Tuesday, March 27, 2007

TurboTax's deceptive advertising and technical incompetence cost them $30 this year.

Ya know, I actually prefer TurboTax's software, but I am redoing my taxes in TaxCut right now to avoid using TurboTax due to their deceptive advertising.

Last year, we filed with TurboTax, and when I got an email saying "Hey, returning customer, save $20!"

Well, what they meant was, TurboTax costs $50 after Friday, March 30. Right now it costs $30. For everybody, even returning customers.

I can, y'know, save $20 on what it's going to cost, like everybody else.

Here's a thought, TurboTax. How about if I pay $20 for TaxCut instead of $30 for your services, and you can eat old paint. For a living, or a hobby, I don't care.

*** Also, since we used TurboTax Online to file last year, our data was saved as a PDF, not as, y'know, data - so we ended up re-keying our numbers for last year in ANYWAY.

Old paint, TurboTax folks, it's your future. Look into it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Power Grid at Tri-Games (x2)

What a workout! Larry and I went to Tri-Games last night and got in two intense Power Grid games.

The first one was Jean, Larry, Len, and I, in France. We saw two commodity crashes over the course of the game, and it was brutal. Larry finessed a victory and pretty much redefined how we'll think about Power Grid.

The second gameboard Len, Larry, and I chose was Italy. I took an early lead, ran with it while paying through the nose on fuel costs, and finished out first with tons of cash in hand.

In other news, fellow Houston Gamer Kevin Nunn is discussing teeny-tiny print runs of a couple of his games with some printers. Geez, a chance to get one of maybe 40 copies, all signed and numbered by a kick-ass game designer about to have a new game published? I told him to get me two of whatever he prints.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Regular Thursday - Puerto Rico, here we come

Tim,Tim's wife Kathryn, RJ, Chris, and Bobby made it.

We started off with Tsuro - Tim won twice as everyone else croaked. It's a cute filler - it takes about 15 minutes. I'm lukewarm on it and only bought it because it was on sale for half price at Barnes & Noble recently.

After much discussion of the ideal 6-player game, we ended up at Alhambra. It's sorta-strategic, but mostly tactical. Bobby got a clear lead in two of the building types, and I ended up with first in one category and lots of second-place wins.

We also discovered an Alhambra rules discrepancy! Chris and I's rules are different - his stated specifically that walls are only scored during the last scoring round. Mine merely state that the walls are also scored, in the next sentence after saying that all the buildings score each round. We managed to resolve it without having to knife-fight outside (the duel was offered by multiple third parties, and was refused by both principals), scoring the way Chris knew his rules said, since he was the one to go out to his car, get his copy, and clear up the mystery. I dunno, I think I like it the other way, but will have to try both ways and see.

Tim and Kathryn had to go (early dog-walking), and RJ left as well (has to work on Friday for the first time in several weeks), so Chris, Bobby, and I cracked into Puerto Rico.

I think the last time I played Puerto Rico was with Lewis and Lee back at CCG [Cards, Comics, and Games]. Lee was pregnant, and Cori is now almost 18 months. Also, CCG closed. I took an early lead in buildings, while Bobby accumulated quarries and Chris began collecting plantation types. In the final turn, I elected to do something that didn't earn points, and Chris ended the game. Final score Chris 38, me 37, Bobby 35. Chris was the only one to build and man a 10-point building. I also bought a factory with only 4 goods, had a harbor without shipping much, and bought a large warehouse instead of saving for a wharf.

It was nice to sit and grind the gears on Puerto Rico. We still finished in under an hour, and we all had fun the whole time, so that's something.

For the record, the only games I'm interested in acquiring right now are:

1. Ubongo -speed game; sorta Tetris-like; about to be re-released in America and get lots cheaper; have played it on two occasions and love it.
2. Factory Fun -speed game, sorta Tetris-like
3. Gloria Mundi -meh, Larry didn't like it, but I did; also one of James Ernest's oddballs.
4. Fearsome Foes -meh, I hear it takes too long; still, I love Friedemann Friese's games and don't have any other dungeon crawls in my collection. Augh, can't... start... collecting...

