Monday, December 29, 2008

Suiting Up

So, I find myself working this week. This is a bit of a change for me, as I have traditionally taken the time between Christmas and New Years off from work. In fact, this might be the first year since 1999 when I have done this. In case you are wondering, it isn't a situation where I am out of vacation days, and have to work. According to my company's online scheduling tool, I currently have over 128 hours of vacation stored up (note that this may not account for the 24 hours I took for the three days before Christmas, so it might be a bit less), so I obviously could have taken the time off if I had really wanted. That being said, there can be some benefits to being at work when little else is going on.

1. If you are at work when nobody else is, you get to handle everything that crops up. This can be good or bad, but historically for me this has been good. For example, right before Christmas we got a request for a proposal for a bunch of audit work at a local St. Louis company. Normally the big wigs would handle this, but since they are all on vacation I get to step up and handle some higher-level work that I would normally not get to do, because they know I am available. Which I guess has more to do with letting the right people know you will be working, rather than just showing up when nobody knows you're there.

2. You can leave a bit early and the only people who will know about it either don't care (because they are doing the same thing), or, well, let's be honest; nobody here this week cares about how many hours you sit at your desk.

3. You get to spend time with the new hires, who haven't earned enough vacation time to take off. This might not seem very important, but in my line of work it can help to spend some time with the new people and figure out who is, and who isn't, competent. See, I'm probably going to have to work with these guys and gals at some point in the future, so getting some preliminary intelligence on them can only help.

4. You can dress up without people thinking you're going to an interview for another job. I'm actually wearing suits to work all this week, because I have a bunch and I haven't had to wear one in three months. Also, for the record, I look pretty stylin' in a sharply cut suit and should wear them more often than I do. However, modern America has become so casual that wearing a suit is generally cause for ridicule and mistrust, unless you're at a wedding or a funeral. And those things are getting more and more casual all the time, too. So, anyway, I like wearing suits, so I'm wearing them this week because I can. (Note: I said I'm wearing suits, not ties. Ties are for chumps and people who want to strangle themselves to death, but suits are great.)

5. Rush hour traffic is a joke. This is partly due to the fact that 3/4 of the workforce is at home or visiting relatives, and partly due to the fact that many of those who are working are long gone before 4 P.M. rolls around.

6. If you have actual work to do, there is hardly anybody around to bug you and keep you from getting it done, so I can be crazy productive. Not that there is usually much to do, but see #1 above for this year's situation.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Corporate Shuffle

This time up in my trip through my game collection, we come to a very unserious game. Corporate Shuffle is a variant on The Great Dalmuti, a card game designed by Richard Garfield, which is itself a take on the old card game Kings and Paupers. In fact, Corporate Shuffle really is same game as Dalmuti, except for a few rules changes. Well, that and the fact that it is the officialy licensed Dilbert card game, which allows them to put panels from Dilbert strips on all of the cards and in the rule book, which makes it (to me, a significant Dilbert fan) way better.

The basics of game are as follows. It is for four to eight players. There are five different positions in the game: the Big Boss, the Little Boss, from zero to four workers, the Senior Intern, and the Junior Intern, in order of priority. There is a deck of 60 cards, all of which are dealt out to all the players as evenly as possible. All of the players try to get rid of their cards, and you do this by playing your cards in sets. The winner of the previous hand always goes first, unless they can't, in which case the Big Boss determines who goes first. For example, let's say the Big Boss is going first, and has three "10" cards. He can play one or them, or two of them, or three of them. Whoever many he plays, the next player has to either play that man cards of a lower number, or he has to pass. You continue going around the table until everyone has passed, and the last person who played a set then wins the hand and starts the next set. You continue until someone plays their last card, which makes them the winner of the round. They will be the Big Boss in the next round. The second player to go out becomes the Little Boss, and so on, until the last person is left, who becomes the Junior Intern.

That's pretty much it. You play each hand of cards to win, and you don't keep score from hand to hand. You just play it for fun. Now, in The Great Dalmuti, it is written into the rules that you have special hats to denote the Kings and the Paupers. Corporate Shuffle doesn't have such a rule, but when I last played it (which would be earlier today) we used ties for the Bosses and lousy hats for the Interns. You can totally play it up for fun and just be as goofy as you want to.

I should also note that there are a few cards in Corporate Shuffle that differ its gameplay from Dalmuti. There are three "special" cards that bend the rules in different ways. My personal favorite is the Ratbert card, which is the worst one in the game. If you win a round in which the Ratbert card was played, rather than it being out of play (like every other card played), you have to take it back into your hand. And it is a super lousy card, being a higher number than any other card in the game. Then there's the card that lets you win a hand straight up, which is pretty awesome. You just play it and win; it's that great.

This is definitely a game that is staying in my collection, as it is fun, but it's not one of my all-time favorites, and its lack of real competitiveness (no scoring, remember) means that I have to be in the right mood to play it. When I'm in that mood, though, it's a great time.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Oh Yeah

In case you didn't figure it out from my last post, I'm back in St. Louis. I got back on Saturday evening, and this time American Airlines only got me there 1/2 hour late, rather than 8 1/2 hours late, like they did on my way to Puerto Rico. Even though it is very cold here in St. Louis, I am very glad to be home. 12 days is a long time to be away, and those bills sure do pile up!

No More Gifts = Awesome

My friend Ben runs a blog about what is awesome. I don't really like to step on other people's turf, but I would like to point out that being completely done with your Christmas shopping, and therefore not needing to actually stand in the (literally) 100+ person long line at the store anymore, is pretty awesome.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tooling around Puerto Rico

Finally, a day without work. Work has been a bit crazy, and not fun. Multiple meetings to tell us that we aren't doing a good job, but without any evidence to back this up. If they could show me something that I was doing wrong, then I could fix it. However, when nobody can point to anything specific that I am doing wrong, then I don't know what to fix. If there is even anything to actually fix. Maybe it's just a misunderstanding? I don't know. But, yesterday was Saturday, which is not a good day to worry about work.

So, yesterday, Ali, Sofia, and I drove up to San Juan and visited
El Morro. El Morro is an old fort on a promontory on the far western tip of San Juan. Americans shelled it during the Spanish-American War, in case you didn't know. It was pretty cool to walk around the fortifications and check out everything. The weather was gorgeous and windy enough that we didn't get too hot with all of the sun. After wandering El Morro for a bit, we went into old San Juan and found a nice tapas restaurant. Neither Ali or Sofia had eaten tapas before, so I got to introduce them to that style of food.

After eating too much, we drove east to
El Yunque National Forest, a full rainforest in the NE of the island. And, yes, it did rain on us while we were there, which we all through was quite fitting. We only hiked about 2 miles of trail, since we got there a bit late in the day, but it was still pretty cool. I'd never been to a rainforest before.

Today I am just hanging around my room in Palmas del Mar, doing some work (yes, I know, shut up) and taking it easy. If the Niners game is on this afternoon, I'll catch some of that, as Ali is a huge Niners fan and my room has a better TV than his does.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Experiences

When you are trying to work, and a bunch of guys in UPS shirts come into the office, banging on drums, and steel pan, and singing and dancing, and then everyone pours out of their offices and dances and sings in the common area, you know you're not in standard corporate America anymore.

An Ode to American Airlines

American Airlines, angel of the skies
You bestow upon us the boon of air travel
Winging to far away places, we reflect upon the beauty of the earth
As seen by God

American Airlines, in your infinite wisdom
You bestow upon us more than we have asked
Why fly from Chicago to Puerto Rico, as desired
When you can fly to Dallas, instead

American Airlines, in your infinite wisdom
You knew that I had never seen the land between those two cities
So you cancelled my flight to Puerto Rico
Knowing that I needed more time with you

American Airlines, time with you was not what I desired
It is, however, what you gave to me
You also gave much more time on the ground in Chicago
Than was sane

American Airlines, you eventually deposted me in Puerto Rico
Where I longed to be
Not because I really wanted to be there
But because I couldn't stand waiting in DFW anymore

American Airlines, at least you delivered my luggage
I was overjoyed to see it on the carousel
Which is more than was ever done for me
By US Airways

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Roughly 5 1/2 years ago, just because I wanted one, I got a Gameboy Advance SP. This was when those things were hot, as opposed to today, when they are at least two generations out of date. And, in fact, until recently I had not even touched that thing in well over two years. However, I have been travelling so much lately that I thought it might be fun to break it out (after I found where I had put it...) and take it with me on my trips.

