYSTEM! Well, that will never do! I guess I'll just try again.

You know, later.

Five minutes wasn't enough time.

Huh, that's kinda, uh, funny. Because, you know, I totally didn't have anything better to do in 5 minutes. Good thing I have a copy of MWSnap installed for taking screenshots of error messages that are totally worthless.

Seriously, I know this is a non-profit organization. Good thing the bar is set so much lower for non-profits, especially ones with a monopoly on that particular service.

Way to make me gun-shy about using your resources, you cretins. When it works, your website's pretty decent. Oh, but it doesn't work right at this exact moment, so I guess I'll try again later.

Nope, still in use by the system. Since I'm a second-class citizen who reads uncataloged fiction paperback, if I lose the book, well, I'm absolutely screwed and there's no way to know what I checked out, and I can't even replace it.

Back in 1997, "Uncataloged Science Fiction Paperback A" cost me about $22. I moved and naturally, the library's notices weren't being forwarded. A few months later, I be-bopped into my now-local branch, and discovered I was in the hole for quite a bit. Personally, I think any science fiction paperback whose author's last name started with "A" should have been acceptable.

Overall, not the most awesome user experiences I've ever had.

Oh, it finally worked. I'll just check these over...

AWESOME! Some of the books that reported they were renewed fine now are showing additional information "TOO MANY RENEWALS" along with the due date. See, that's the reason for the earlier modal window. I wonder if I did 3 renewals in 3 days if it would trip the trigger and force me to return the books early.

Stupid libraries. This is why PDFs were created.

One more couple of clicks to test...

NO! Clicking renew over and over pushes out your due date all the way to the final third 2-week period! Some of my books are now due 8/8/06, over a month from now. Of course, some are due in only 8 days. Could we not use a moving average or something, people?

LIBRARY HACK! Immediately after checking out your books, go double-renew them! You now have 6 weeks, rather than 2 weeks. Of course, you can't renew them again.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Power Grid is a hit on Saturday night

R.J. and Larry came over for dinner and gaming on Saturday night.

I had cooked up some chicken, and Lee made pasta and alfredo sauce. Larry brought some cherry turnovers for dessert.

The kids went to bed with no trouble, so R.J. unpacked his copy of Power Grid. Power Grid is ranked highly on the Boardgamegeek site, with good reason. It has a lot of variation between games, has a good deal of hidden information, and packs a lot of tension with opportunity for good play. There's a lot of details, but once you've played through a few turns, it's second nature.

Three things about last night that were awesome:
  1. It actually happened.
  2. Lee liked and was intrigued by Power Grid, and is willing and ready to play again.
  3. I won. I'm not a dance-around-the-table guy, but I do like to see my plans work.
Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 117, New game titles played for the year = 18.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Thursday night: Newer and Older

R.J., Crystal, and Tim F. came over yesterday. Tim and I played around using a Knoppix Linux live CD I've used before to good effect. He has a mysterious laptop that appears to have a number of small problems.

We played Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, a wacky trading/racing game, and Can't Stop.

Tim and I also traded a few Magic cards. I handed him a stack of goblins and he handed me a few random cards: a couple of rebels, some miscellaneous cards to play around with a black discard deck I've been tweaking for a while, and a few white creatures that I'll probably never use.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 116, New game titles played for the year = 18.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Houston Gamers: I win at Power Grid

My friend Larry called me back and asked if I wanted to carpool to the Houston Gamers, and I said, "Heck yeah!"

As we arrived, Jean and R.J. were about to start Twilight Struggle, but as it is 2-player only, they paused for a second. The Power Grid box was in plain sight.

I said, "Okay, Larry's sharp, let's play Power Grid." Jean ran through the rules fairly quickly, and Doug P. joined us.

It was an interesting game. Fresh from learning it a couple weeks ago, I did a better job of planning my resource purchases and building. Jenny took over Doug P.'s spot about halfway through.

As it happened, I almost bought 15 cities and ended the game, but couldn't. The next round, I built cities 15 and 16, powered them when no one else could, and won. It was a tight game.

Larry had a good time, too. I know R.J.'s got a copy, so I'm hoping we can try this out again soon. We also finished a 5-player game in less than 2.5 hours, so that's encouraging. I had been thinking of this as too long for me to buy. It turns out to move along quite nicely.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 114, New game titles played for the year = 18.

Catch-Up: Wyatt Earp with my sister

On Monday night, Lee and I taught my sister Amy how to play Wyatt Earp. Amy's gotten a lot of good gaming in at Christmas, learning first Settlers of Catan, then Puerto Rico, then San Juan, as I learned them and spread the fun around. We sent them San Juan for Christmas one year, so they have been able to play even when we're not around.

So, yeah, Amy had fun and played a great game. Lee squeaked out a narrow margin of victory, and I had one good round of capturing outlaws.

Amy, my niece Hannah, my mom, and my aunts flew out the next day. I followed that up with being sick on Tuesday and Wednesday, and am still taking antibiotics.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 113, New game titles played for the year = 18.

Buffett's gift: how much is that in Magic booster packs?

Warren Buffett, the world’s greatest investor and second-richest man, is donating 85 percent of his $44 billion fortune to charity, with $31 billion going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

My analysis: his total charitable gift is enough money to:

    • give $126.46 per US resident or,
    • give 1,281 Jack-In-The-Box Big Texas Cheeseburgers with extra pickle and onion for every person in Texas, or
    • give $5.84 to every living human being, or
    • pay 1/22nd of the entire credit-card balances of the entire US, or
    • build 149,600 Grave Digger monster trucks from the ground up, or
    • pay 1/231,550th of the entire nation's mortgage debt, or
    • double current spending on AIDS research for 25 years, or
    • buy median-value homes for a quarter-million Americans, or
    • make 24,933 episodes of Arrested Development, or
    • fit 2.3 million homes with huge solar panels, or
    • give away 249,000 four-year free-ride scholarships to the University of Houston, or
    • pay 1/20th OR 1/25th of the cost of the Iraq war - depending on who you believe and how long we stay, or
    • give 910,000 teens a free 4-year community college education, or
    • provide health insurance for every single uninsured kid in the US.
All numbers are back-of-the-envelope calculations, of course.