It's nice to not feel compelled to run out and buy a ton of stuff. Since Tri-Games offers decent discounts on pre-orders, I will go ahead and pre-order Ubongo. The other stuff, yeah, I can wait. Other Houston Gamers have got the others, and I can play them more and decide if I am going to take the plunge. Plus, of course, play a lot of Power Grid.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tri-Games mid-month

Larry and I headed up to Tri-Games on Saturday and managed to get a game of Power Grid together with Dan, Kevin, and Len. Dan and Kevin were new, so we used the fast-paced Benelux expansion map. Len destroyed us, powering a crazy-huge number of cities early and never sliding out of "crazily-in-first" place. He said he's played a lot of games, and this was his first win.

Dan caught on well, and Kevin, uh, took our hints and hung in there. Len pinned Kevin down on the north side of the map, and Kevin never caught up from that. I made several errors and just wasn't efficient, taking a distant fourth.

I tried out Hey, That's My Fish, which is a cute kids' game about penguins collecting fish, with Larry. I also taught Larry Blokus Trigon and Terra Nova.

We considered playing another game of Power Grid, but by that point, it was already 2 in the morning, so we called it a night.

Current interest levels in games:
  • Power Grid is holding my interest and I'm definitely going to push for more games of it.
  • Blokus Trigon is neat, I think eventually I'd like to own a copy.
  • I'd like to play more games of Pizarro & Co. to see if I want to keep it or trade it off.
  • I'd like to play Gloria Mundi again - Larry might not be up for it after the severe beating he took in the earlier game due to poor plays by other people at the table. It's vicious and may actually require players to be, y'know, competent.
  • Tsuro needs more people than the couple I got to play.
Blah blah have unplayed games on the stack whatever, maybe later, maybe never.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tri-Games - last weekend

So, Tri-Games has become my favorite game store. I don't know exactly when that happened.

I played Emil And The Detective (new to me) and two games of Kevin Nunn's prototype "King's Menagerie."

Emil And The Detective is a short deduction game, probably best for kids or half-toasted grownups. Not drinking at the time, I was under-impressed. It does come with blindfolds for all the detectives to wear as Emil the thief makes his move.

I've played King's Menagerie twice before in a previous incarnation. It's shaped up into a solid game that feels like a Kevin Nunn design: every turn, the players are given more and more knowledge about what the King will eventually want in his menagerie. Selling animals to the king early not only nets you some cash, but diminishes his interest in that variety. Action cards add some swing, but aren't overly powerful or available. All in all, good stuff.

Len, George, and I got in a good game of Power Grid. We played the craziest game on the southern half of the Germany map. We finished with no power plants for sale, no oil, coal, or garbage for sale, and only five nukes for sale. I won, having managed the previous turn to corner the coal and oil markets, damaging Len and George's ability to run plants.

Len and I also played Alhambra (he won by a fair bit) and Blue Moon City (I lost, lost, lost).