You know what? This little game system sure has a lot of great games available for it. I have been playing a good amount of Advance Wars 2 (a game I got over 5 years ago) on it, and having a lot of fun. I also picked up a copy of Fire Emblem off of eBay right before Thanksgiving, and have been playing that game A LOT on those long flights to and from Reno and San Juan. And in the hotel. And, maybe, just a teeny bit while at home.

Just another reminder that something can be a bit old and not the "new hotness" and still be a lot of fun.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Under the Lily Banners

I think it's been a full month since my last entry in my game collection. Not wanting to let things get too stale, I bit the bullet and broke out the next random selection, Under the Lily Banners. Let's get one thing straight, people; this game is awesome. Fun to play, even more fun to mock the loser. Because he probably lost due to incompetent leaders that he had no control over.

This game is a wargame (third in the Mustket & Pike series) about the Thirty Years War, focusing on the battles France was involved in. This varies from small engagements like Mergentheim, all the way to the big enchilada, Rocroi. Before I started playing games in this series, I knew pretty much nothing about the Thirty Years War, other than the fact that everybody hated Cardinal Richelieu. After playing games in this series, I can tell you that warfare in this time period makes very little sense to my modern mind. Such ridiculous chaos. At a high level, battle consists of marching large masses of soldiers, armed with muskets (flint or matchlock, generally) and long pikes. They then shoot at each other at relatively close range and try to stick each other with pikes. You stand in a mass, so you can't maneuver much. If they attack near you, you die. Otherwise you try to shoot them. All of the skill is in the maneuver prior to the combat.

The game itself seems to do an excellent job of capturing this aspect of war in this period. Each army is broken into "wings," (usually left, center, and right) which have orders. These orders range from "Charge" (which operates like you would think) to "Make Ready" (not ready to charge, but kind of ready to fight) to "Rally" (which involves trying to keep your peeps from fleeing off the board). The main trick is to use orders correctly. When entering combat, it helps to be under Charge orders. However, you can't rally your own troops, or re-orient formations, while under Charge. So, after you fight off the other side, you have to change orders in order to reform and rally your troops. This is harder than you would think. In modern days, we have radios and phones and satellite connections and whatnot. Back then, they had flags and runners. Who could get killed before ever getting you your new orders, leaving you clueless. This is represented by making the player roll for each wing when he wants to change orders. Fail the roll, and you are stuck under your old orders. Which usually means your troops do something stupid and die. I remember one game I played against my brother a year ago; one of my wings needed to reform, so I was trying to change to "Rally" orders, and I kept blowing it and I stayed in "Charge." For three whole turns. Yeah, I lost that battle.

Combat itself is in two parts: fire combat (with guns) and melee combat (with pikes). Fire combat works by moving next to the other player's units. When units are next to each other, they can fire. The problem with this is that moving next to the other player's units means that those units get to shoot at you first. Guns back then needed steady positions for firing and loading, so shooting while moving was hard (you can do it, but it's not as effective, and you can't move at full speed). So, you move up, get set, and then they shoot you. Which usually sucks. If you still live, you can fire back. So you need to get multiple units on one enemy unit to really get yourself in a good position. Which is harder than it sounds.

Once the firing is all done, you have the chance to initiate melee combat. Melee combat is really quite the dicey affair. While many wargames have units take hits of damage in melee, this game doesn't do that. There are only a few possible results from melee combat:
1. You wipe them out, and the unit is eliminated (representing more of everyone scattering and the unit breaking, rather than killing every last man).
2. You freak them out, and they retreat a hex or two, losing morale.
3. They freak you out, and you retreat a hex or two, losing morale.
4. They wipe you out.
That's pretty much it. So, games tend to have a lot of maneuver, and then short and nasty combats. Which, from what I can tell, was how things actually went back in the 17th Century.

This would all be kind of boring except for cavalry, the great wild card. Most engagements have a significant amount of cavalry. Cavalry can run all over the field, shooting the place up and causing all sorts of problems, sometimes for their own side. See, Cavalry are pretty impetuous. Whenever you fight close combat with cavalry and win, there is a chance they will merrily chase the loser all over the board, and sometimes even off the board. This does a wonderful job of ruining your formations. In the most recent game, a group of French cavalry merrily chased a group of light infantry to oblivion. In doing so, however, they ran all the way through the Belgian lines and got surrounded. Did I mention the French wing commander was with that unit? Yeah, problems. Proper use of cavalry (and a bit of luck with their, shall we say, enthusiasm for chasing beaten units) can really win or lose a game for you.

So, I really like the game. It isn't without its problems, though. The only significant problem for me is the size of the units and all of the status counters. Whenever a unit takes damage from fire combat, it takes an injury counter. Whenever a unit has its formation broken, it takes a counter. Whenever a unit loses morale, it takes a counter. Leaders also stack on units, and they can get their own counters. Thus, you can end up with a number of units side by side, all with a number of counters on them. This makes it difficult (for me, at least) to keep track of what is actually going on. Not an uncommon problem with wargames, but the status counters are the same size as the units, so it can get cumbersome. In the end, though, this is still one of my favorite games, even if my stupid commanders do frustrate me to no end.

One final note: the scenario book for the game contains good detail on the historic situation leading up to the battles, as well as the aftermath. It does a good job of providing a context for why all these people are trying to kill each other, and is a good starting point for learning more about the history of the period.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Puerto Rico es muy humido

Greetings from Humacão, Puerto Rico. I flew in yesterday, enjoying a lovely 9 hours of travel, which should have been 8, but who expects any airline flying in America to be on schedule? Not me, certainly. Once I arrivedin San Juan, I met my colleague (who flew in a bit earlier from L.A.) and we tried to navigate the local highways to get to Humacão. This proved a bit tricky due to the fact that all road signs were in Spanish. I took Spanish for two semesters in college, back in '93 and '94. You want to know how much of that I can remember? Not very much. However, I was able to figure out that "este" is east, so "oeste" must be west. So we got on 26 oeste, and started looking for 18 sur. Except that there was never a sign for 18 sur when heading west. Once we knew we passed it and we turned around, the helpful sign said you had to take 1 sur to get to 18 sur. Not that they mentioned that before. Then we need to take 30 sur and once again we miss it, because no sign mentioned that to get to 30 sur you have to take 1 sur (again; highway curves all over the place, causing no end of problems). We eventually find it and get to the hotel.

Let me tell you, it is kind of humid in Puerto Rico. And the temperate is a nice, mild, low 80's. This is a nice change from the snow that was falling when I left St. Louis. Hopefully there will not be more snow when I fly back on Friday!

Friday, November 28, 2008

This is Why I Don't Do Black Friday Shopping

When you kill the person opening the door to the store, you have a problem.

Turkey Time

Yeah, I haven't blogged in a while. This week, I have been back home, rather than on the road in some exotic locale. I have done a fair amount of sleeping, going to the gym, playing games, and just relaxing. The last three days I have spent a good chunk of the day at my day at my parents' place ~20 miles away from my house, in Arnold, MO. There has been a lot of food, trips to the Arch, talking with family, and board games. I even won one of the games, thanks to my older brother being nice to me for no apparent reason. Thanks, Christopher! All in all, a good time. And now it's time to hunker down and survive the materialistic insanity that is the Holiday Season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

"This is driving in its most natural form. You feel every bump, squeak and jolt, and one can enjoy the sweet smell of gasoline and exhaust fumes. No car can replace it."
Momcilo Spajic, proud Serbian Yugo owner.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Yesterday was my fifth anniversary with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Since I am working in Reno again this week, you can rest assured that my colleague, Ali, and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the fanciest steak house we could find.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

December is the Month for Fun in the Sun

Ladies and gentlemen, it is official; I am going to be working in Puerto Rico from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and maybe into January, if the work takes that long. And the client has requested that I stay in Puerto Rico for at least one weekend, rather than flying home every weekend. My life is so hard sometimes. Because, you know, I was going to do that, anyway. Wouldn't you?

This qualifies as one of those times when I really like my job.

And Great Was the Fall of the House of Cards

So you say you would like to know how Wall Street could all come to naught so quickly? Read on, friends.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In the Desert

Well, not literally. This week I find myself in Reno, NV. It is an interesting town, being heavily dependent on casino and tourism revenue. In fact, I am staying at a casino this week, the Grand Sierra, because my company has a nice negotiated rate on rooms there. I've also noticed that food prices seem to be quite reasonable. I guess that is because it is like Vegas, and they expect to make money off of you at the tables and the slot machines, rather than on the standard services.

One interesting thing was flying into the airport. It is not a very big airport, and it looks pretty old. However, on the inside, the terminals are villed with slot machines, video poker machines, and other machines like that. That was different. I do have a nice view from my room, though. I don't know what mountains they are, but I get to look at mountains in the morning, which is pretty sweet.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dungeoneer: Realm of the Ice Witch

This entry on my journey through my game collection brings us to one of my Dungeoneer games. The Dungeoneer series consists of 8 different sets at the moment, each one being a combination of board game and card game. Some of the cards are used to create the playing board, while other cards represent various hazards that can afflict the player characters, even more cards are items and magic spells that can help the player characters, and then there are cards the represent the individual characters.

Anyone familiar with role-playing games might start to recognize some of what is going on here. Yes, Dungeoneer is a dungeon crawl game, loosely based on the general concepts of games like Dungeons & Dragons. However, rather than each player actually creating a character and acting them out, you draw a player from the character deck and then use that character's listed abilities to not get killed as you try to complete three different quests.

The genius in this game is the way that you play your cards. Each player will have both cards that can help characters (special items, spells, boons, allies, etc.), as well as monsters, traps, and hazards to hinder other players. As characters move around the board, they collect Peril and Glory points. You spend your Glory points to play cards that help you, but you play another character's Peril points to play cards that hinder him. Of course, you have to move around the board to complete your quests, which always require you to go to at least one specific location, if not two. With just two players, you don't have to worry about rationing your peril cards, but with more players, you have to decide how you will play your cards: focus on just one player, or try to focus on whoever has completed more quests, or some other strategy. It can get tense.

The one thing about the game that just doesn't seem to work so good is the experience system. Every character starts the game at 1st level, with low ability scores. As you complete quests, you go up levels (usually), which improves your ability scores. Thus, as you complete quests, it becomes easier to complete more quests. Because of this, the first person to complete a quest has an advantage that can be difficult to overcome for the other players. There are some optional rules that you can download from the Atlas Games website that provide some ways to mitigate this, but it is still a game balance problem.

The specific set that I played this time was Realm of the Ice Witch, which focuses on adventure in an arctic setting. It has some special rules that don't appear in other sets, specifically the fact that the Ice Witch is covering the world in ice. Each turn you roll a die. On a 4 or higher you place an ice token on a space of the player's choice. This means that certain hazards and enemies become stronger on that space, so this adds to the strategy of the game. I actually played it solitaire, using the rules from the optional rules sheet I mentioned in the preceding paragraph. This requires some different set-up, because there is no opponent to play monsters and hazards on you. You might think that this would make the solitaire game easy, but in reality solitaire games usually consist of having terrible monsters chase your character around the board until he/she dies. Seriously, it can get pretty brutal. In the specific game I just played, my character was beat on by a yeti, a pair of dragons, a pair of evil spirits, and then she was killed in an avalanche. She did succeed in killing a rat, but it was pretty ignominous. There is another optional rule, where you "stack" the encounter deck with easier stuff on top, and then harder stuff on the bottom, which I think I will try next time.

In addition, you can combine different sets together to make a bigger game. For example, I could combine the Realm of the Ice Witch set with the Vault of the Fiends set. This means that the Vault is set within the Ice Witch's realm, and you can move between the two areas through specific entry points. I've played that way before, and it works pretty well, definitely changing some of the play strategies.

Bottom line, this is a fun game that doesn't cost very much money and doesn't take too much time to play. Other games, like Runebound or Warhammer Quest, might do the theme of swords-and-sorcery fantasy adventure better, but when you travel a lot like I do, having a small package to take with you can be quite handy. You do have to add some of your own components though, like dice and play tokens. Still, everyone's got six-sided dice and pennies hanging around, so it's nothing that should trouble you.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Trimming the Hedges

Being a bit of a finance geek, I got a LOT of enjoyment from reading about how Porsche AG, the company that makes those fancy sports cars that many men drool over, suckered dozens of hedge funds into losing about 40 billion dollars. Being a person moderately knowledgeable about financial instruments, I can understand how short-selling of a stock can be part of a common sense investment strategy, and a way to "hedge your bets" and minimize losses. When people use 'shorts' solely as a short-term money making opportunity, however, it makes me want to go with the "Garfield strategy," named after what Garfield the Cat would often say in his animated specials, "The people responsible for this should be drug out into the street and shot." (On a side note, how were they able to get away with saying that in what was considered Children's entertainment? Not that I mind, of course.)

So, a tip of the hat to the financial managers at Porsche for doing a number on the barbarians, sending them scurrying off into the wastelands, licking their wounds. Or crawling off to die, as may be the case for a few of the more poorly-managed hedge funds. Whether this ends up being a long-term good thing for Porsche AG, or the first light of a spectacular flame-out, I can't say. It'll be fun to watch it all burn, though!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Busy Saturday

This past Saturday I went hiking for the first time in quite a while. I went to Forest 44 Conservation Area, which turns out to be only a few miles from my house, next to a large horse ranch. That being the case, most of the people I passed by on the trails were riding horses. This was both good and bad. Good, because the trails were wide. Bad, because horses tear up trails pretty badly, especially after significant rains. So, yeah, lots of mud. It was good to get outside and do some hiking though. Then I went and watched the Blues manhandle the Florida Panthers in a 4 - 0 shutout. A fine way to cap the day.

Ben Hurt

Ben Hurt is a game of chariot racing, printed in the mid '90s by Cheapass Games. It was a gift from my brother, Mark, on either a birthday or Christmas many years ago. As with all games by Cheapass, it comes with only the unique components to the game: the board (in six pieces that you have to assemble yourself), the rules, and 80 playing cards. You have to add money, player tokens, and dice, of a unique color or style for each player.

Each player represents a rich layabout trying to become richer by funding chariots in the chariot races in ancient Rome. Each player starts with 100 ducats, which seems like a lot, but they disappear quickly. To enter reach race, you have to ante 2 ducats per lap in the race into the "pot." Then, you also spend money on various cards to either improve your chariot prior to the race (by either improving the chariot itself or getting a special driver), or to use during the race to break the rules in various ways.

This is handled in a pretty cool way. You get a few cards for free each race, but more cards are given up for auction. Each player will have cards that they can either pay for up front (each card has a "quick sale" cost that allows the auctioneer to simply buy it), or it goes around the table. The first time around, anyone who wants it has to put 1 ducat into the pot. If more than one person put into the pot for it, it goes around again, but particpants have to put in 2 ducats, and so on. Each time round it gets more expensive, and this helps make for a richer pot.

Once the race begins, player move their chariots around the track. Each chariot is represented by a die. The reason for this is that your movement points is both a combination of your chariot's speed (usually the number you rolled in the previous round, but not always) and what you rolled. For example, chariots start out at a low speed (duh), usually 1 or 2. Thus, if I start with a speed of 1, and then roll a 6, I move 7 spaces. However, then my speed becomes 6. In the next turn, if I roll a 4, I move 10 spaces, and then my speed becomes 4. So there is some momentum. This would make you think that the entire game is random and based on speed die rolls. This is partly true, but there are many cards that let you mess with other players. Maybe they have to re-roll, maybe you throw a cat or an orangutan at their chariot (yes, this can happen) to slow them down, maybe you drop grease behind your chariot as you pass someone making everyone else to slower, etc. The game would be hopelessly lame without the use of the cards.

However, even with the cards, the game still feels a bit too random. Maybe it takes a number of plays to really figure out the best cards to get, and therefore the best ones to bid one before the race. The game is helped by the "tournament" structure that it has. See, there isn't just one race. The game consists of a series of races. The number of races, and their length in laps, is decided by the players. The standard series is 3 races of lengths of 1, 2, and 4 laps. You can have much more involved races, though. The length of a race really impacts the way cards are played. In a short race, you will probably play your cards as soon as possible, because the race can be very short if some bursts ahead. In a longer race, though, you will likely see more saving of cards to use until late in the race, if it stays tight.

When a race is over, the pot is paid out to first, second, and third place finishers. The pot is divided into 6 equal shares. First place gets three shares, second place gets two, and third place gets one. It only takes a couple races without winning to really put a player in a bind, with little cash left to invest in new cards. Thus, there can be some momentum in the game, with a player getting an early lead in the series and it being hard to knock them out. Because of this, even though the game is rated for 4 to 8 players, I'm not sure I would play it with more than 6. The game can also get long with many players, though it also gets pretty crazy.

In the end, this game is pretty average, as tends to be the case with games by Cheapass. It is pretty simple and easy to pick up and play, but it has some depth in knowing how to properly play the cards and handle the auctions for more cards. However, the game just didn't really grab me, and throwing cats at opposing chariots, or attacking them with hoes (like you use in your garden), just seems silly. It's good for a laugh, but it gets old, and there are better games to play.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

That Was Easy... But This Won't Be

An interesting article has just been posted at the Books & Culture website. It's worth checking out. Here's the part that hooked me:

Well, our culture is pretty afflicted right now. Which is why I am more hopeful than I've been in a long time.