Friday, March 09, 2007

The iPod: I reconsider it

My wife asked me a while ago: "When the iPod came out, you mocked it extensively, saying it was a stupid waste of money that did things only a litte better what CD players that were MP3-cd enabled did. Have your feelings changed?"
Yes. This is due to many factors:
1. When the original iPod came out, it was 4, 6 or 10 Gig for $399. That's crazy-stupid high, especially considering my/our idiot-techie-crap disposable income budget at the time. Now, it's $199 for 60 gig.
2. The alternate uses for it have become more obvious. At that time, I didn't know how a simple 256 megabyte USB flash drive would make my life better in almost every way. The idea of a bigger storage space to haul around? Awesome.
3. It's cool-looking. The pictures didn't do it justice, and since I don't haunt Best Buy and don't lurk in the music section of stores in general, I didn't see it. In the stores, they're bolted down with all kinds of anti-theft bars. Holding one in your hand is like holding a tiny, perfect baby bunny rabbit.
4. It's become apparent that the UI and overall ergonomics is improved. Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror once said that making something 10% easier will double your market share.
5. Enough of my hipster friends got them that I think of it as a reasonable accessory now.
6. There are more price points, now that there's a Shuffle. Also, the Shuffle matches exactly how I listened to mp3s at my old job using my work laptop, minus the work laptop.
7. I installed iTunes and used it. There are some things I don't like, and there's a certain something I can't put my finger on. It's "good enough" software, q.v. the Rise of Worse is Better. Also, I don't have a huge music library, so there's no danger of me encountering the iTunes crazy-huge music library problems. Windows Media Player's blue-on-black default scheme angers me, as does the link to buy music from the Wal-Mart Music Store.
8. I purchased one song from iTunes, so I see how handy that could be for a single person with money to spend and who didn't mind having to re-rip the file before having an mp3, universally accepted as the music format for non-weenies everywhere.
9. Bittorrent has changed how I look at file sharing in general. I'm not stealing music - I'm using it to get linux distros and public-domain works, BUT I can tell that there's a huge number of giant torrents full of entire discographies. The fact that less-skeevy filesharing is out there means I can visualize the average non-crazy person having a music library on their computer and accumulating enough music to appreciate an iPod.
10. Computers got faster, and hard drive space got cheaper. A few years ago, I had a 30 gig hard drive, with maybe 15 mp3's on it (an album of Sneaker Pimps remixes and the two Tae Kwan Leap sketches by The Frantics). Today, I have a 160 gig hard drive, with another 80 gig hard drive on the table next to it, waiting to be installed. My collection of music ripped from my CDs has likewise grown.
11. Half.com made it seem not retarded to buy used CDs, and the idea of buying music NOT online fell away completely.
12. My overall salary increased by almost 200%. Our total household income increased by over 300%.
13. We networked our computers, and I got over my fear of swapping/adding hard drives.
14. My physical CD purchases slowed to almost nothing, so the idea of ripping everything I buy seems much less onerous now.
15. Oh, yeah, and CD-ROM drives are now 10-40 times faster.
16. Oh, yeah, and burning software became cheaper or even FREE, depending on what you like. Also, they got better. Also, the music databases work better.
17. Oh, yeah, and blank CDs now cost 1/20th of what they cost when I was making that comparison.
18. I have a full-time job now where I COULD listen to an iPod, if I so desired.
19. John Gruber. Oh, Daring Fireball. Truly, I heart DF. See also http://daringfireball.net/2006/12/apple_universal_conjectural_transcript
20. Macs stopped being so goddamn pricey (I remember when you couldn't get a Mac for under $3000. At that time I was bitching about the iPod, you couldn't get a Mac for under $1899.)
21. Vista seems determined to drive normal people out of computing.
22. I started using WMP instead of WinAmp. I stopped fighting The Man and just used whatever was at hand.
23. My car stereo STILL won't play burned CDs and is becoming flaky about playing normal CDs, so the idea of buying a good digital music player and integrating it into my car makes a little more sense.
24. We bought a house, then refinanced to a lower interest rate, so I can't think of an iPod as half-a-year's-principal any more.
25. I got older, and so did my friends. I'm less of a judgmental firebrand now.

Games Catch-up because I gotta be caught up

For the record, here's everything played from OwlCon to now:

Feb 15 - San Juan and Wyatt Earp with Chris, Bobby, and Emily.

Feb 22 - Yspahan and Princes of Florence with Tim, Chris, RJ, and Marty.

Feb 24 - Tri-Games visit with Larry. We end up playing Gloria Mundi, Power Grid, Flickverk, Von Bis Imp Kairo, Mogul, and El Grande until about 5 in the morning.

March 1 - Lee's night to game. They play a long game of Power Grid on the Italy map.

March 3- I head to Midnight Comics and learn Alhambra:The Dice Game and Taluva from Kevin, Debra, and Crystal. I win Alhambra by only a few points in a close game, and lose Taluva.

March 8 - Tim, RJ, and I play Power Grid: Germany (I win) and Tsuro (I lose).

I have a few posts in draft form:

1. How and why our Thursday night board games continue to entertain, and how we have changed our format to fit the group.
2. Mini-reviews of some of the new games I played. TEASER: Most of them were mediocre, and that's a good thing.
3. Overview of my game collection, and how I expect it to evolve.
4. The Barnes & Noble clearance sale, and how it affected the board game geek economy.

I don't expect any of them to go up this weekend.