I am not hopeful because I envision an easy way out of the current economic mess. We are entering into the Great Deleveraging, where an entire country of consumers will have to pare back their reliance on cheap mortgages and abundant credit cards. (Remember when your mailbox was stuffed with credit card offers? Seen any lately?) The national savings rate might even rise above 0%—yes, that is zero percent, the proportion Americans have been collectively saving for several years now. But that means that consumption, a major engine of our economy, will have to decline dramatically.
I am not hopeful because I have confidence in whoever will be elected president in 15 days. I have grave concerns, as a Christian and as a citizen, about both candidates and will in all likelihood vote for neither. (Not for the first time—in 2004 I wrote in Colin Powell.)

I am not hopeful because I think we are well prepared for what is ahead of us. We are not. We are a terrifyingly unserious people, our heads buzzing with trivia and noise. This is more true, if anything, of American Christians than the rest of our country. The stark contrast between what I experience among Christians anywhere else in the world—and not just the "Third World," because Canada and Germany and Britain and Singapore come to mind as quickly as Uganda and India—and American Christians is astonishing. We are preoccupied with fads intellectual, theological, technological, and sartorial. Vanishingly few of us have any serious discipline of silence, solitude, study, and fasting. We have, in the short run, very little to offer our culture, because we live in the short run.

I am not hopeful because I think life is going to get easier in America. I am hopeful because I think it is going to get harder, and in a very good way. And I am hopeful because I think this means my children and grandchildren will live in a deeply and truly better world than I would have thought possible a few years ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blues Win! Blues Win!

This past Saturday was my first of 11 games for the Blues that I have tickets to, this year. As seems to be their wont this year, the Blues started slowly, and looked pretty sluggish, especially on defense. As is also their wont this year, they got noticeably better as the game went on. I wasn't sure they were going to be able to pull it off, but they did. Scoring with 14 seconds left in the third period to tie it? I admit I went a little nuts at that point. Not as nuts as the ~12 people fighting in the upper bowl to my left, though. My form of "nuts" is more respectable, and doesn't involve taking my clothes off. Yeah, that was weird. Anyway, the Blues won the game in a shoot-out, which makes us 2-0 in shootouts this year. I don't know if we'll be making the playoffs this year, but if we can keep this up we will definitely be competitive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Des Moines

Greetings from Des Moines, Iowa. Yes, I am back in the place of my birth, for the first time in probably 20 years. As this prior weekend began it looked like I was going to be headed towards either Nevada or Puerto Rico this week. As the weekend ended I learned that I was going to Des Moines, instead. Which is OK, because it is hockey season and who wants to be having fun in the sun during hockey season? Not me, certainly. So, instead, I am in cold, rainy Iowa. I'm here on some project new is very undefined, and I think my boss wanted someone up here with her just to keep her company, because all I'm doing is reading documents and getting ready for a meeting with some guys from KPMG tomorrow, which could have all been done by phone and email. Ah, well; so it goes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


And now for a game I have actually played recently, Illuminati. This is a card game of global domination by secret power groups. You know all those conspiracy theories you hear from people on the bus or read about in supermarket tabloids? About how the Vacitan secretly controls the Church of Satan and how George Bush has orbital mind control lasers to stay in power? In this game, it's all true.

The game itself is fairly simple rules-wise, but that hides a lot of deep strategy. Each player is a specific Illuminati group. The basic game comes with eight, though expansion sets have added more. Each Illuminati has a specific amount of power, and it uses this power to take over various groups. In fact, most of the cards in the game consist of specific groups, like the Congressional Wives, or California, or the Democratic Party, or the International Communist Conspiracy, or the Eco-Terrorists, or the Boy Sprouts, or the American Autoduel Association, or... well, you get the idea. Each group has a Resistance, and you total up your power, and compare it to the target's resistance, to determine your odds of taking them over. Roll that number or less on two dice and you got 'em.

Of course, it's never that simple, is it? Everybody has money, accumulated at a different rate for each group, based on their Income rating. You can spend money to make it easier to take over groups, which is pretty cool. Of course, other players can spend their money to make it harder for you to take over your target. And here is where the game really gets fun! Wheeling and dealing abound as the players all try to keep the other players from achieving their goals and winning the game, without leaving themselves broke and defenseless? Why does that matter? Because other players can attack groups that you already control, so having some money on hand for defensive purposes can be important.

Winning generally consists of having a specific number of groups under your control. It varies based on the number of players. For example, with four players you need to control 12 groups in order to win. To help make everyone paranoid, though, each Illuminati has their own secret goal that will let them win another way. For example, the Bavarian Illuminati want to have a total of 35 Power in their control structure. The Gnomes of Zurich want to have a total of 150 MegaBucks in their control structure. The Servants of Cthulhu (being crazy cultists) want to destroy a total of 8 groups (yes, you don't just capture groups, you can also destroy them). And then there are the UFOs, which secretly pick one of the other Illuminati's secret goals, so nobody will ever know what they are trying to do.

So, a conceptually simple game with a lot of political maneuvering, deal making, deal breaking, and general back-stabbing. Good times!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Big Spender

Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of writing the largest denomination check I have ever written. Over 18 grand, it was, pretty much all of my discretionary savings over the last five years or more. I spent it all to get rid of one of my two mortgages. When I got my place almost 4 years ago, I had an "80/15/5" mortgage, where I put down 5% and got two mortgages to make up the rest of it. This money pays off the '15' part of the equation, moving me out of Alt-A status and into the land of God-fearing citizens. Or something like that.

Or maybe I just didn't like having to write that extra check every month. That's a possibility.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fury of the Norsemen

It's time for another dig into the depth of my game collection. This time I have unearthed Fury of the Norsemen, a small wargame depicting a viking raid into a generic northern European village unfortunately built along the coast. This game was published by Metagaming back in the early '80s, and I have owned it since at latest 1996, if not earlier. However, it had been over 10 years since I had last played the game.

The map depicts a rather small village, along with the surrounding woods. The village contains a monastery on the edge of town, a keep, a church, and a manor where the lord lives. The vikings all attack from boats that land along the shoreline. In the basic game there is just one boat, but there are optional scenarios that give the vikings two boats. The vikings start with ~25 units, which boil into the town and begin stealing livestock, women, and treasure. Yes, the point of the game for the viking player is to go all caveman, bonk women on the head, and drag them off. And horses and cows, as well. The viking player wins if he collects 18 or more points from loot. Treasure, women, and livestock are all worth one point apiece. The church treasure and the various village leaders are all worth three points.

The village player, naturally, wins if he stops this. The village player has the joy of starting with many more units. However, most of these units represent the average villager with a hoe or shovel, and they will die in droves if they don't run away as fast as they can. I always have them die while protecting the women, because that seems like the manly thing to do, but trust me, they will most likely die if they try this. On the other hand, there are a few serious military figures in the town, and if they bunch up well they can hold up the vikings for a while. The game only runs for 12 turns, so the viking player needs to get to the sacking as fast as possible, and thus simply holding up the vikings can actually be good strategy. You don't need to kill them, just keep them occupied.

Now, I have to admit that I find this game rather boring. Once you get the standard strategy down there really isn't much strategy to it. As soon as he can, the village player sends his womenfolk running for the keep while the militia hold off the vikings. The cavalry and soldiers can grab significant strategic points and hold on as long as possible. The vikings must run as hard as they can to grab all the good stuff. This means that the vikings must extend themselves, leaving themselves open to a counter-attack. But, still, they're pretty good.

However, the combat results table is weird and ruins the game for me. Combat can result in either the defenders or attackers running away or dying, or both sides killing each other. Trust me, the two sides will kill each other all the time. This is of great benefit to the village player, as you are usually losing lousy militia while the viking player loses good, solid viking units. And he only has about 25 vikings, and once one of them takes loot back to the ship, they are out of the game. And since you need 18 points, once you lose about five or six vikings, good luck actually getting those 18 points.

So, not a terrible game, but it has noticeable flaws that keep me from really wanting to play it, ever.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


In case there was ever any doubt, let's just state for the record that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

From Nick Webster's predictions about this weekend's EPL matches:

With only one loss in the top flight, Hull have defied all predictions. However haven't they yet had to dance with the 'Big Four.' If they sit back, Arsenal will pick them apart. If they pressure, Arsenal will pick them apart. If they try and play football, Arsenal will pick them apart. In fact they'll need a miracle not to be picked apart.

Now, I like Hull. I'm rooting for them to do well this season. But, man, they are going to get destroyed on Saturday.

The Travails of Modern Man

When I got home from Florida last week, I noticed that I was having some electrical problems in my home. The lights would flicker, the UPS my computer is plugged into would beep and chirp and sound all angry; hints that something bad is going on. Oh, and my cable didn't work, either; quite odd stuff.

The first thing I did was contact the cable company, and they had a service technician come out on Saturday. He discovered that the cable running to my house had actually melted at the connection point, and that the ground wire from the cable box was running live current. That didn't sound like a good thing, so my father came out and checked out my circuit box. It turned out that the electrical system inside my home was fine, but the power coming in from the electric company was too hot on one end of the circuit, with the voltage being too high.

So, I called the electric company on Monday and I guess a crew came out to check the situation on Tuesday, because I came home to find a large, long, temporary power cable running from the electric company's box on my property, all the way across two other properties, and into a larger feeder box down the street. At least my power problems were solved, as there was no more flickering or angry UPS system.

However, it turns out that problems were had by more than just me. Other people on my street had experienced the same problems, and my neighbor Greg even had his satellite receiver, AC compressor, and garage door opener fried by power spikes, costing him many hundreds of dollars to get fixed. So, while my situation wasn't good, it could have been a whole lot worse.

Ah, the joys of home ownership.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Best Desktop Wallpaper Ever!

Yeah, you know you're all jealous of my VF-1S Super Valkyrie painting. You can go ahead and admit it, I know it's true.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Orlando is hot and muggy in September

Greetings from hot and muggy Orlando, FL! I came down here last Monday for training. My company sent everyone in positions below the manager level down here for training for the week. I learned some stuff, stayed up too late talking with co-workers I know from around the country, and got a cold from my roommate. Fun.

However, because my older brother and his wife life in Orlando, I am staying over the weekend to visit them. I also had a chance to meet up with Matt Brown (who is my editor at, and Mark Sutherlin (who I know from back in STL, though he has moved to Orlando, now). The only big event day will be tomorrow; we are going to visit the Disney Animal Kingdom theme park. I've heard mixed things about it, but the regular Disney World doesn't appeal to me, and I want to see some funky animals. We'll see if we actually see any, though.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

That Sounds About Right

(I thought this was appropriate for my 300th blog post)

60% Geek

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sarah Palin Facts

Admittedly, I don't really know anything about the governor of Alaska. However, I enjoy crazy internet memes as much as the next guy. So, when I came across this, I found it hilarious, in the same way that those Mike Huckabee/Chuck Norris videos were hilarious.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Going North

Greetings from Ithaca, NY. That is where I happen to find myself this week. I've never been anywhere in New York other than NYC, so it is good to get a first-hand view of how the rest of the state is. I must say, it appears quite normal. Also, people here appear about 100 times nicer than the NYC stereotype. And the airport! Ha, ha! I have to laugh because it is tiny. In fact, it is the same size as the airport in Fargo, ND, with only four gates. I can literally walk from the airport to my hotel, and they are not on the same property or anything. Funny.

Actually, I have had a new experience this week. When I flew into town on Monday night, I was met by a security officer from the company I am here to audit. See, I couldn't rent a car, because all the car rental places my company has contracts with were closed for the holiday. So, the manager I am working with from the client arranged a vehicle for me through the company security office. So I met the security officer at the airport, and he drove me in his truck to my hotel, where another security officer was waiting to hand me the keys to the Ford Explorer I am driving this week. The two security officers then proceeded into the hotel lobby with me, so there I was at the check-in counter flanked by a security officer on each side. I wasn't sure how to respond to that, actually; it was kind of weird. Nice people, though. I'd personally prefer my security detail to be a bit more intimidating, but you go with what you have, I guess.

Friday, August 29, 2008


It's been a while since I wrote one of my game collection entries. The reason is because the game randomly chosen was Kasserine, a wargame from 2001 that deals with the fighting in North Africa in WWII, at the early part of 1943 when the Allied and Axis forces were fighting over control of the Kasserine pass. The game itself comes with six different scenarios, covering different parts of the fighting. I played the first and smallest scenario, covering the opening shots of the campaign as the germans attacked Free French positions at Faid Pass east of Kasserine.

The game takes place at the "operational" level, and the counters represent different sizes and types of units. There are different types of tanks, mobile artillery, armored cards, motorized infantry, foot infantry, artillery, mobile artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and more. The different sizes come into play by how strong the counter is. Companies are smaller than brigades, so they can take less damage and are less effective in combat. Combat itself is handled using multiple Combat Results Tables (CRTs), showing the difference between Assault attacks (done against hard terrain and defensive positions) and Mobile attacks (your standard "I drive my tanks over your puny infantry!" attacks).

There are also air units, though they are not usually on the playing board itself. Air units are handled somewhat abstractly. At the beginning of each turn, each of your planes is given one order (air strike, interdiction, etc.). You have to make a roll at or under the plane's efficiency rating in order for it to pull off its action properly, and then you figure out what happened. There is one type of interdiction mission that keeps the plane in limbo until it assists in a combat, but most air missions are handled at the beginning of the turn, and then you don't worry about planes until the next turn.

As anyone who has read about the war in North Africa knows, the war is about maneuverability. The game handles this by letting you cut off an enemy unit's supply lines if you can pin it against mountains or surround it. Without supplies, they can't properly move or fight, and are easier to take care of. Or, you can just slug it out head-to-head. This is what I did in the game I played. In the Faid Pass scenario, the Germans have to capture the pass, which is protected by French forces in a strongpoint on a mountain. Should be a hard nut to crack, right? The rulebook actually suggests surrounding it by sending in your tanks from the south, but I just got stuck in right away and sent my tanks in a head-on attack. It actually worked, too, because I got a good roll on the CRT and the French were forced to retreat, allowing the germans to take the pass.

Capturing (and holding...) the pass only gets the germans a marginal victory, however. For a full victory, you have to capture both another mountain about 12 miles away, and a town 12 miles away in a different direction. Unfortunately, while the germans are slapping around the french, the Americans are sending a bunch of tanks and infantry to support them. There are more Americans than there are Germans, so the Germans got stuck inside the pass, for the most part. The Americans couldn't make them retreat (they tried multiple times, and got shot up pretty badly for their efforts), but the Germans couldn't break out of the pass. A group of Germans tried maneuvering to the south, but got pinned down by some other French positions and more American reinforcements that came in from the south on turn 3.

The scenario only ran for six turns, so there wasn't much time to really have the germans make a go of it. They ended up capturing the town they needed, but they could never take the mountain. They took a lot of casualties for their efforts, too, which according to the rules knocks them from a Marginal Victory to the next lowest rating. Which I guess is an American victory, so "woo hoo" for the Americans, I guess.

Overall, I found the game to be somewhat difficult to learn. The rulebook is the main culprit in this, because it is not organized along the lines of how a play turn goes, which would make more sense. For example, right up front you do stuff with your airplanes. However, the rulebook only discusses airplanes after discussing disruption, supply lines, movement, combat, mine fields, and strongholds. Odd. They also make some mention of coordination rolls, without ever explaining what those really were. With about 10 minutes of detailed reading, I was able to figure out that they meant to roll against the unit's Efficiency Rating, but they should have just said that, or defined the term, or something. There are also waaaaay too many tables and charts. There are multiple play aid charts, and they really get in the way. I don't think they needed all of that. It just makes the game seem more complex than it actually is.

Once you get the system down, the game actually flows pretty quickly, though. And I like how the use of airpower and proper use of artillery are very important to your success. In fact, proper use of your artillery is probably the largest component of a winning strategy. In the scenario I played, the Americans have a lot more artillery than the germans (which I think historically occurs throughout the entire campaign), and when used right you can really screw up the german player. Of course, if they can break through the line they can just roll their tanks up to your pretty artillery and blow them up good, so you need proper formations, as well. All told, this is a good game that does what it sets out to do, though it is somewhat hampered by poorly organized rules and too many charts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


So, last week my colleague, Jeff, and I flew into Memphis before driving down to Batesville, MS. We just flew into the airport, got a rental car, and hit the road. Nothing exciting. This week, though, we decided to mix it up a bit. We flew into Memphis, got a rental car... and that's where things got interesting. See, I had just reserved a mid-size car. I didn't request anything specific, just a mid-size car. So I get to the rental place, and I find that they are giving me a Mustang. A 2008, black Mustang. For the same money as a Taurus. Awesome. Then, Jeff and I take our ride and go to downtown Memphis. We had slabs of ribs for dinner at B.B. King's Blues Club, and then we checked out the action on Beale Street for a bit. It was fantastic. We were having dinner late enough that we got to catch some live bands, which is pretty much the only appropriate way to eat a place owned by a music legend. And as we were leaving, we drove by the Gibson guitar factory. Yeah, that Gibson. They were closed at 9PM on Sunday night, of course, but it was still pretty sweet. Yeah, we got into Oxford, MS a bit later than normal, but that's OK. I'll give up a couple hours of sleep for that kind of opportunity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Know You're Not in the City Anymore

So, my colleague, Jeff, and I get to drive every day from Batesville, MS, to Water Valley, MS. Contrary to popular opinion, Water Valley is an actual town. According to the signs, it is a "certified Mississippi Main Street community," whatever that means. However, Water Valley isn't big. The hospital and the nursing home are in the same building, for example. However, Water Valley doesn't have some of the crazy excesses that Batesville has. For example, Water Valley does not have this place right outside the city limits.

Yes, it is a store that refinishes tubs. And by "refinishing," I think they mean that they put about 200 old bathtubs outside on the front lawn, because that is all that is going on here. I mean, what? What is the point of this? I have no idea, but I had to take a picture. Here's a better picture of the tubs.

Completely ridiculous. You know all those rumors you hear about Mississippi being backwards and stuff? I'm starting to think they might have some merit. Yeesh...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Down South

Greetings, everyone, from lovely Batesville, Mississippi. I got here by flying into Memphis and then driving about 50 miles south on I55. Tomorrow I get to commute ~30 miles to Water Valley, MS, where I will be working this week. Excitement! I've actually never been to Mississippi before, so I'm hoping to get a bit of the Southern experience. We did pass a Cracker Barrel on the freeway, but I'm hoping for something a bit more authentic.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The EPL is Back

Yes, today was kickoff for the '08/'09 season of the Barclays Premier League. It was a good day all around, though not great. Arsenal beat West Bromwich Albion, but didn't look convincing. Tottenham lost, which is always a wonderful thing. Interestingly enough, Hull City beat Fulham, proving that the new kids on the block are not going to just lie down and take their weekly beating like Derby County did last year. It should be an interesting year, but I'm honestly a bit nervous about Arsenal, and think that they are in a bit of danger of dropping out of the top 4. We'll just have to see!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back In Detroit

Greetings from Southfield, MI, a western suburb of Detroit. I am here in order to do some work for an automotive parts manufacturer. I was actually here almost exactly two years ago to so some work for another automotive parts manufacturer. It is Motown, after all. The only thing to report is that you should never rent from Budget in Detroit. Those people didn't really have any idea what they were doing. Yeesh.

Monday, August 04, 2008

My Home is Quiet Again

My friend Brian, who was visiting for the weekend, left this morning to fly back to his home in Brooklyn. As someone who lives by himself, and has people over about once per week, having someone live in my house for 3 days is a bit stressful. I hear sounds that I don't normally hear. Toilet paper disappears disturbingly quickly. I have to entertain someone else 24/7. It wears me out. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy Brian's visit, because I did, but it isn't easy for an introvert like me to live with someone else and have to talk to them all day.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Bombs Away!

This time as we walk through my game collection we come across Bombs Away!, an operational-level game of the air war over Europe during World War II. This game originally appeared in the magazine GameFix, but my copy was purchased as a separate package back when I was still living in Springfield, in mid '96. I had never played the game until now, so this one should be interesting. The game is for two players: one plays the Allies (Britain and America), while the other plays the Germans. The game is a card game. There is a common deck of Event cards, and each side has a separate deck of Armament Cards. These represent flak and aircraft available to each side, and they represent various historical aircraft. All aircraft have dogfight ratings (used to attack the other player's planes), while bombers also have a bombing rating (used to attack ground targets).

The game also comes with a stylized map of Europe. This map highlights nine different targets that the allies can attack during their bombing raids. There are three each of the following types of targets: Political, Economic, and Military. One of each of these types of targets is designated as "key," and successfully attacking those targets earns the Allies extra victory points. Each type of target has different effects. Bombing Political targets doesn't earn many victory points, but there is a small chance that the Germans will surrender after a successful attack. Bombing Military targets gets you the most victory points, but no other benefits. Bombing Economic targets minimizes the German player's ability to build new flak guns and aircraft.

The game runs for a total of nine turns, each representing roughly 6 months of wartime activity. During each turn, the German player has his hand of armament cards, and he plays them face down, however he wishes, on any or all of the nine targets on the board. Thus, the Allied player can see how many cards have been played on each location, but not what the cards are (though there are a few Event cards that allow peeking). At this point I will also note a very ingenious mechanic; the German player starts with nine decoy cards in his armament deck. Every turn, another one goes away, representing how Allied intelligence improved as the war progressed. So, early on, the German player has a lot of cards (most of which are decoys), with which to defend himself and confuse the other player. Near the end of the game you have almost no decoys, so it becomes much harder to defend all of your targets. The way this is handled is very simple, but it adds to the strategy a lot and makes the game more interesting.

After the German player places his cards, the Allied player assigns his planes to the targets he wants to attack. The actual combat is pretty simple. Each event card has a number on the bottom, and you draw these cards to determine if attacks succeed. To shoot down another plane, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the attacker's Dogfight rating. To bomb a target, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the Bomb rating. To shoot a plane down with flack, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the number of Flak cannons. It's a simple mechanic, but it works. Statistics nerds can have fun checking out the total number of each result available on the cards and come up with a statistical spread for each possibility, but I'm not that into statistics, so I'll let others handle it. The numbers do seem to be slanted toward the high end, but I can't say exactly how much.

At the beginning of the game, the Allied player can't do much. However, he keeps getting more planes, and by the end of the game the German player is scrambling to attempt to cover his key targets and to minimize the damage as the Allies swarm him with many different planes. The game is assymetrical in this respect, and I liked that quite a bit. Playing one side was very different from playing the other side. There is a lot of strategy in determining how to defend your positions as the German player, and how to make raids as the Allied player. Do you go after mostly Economic targets to keep the German player from building more cannons and planes; do you go after mostly Political targets to try to luck into an early surrender; do you go after mostly Military targets to get lots of victory points; or do you spread yourself thin, trying to get all at once? It's very interesting.

I have previously mentioned Event Cards. These cards have two effects for players: they all have the names of aircraft on the bottom, and you can use these to get that aircraft card for free if it has bene researched and is currently undeployed. However, the main use is that each card represents a historic or "almost historic" event that changes the game in some way. For example, one card represents the Italians providing resources, so the German player can build stuff for free. Another card lets you adjust a result draw. Another card makes it harder for the Germans to hit Allied planes. Stuff like that. You have to buy most of these cards, so you'll rarely have a lot of them, but they add to the game nicely.

The game also comes with a number of optional rules: night fighters, high altitude bombing, etc. I didn't play with any of those, so I can't say how well they work. In the end, though, this is a game that annoys me. It annoys me because it was really fun and interesting to play, and I've owned it for 12 years without every playing it before. I definitely made a mistake by not breaking this one out sooner.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's LIke He Was Writing About Me

This has the potential to be long, so bear with me.

I recently came across this post from Seth Godin. This article that Mr. Godin linked to really captures something that I've been going through for many years, but had a hard time really defining in a concrete way.

I'm one of those people whose mind is always going a million miles an hour in multiple directions at the same time. My head is filled with thoughts at all times. I have gotten good at minimizing the blur when I need to (for example, taking an exam, or focusing on a work assignment so I can complete it on time), but the blur is always there. It gets especially bad when I lay down to go to sleep at night. Suddenly I don't have basic bodily functions like movement and keeping my balance to occupy part of my brain, so even that part starts going off in random directions.

I think a lot of people really have brains like this, constantly in motion. However, modern American society has taught us to tame our brains by spending our free time watching television, or otherwise being passive. People who rebel against this concept are seen as being "weird," or "odd." Heck, even people who read instead of watching TV are looked at a little strange. They're rebels against the system, and the system despises them. I even remember reading an article in Newsweek a few years ago when a writer lambasted President Bush because he didn't watch TV. "How could he know what was going on the world if he never watched TV?" was the author's question. My response was "Maybe he talks to people," but it was clear that to the author that TV was the only appropriate method for really understanding the country. I'm still baffled by that concept.

Back to the article. The money part comes when the author is talking to a TV producer about Wikipedia. The TV producer couldn't understand how people had the time to be involved in Wikipedia, constantly editing articles to try to improve the postings. The response was that they weren't watching TV, so they had the time.

So that's the answer to the question, "Where do they find the time?" Or, rather, that's the numerical answer. But beneath that question was another thought, this one not a question but an observation. In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: "Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves."

At least they're doing something.

That last statement is why I constantly feel compelled to write and be engaged in my hobbies. I can't stand just sitting back and letting passive entertainment wash over like some kind of numbing substance, dulling my senses. I need to do something. So I review anime soundtracks, or write my opinions about books I'm reading, or I try to develop alternate rules for games I like, or I volunteer time with a charity.

This is also why I have a hard time watching sports on TV. I like going to sporting events, because when I'm there all my senses are able to be in on the action: I can feel the emotional waves coming off other people, I can smell and hear the entire stadium, I can see more than just the action on the field, I can take it all in, and my brain is satisfied. Just sitting at home, after not even 10 minutes my brain starts rebelling against me, wanting me to take action of some kind.

Note that I think all TV is bad; I enjoy some of it. For some bizarre reason I thoroughly enjoy watching Wipeout, especially when people try to jump across the 'big balls' and almost always fall off in embarassing ways. It's very funny. My brain won't let me be comfortable with that, though; it's always pushing me to do something else, to be mentally active, even if that something else isn't very constructive. Let's be honest; developing new army lists for a miniatures wargame is not a 'constructive' use of my time. The world is not made a better place when I dabble around with a fictional story I'm writing. Discussing variant rules for Kingmaker with members of my boardgame club does not feed starving children. This stuff does not really matter in the big scheme of things.

But at least I'm doing something.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Unexpected Things Heard on the Radio

KDHX, 88.1 FM
St. Louis, MO
July 30, 2008
6:38 A.M.

"...and that was the unstoppable sound of Lawrence Welk on Calcutta."

Of all the adjectives to use to describe Lawrence Welk, unstoppable is not one of the words I would have ever thought to use. Bizarre.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

HeroCard: Orc Wars

This time my journey through my game collection brings me to a game that I only picked up in the last couple months. HeroCard: Orc Wars is a combination between a board game and a card game. The HeroCard system is a series of games that share similar mechanics. Each player usually has one character, with three different numerical attributes: body, mind, and "attribute X," which changes from character to character, and game to game. Players have a hand of up to seven cards, which consist of attacks, blocks, attack modifiers, block modifiers, and cards that do special things. The key to the game is that each of these cards requires a certain amount of a specific attribute to play. For example, in the Orc Wars game the default enemy of the orcs is an elven paladin. He has two types of attack cards: one requires 6 body, of which he only has 8, and the other requires 3 attribute X, of which he only has 6. Thus, you are limited in the cards you can play by the attributes of your character. Thus, you need to make sure that you aren't using a bunch of cards that all play off the same attribute, or you will quickly be unable to make any further card plays.

Combat goes back and forth, with one player attacking another player. For example, let's continue with the elven paladin making his attack against some orcs. The 6 cost attack card has a strength of 7. If the orc player can't block it, his orcs will die! So, the orc player will search his hand for block cards. He needs a basic block, and then maybe block mods to get his score higher. The blocker needs to have a block score high enough to at least tie the attack score. As you can probably imagine, this leads to players playing lots of mod cards back and forth to try to make an attack successful, or get a high enough block score to foil the attack. This is further complicated by special cards. For example, the orc player has a special block card that doesn't give any block points, but does knock the base attack value down to "0," thus negating the need for regular block cards unless attack mods then get played. This back and forth can be fun, but the attribute ratings keep it from happening more than a couple times at most. This keeps the game flowing.

So that is the basic combat system for Hero Card. This specific game, Orc Wars, changes the basic game setup in a number of ways. First, each game is a specific scenario, taken from the rulebook. There are also two scenarios available for download from the publisher's website. As noted above, one player takes the elven paladin, though there can be multiple elf players if you pick up the ranger and/or sorceress expansions. The other player gets to play the orcs, of which there can be a lot. Each scenario specifies the number of orcs the player gets, and it varies depending on how many elves there are. The game board is made up of hex tiles that have a number of smaller hexes on them. The tiles are double-sided, with meadows/forests on one side, and caves/tunnels on the other side. The scenario tells you how to set up the board, and where to put the pieces initially. The elves all have nicely-molded plastic pieces to represent their positions on the board, while the orcs get plastic cards that have punch-out orcs on them, the same plastic used for the Pirates of the Spanish Main game. This works perfectly well, and is better than just having minis for the orcs due to the various clans available to the orc player.

Let's focus on the orcs for a minute, here. There is an orc king, which is just like an elven hero in that he has set ratings for the three attributes. Unlike the elves, however, he only has one hit point, so after the first successful attack, he dies (to contrast, the elven paladin takes four hits to kill). However, all the rest of the orcs work differently. They work in squads, and different squads can belong to different clans. There are also three different types of orcs: brutes, tacticians, and shamans. Squads are made up of the different types, and the attributes of the squad are based on how many of each type of arc are in the squad. Brutes provide body, Tacticians provide mind, and shamans provide attribute X. Each individual is worth four points. So, for example, a squad with two brutes and one tactician has a Body of 8, a Mind of 4, and an Attribute X of 0. When that squad activates, the orc player can only play cards up to those limits, so such a squad can play a few body cards, probably one mind card, and no attribute X cards at all. Thus, the orc player needs to really pay attention to the make-up of his squads, to make sure that he can actually play the cards in his hand with that squad.

Let's talk about cards quickly. I have mentioned that you have seven cards at the start of the game, and you play cards against your attributes to make attacks and defend yourself. Every round, you can dump as many cards as you want from your hand. You also get to draw up to three more cards, as long as you don't exceed seven in your hand. You also get to remove up to three cards from your attribute stacks. So, if over the last round you played six cards against your attributes, you can only remove three, and you have to remove from the top down for each attribute. In such a situation you don't completely clear your attribute stacks, which means that at the very beginning of your turn you are limited in what you can play from your hand. Thus, sometimes it may pay to retreat for a bit to clear your stacks and recharge your hand. Of course, this lets your opponent do the same thing.

So, how does the game play? I've played two different scenarios, and I have to admit that I don't find the game to be very fun. It's alright, but there are other games that I enjoy more. This mainly stems from the fact that the game is weighted against the orc player. The rulebook explicitly admits this, too. It's bad enough that the orc player can have "dirty tactics" cards that break the game in various ways, in order to help balance the game. In my mind, if you have to include special rules breakers like this, couldn't you have just designed the game to be balanced in the first place? Seriously, that's just lame. Another reason that the orc player gets dumped on is that when an elven player attacks and scores a hit on a squad of orcs, ALL orcs next to that elf get killed. Yes, it is great cleave time all over the map. Granted, when you are the elf, this is pretty fun. But it sucks when you're the orc, as your guys just die in droves. Granted, every turn you get to recharge one orc on each squad, but they can die so fast it doesn't really make up for it.

So, HeroCard: Orc Wars has an interesting premise, good production values, and an interesting combat system. However, the lack of balance between the two sides makes it a tough game to recommend to people. The varied scenarios are good, too, but in the end this is a game that probably won't be played much at all in the future. Oh, well, maybe I can use that elf paladin as an alternate character for Runebound, or something.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mucking Around in Sewage

Well, my time on the project in Detroit is over, though I will be going back to the area in a month for another client. I have some small trips lined up over the next few weeks, including a trip to Chicago in a couple days and one to the middle of nowhere, Indiana next week. But I'm not here to write about that. No, I'm here to write about flood cleanup, and the joys of rubber boots.

Yesterday I went with a group of people from my church to do flood cleanup in Winfield, MO. Winfield is a small town that got heavily flooded when the Mississippi overflowed its banks last month. Part of the town was high enough to be spared, but the low-lying places got it about three feet high. I worked on two houses, where we ripped out rotting drywall and wood paneling. The first house was easy; just removing drywall, doors, and molding. Not a problem at all. The second house, man, that one was different.

Slight digression: before heading down there I had gone out and purchased some work boots. I got the rubber slip-over kind that you just put your regular shoes into. I wasn't sure quite what I would need, so I got the ones that went up about 14 inches, rather than the cheaper, but shorter ones. That first house was so easy that I was thinking I had wasted my money. The second house, though, showed that I actually knew what I was doing.

The second house, you see, was a split-level. The main level had already been gutted by an earlier crew, so we didn't have anything to do there. the lower level, though, had flooded completely, floor to ceiling. Most of the water was gone, but there was still some left, along with sewage. Yes, the lower level had sewage back up in it. At this point, I felt sorry for the poor schmuck in Converse sneakers mucking through the sewage. Yeah, wearing appropriate footwear is important! So, quickly the call came out for me to descend into the deepest part and start picking junk out of the smelly water to throw away. They had a lot of old shoes down there, man. And a car headlight. And a seat to a bass boat. And more, and more, and more. I think they were the kind of people that keep everything, just in case it ever becomes useful again. Well, what it became was a sewage-infested junk heap, that's what it became.

Once the trash was removed, the walls were knocked down, paneling removed, and then we punched holes in the ceiling until it came down (on the head of Mr. Converse, who wasn't paying proper attention to what was going on around him) in large chunks. Interesting fact; if you put a lot of gypsum into sewage water, it absorbs the water and becomes the nastiest smelling concrete-looking stuff you've ever smelled. Just a piece of trivia there for you.

So, yeah, good times! At least I was mucking out other people's houses, and not my own house. I can't even imagine what that would be like, basically losing everything you own to sewage water. Nasty.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I Am Single

Some things that are hard to explain are more easily shown by a picture. I think the one above captures it nicely.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

China Earthquake Comics

I just came across a webpage for a Chinese ex-pat who did a dozen comic strips about the May earthquake in China. Some of them are heart-rending (#6, for me at least) and some are so funny it seems inappropriate (#10, the guy turns on the AC in his new car right when the earthquake starts and thinks he just bought the worst car EVER), but they're all worth a look.


I took advantage of the small movie theater inside of the Renaissance Center last night to watch Wall-E, the new Pixar film. I missed the last one (Ratatouille; no idea if I spelled that right), but I heard great things about Wall-E, (and as my parents can attest, I loooove robots) so I wanted to check it out.

My rating of the film is two thumbs up, only limited by the fact that I don't have more than two thumbs. If I had, say, five thumbs, all of them would be up. I'm trying to think of anything about the move that I didn't enjoy, and I can't really think of anything. Just a completely satisfying film. It has an underlying ethic that is somewhat treehuggery, but I can't fault the film for that, because I tend a bit that way myself, these days.

So, yeah, you need to go see it. Perhaps at a bigger screen than the Renaissance Center Landmark 4. Oh, yeah! I just thought of what I didn't like about the movie; the preview for Disney's forthcoming chiahuahua movie, which looks insufferable.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Ladies and gentlemen, I am now a year older, though whether I am any wiser or not I leave to the philosophers to ponder. Yes, my birthday was this last Friday. So what did I do for my birthday? Well, I spent the morning volunteering my time at the Edgewood Children's Center, as part of my company's Day of Service initiative. We had ~200 people descend on the place to do all sorts of maintenance work. Then, in the afternoon I worked from home. In the evening, I listened to the new CD my brother, Christopher, got me (Kate Campbell's Blues and Lamentations, which is completely rock awesome if you like folksy roots-style music) while reading a book. So, yeah, very low key, but this is me we're talking about; have I ever been high key? Ever? At any point in my life? I don't think so.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Star Fleet Missions

Star Fleet Missions is a card game by Amarillo Design Bureau, the people who produce the Star Fleet Battles game. It is a simple game, where each of the players has a hand of cards that represents various starships, and each round there is a mission that requires different capabilities to successfully complete, such as combat ability or diplomacy, or something else. The players then select ship cards to play, and (usually) the highest rated ship wins. Play continues like this until all of the mission cards in the game have been won. So, it's like the card game War, but a bit more involved.

The only thing that saves this game from being lame is the variety in the missions. Many missions ask for one of the ratings (Space Combat, Diplomacy, Science, Cargo, or Marines), but some of them ask you to combine ratings, or take on rating and subtract another, or use two cards and combine them, or not allowing cards of some specific race to count, etc. Each mission puts a different spin on the basic rules, and keeps things somewhat interesting.

The ship cards themselves represent 18 different ships each from 6 different races (Gorn, Star Fleet, Klingon, Romulan, Tholian, and Orion Pirates) which will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Star Fleet Battles. The variety in ships not only gives the variety in the ratings on the cards, but also some visual variety, as each ship is pictured on the cards. In fact, one of the rules variants has each player only having ship cards from one or two of the races, which can make it feel more like you are actually playing for a particular side, as opposed to the basic game which just mixes all of the different races together into one big pile that all players draw from.

In the end, this game is average at best, and probably a bit below average when taken as a whole. It is really simple, and may appeal strongly to a younger audience that likes the Star Trek universe, but for a more experienced gamer, the game doesn't provide enough strategic variety to really make it feel like the player's skill let her win; it's just too random.

My Pseudo Birthday

I don't actually turn 34 until this coming Friday, but since my younger brother, Mark, was in town this weekend my family celebrated my birthday on Saturday. To start the day, Mark and I drove down to Victoria Glade and hiked around for 1 1/2 hours or so. I have to admit, the glade was not what I thought it would be based on the Nature Conservancy's description of the place. I thought it was supposed to be drier than it was, but we have had a lot of rain this spring, so maybe that is the cause. We also learned that another appropriate name for the place would be "tick glade," as there were probably millions of ticks in there. No, that isn't an exaggeration. We were knocking ticks off our clothes most of the time we were in there. I'm still glad we went, though, as there was a great view near the end of the hiking path that was really sweet, and not in the tick-infested part. I got me some good pictures of the place, like the one below.

After that I opened presents, and ate cake while playing a board game. Because I like board games. And I got new board games for my birthday, so now I have even more games to play. You should be detecting a trend here. And then after I left my folks place I went to a friend's house and played another game. I really do enjoy doing other things, it's just hard to tell these days!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Starfarers of Catan

This time up in my run through my game collection, we have Starfarers of Catan, essentially a variant of the designer's famous Settlers of Catan game. Whereas the original game had the players colonizing a small island, this time the players colonize the galaxy.

Each player starts out with two colonies and a spaceport in the home systems. Colonies and spaceports are important, because each planet has a number. Colonies and spaceports are always between two planets. Every turn the active player rolls two dice, and whichever number comes up, those planets produce resources for the players with colonies or spaceports next to them. Thus, numbers that come up more often, like 6 or 8, are more desirable locations to have. If a 7 is rolled, you lose resource cards if you have 8 or more, and whoever rolled the 7 gets to steal resources from the other players. This is basically the same system as in Settlers.

The differences quickly become apparent, though. In this game, you have spaceships, either colony ships (which build new colonies), or trade ships (which build trade stations at alien outposts). You have this monstrosity called a mothership, which represents the qualities of all the ships in your fleet. You can add guns, engines, and trade modules to your mothership, but you also move ships by shaking your mother ship and seeing which colored balls fall out the bottom. Yeah, it's about as weird as it sounds, but it works. The colors give you different numbers, and you add the numbers together to determine how far you move. You also shake the mothership to conduct space combat against pirates.

However! If you a black ball comes out when shaking for movement, you draw an encounter card. Or, more specifically, the player to your left draws the encounter card, and then reads it to you. You almost always have an option on encounter cards: trade or not, fight or not, try to skirt the black hole or not, etc. As the active player, you don't know what the results of your actions will be. For example, many encounter cards involve meetings with alien traders, and you have the option of trading resource cards to the alien. Sometimes if you don't trade, they bad mouth you and you lose fame (which earns victory points to help you win). Othertimes, they feel sorry for you and you get free stuff. And sometimes the trader is really a pirate posing as a trader, and they just steal your stuff without giving anything back. I must admit that I like this system quite a bit, as it adds some new twists to the game, but not enough to really through the balance out of whack.

The planets on the map must be explored before founding new colonies with your colony ships. Many planets are able to host colonies, but some house pirates or are ice worlds, and in both cases you have to clear the planet before founding a colony next to it. Pirates require lots of guns to eliminate, and ice worlds require lots of trade capacity to eliminate. This is a bit of a pain, but you do get victory points for clearing those hurdles, so it can be worth it. As you colonize more worlds, you get the chance to earn even more resources from the rolls every turn, as well as victory points, so you will want lots of colonies. Colonies can also be turned into spaceports. This gives another victory point, and also lets you build space ships from that point. This can be critical, and you will need at least one additional spaceport deeper into the map to allow you to make new colonies and trading posts quickly.

Trading posts are also very important. Not only do trading posts let you gain bonuses from the aliens you trade with (anything from bonuses to weapons or engines, to allowing easier trading of resources, to bonus resources, and beyond), but the player who has the most trading posts with any specific alien becomes their "friend," and gets two bonus points. In the game I played, this is how the winning player got to 15 victory points way before anyone else even had a shot; while everyone else was trying to build colonies, he just went straight after the aliens for trading, and got 6 victory points. He lost 2 of those points after another player put more trading posts on one of the alien stations, but he was too far ahead by then, and it was all over.

In the end, the game was more fun than I thought it would be. It definitely feels like a Catan game, but has a number of important differences from the original Settlers game, and it plays like its own game. Definitely one I'll want to play more in the future.