Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In the Big City

So I'm in Detroit this week, the first of probably many weeks in Detroit. I'm working at the Renaissance Center, right on the Detroit river. This building houses GM's headquarters, and that is why I am working for, helping review some internal controls work done by people in various parts of the world.

Once I get settled in (i.e., get a real access badge for the complex) I plan on taking some pictures for you all. As you might expect, there are many fancy looking cars inside GM's headquarters, including a tricked out Corvette, the new Camaro, and more. Mostly Chevrolet and Pontiac cars, from what I could see, but they have a Saturn Vue right near the main entrance, as well.

This week, I am staying in a hotel about six blocks away from the Renaissance Center. This means that on my way to and from work I get to talk to random people wanting money. Today, I got a couple collecting money from strangers to buy a tombstone for a recently deceased relative. For real! At least, I think it was for real. I didn't give them any money, though. The area is definitely urban; within a few blocks of my hotel is Comerica Park (where the Tigers play), Ford Stadium (where the Lions play), my own firm's Detroit office, a nudie club, a casino complex, lots of parking lots, the criminal justice center, bail bonds operations, and probably much more that I haven't walked past yet. Quite an ... interesting collection, to be sure. Next week I'm staying at the Marriott inside the Renaissance Center, as I don't like the beds where I am, and the fitness center is a joke, as well.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wandering Once More

Well, after about a year-and-a-half of not much wandering at all, I'm getting ready to go back on the road for work. Starting on Monday I will be commuting to Detroit, MI every week. I don't know how long I will be doing this; perhaps just a few weeks, perhaps all the way through the summer. So, you can expect more transmissions from the border of this great, bizarre country, since I'll be able to see Canada from where I'll be working. Yeah, Canada! I'm hoping I can get Canadian TV while I'm there so I can see Don Cherry foam at the mouth about the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Part of the reson for starting this whole exercise of randomly playing all of the games in my collection was to force myself to play some of those games I have purchased over the years, but never actually played for a variety of reasons. The game that immediately popped into my head as fitting this category is Dragonhunt. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, then, when it randomly ends up as one of the first few games I have to play. Needless to say, for an old game like this that most people seem to not like, I ended up playing it solitaire with four different forces (out of a possible six).

The point of Dragonhunt, as you may be able to infer from the title, is to hunt down and slay the dragon, Brimstone. Each player controls a small domain, consisting of one castle, one village, and one cottage (where wounded soldiers convalesce). Each player gets an army consisting of a Hero, a few Knights, a bunch of Men-at-arms, and a couple bowmen, called Snipers. You use your army to attack the dragon and the other players.

Yes, you read that right. You need to kill the dragon to win, but there can be much benefit in attacking other players and taking away their castles and villages. Every few rounds you get back a bunch of the troops you have lost in combat, but you need the right type of structure for them to be able to return: knights to castles, men-at-arms and snipers to villages. So, for example, if I lose my castle then I can't get any of my knights back. This means that taking some key buildings from an opponent can make it much harder for them to muster the forces needed to wound the dragon.

The dragon itself is interesting. It moves in a semi-random fashion around the board, fighting anything in the space it moves to. Each player rolls two dice, and chooses one of them to be the direction the dragon will move on the hex grid that makes up the game board (1 is north, 2 is north east, 3 is south east, 4 is south, etc.). UNLESS the dragon is enraged, at which point is moves randomly and quickly, maybe even attacking and destroying one of your villages or castles. The movement of the dragon adds a real random element to the game, and it can really stink when you want to attack the dragon, so you try to move him closer to you, but he ends up running off in a totally opposite direction, forcing you to fight another player just to get close to the dragon so you can try to kill it. Some people will like this, and some people won't, but I hit a middle ground of realizing how annoying it can be but liking the mechanic, anyway.

To kill the dragon, a player must wound it three times. At this point, your kingdom's "Mage Sword" is released. Your Hero uses the mage sword to actually try to kill the dragon, in a special combat that is a little odd, and I won't go into it here. It has some good tension in it, but the combat mechanic in the final dragon fight is way different from the rest of the game, and I'm not sure why the creator felt a need to do that. I found that part a little odd.

Another knock on the game is the fact that it can go on perpetualy with no end in sight, if the players don't buckle down and really go after the dragon in a serious way. The reason for this is the movement mechanic. Every round the players will choose one of their six movement cards and play it. This determines play order, with the lowest number going first, unless two or more players have that number, in which case the lowest "untied" number goes first. A bit odd, but I like the balance between having more movement points and going last, versus having fewer movement points and going first. Yes, the number you select is the number of movement points you have, for your entire army. So, you might have an army with 20 pieces in it, but you only get 8 or 9 movement points. Each space one piece moves costs at least 1 movement point, so on each round you are not moving many forces. In the game I played, one army was pretty much focused on wiping out another army, but with so few movement points the Blue army could never move enough troops into Orange army territory to be anything other than an annoyance. Thus, it seems like going after another player who is more than 3 spaces away is probably a losing proposition, which is unfortunate, as move player-v-player action would spice up the game.

Still, as is, I found myself being impressed by the overall game design. There is a balance of player choice vs. random action, and I found the concept of trying to hunt down a dangerous dragon to be fun. I'd like to try this game out with some live opponents, but I doubt it will ever happen, since this game is old (published in 1982) and nobody in my game club seems to want to play old games anymore.

The End of Everything

Well, my hockey season is now over. The Blues never made it to the playoffs, and the Capitols got knocked out last night in an overtime game 7. I'll still watch some games in the remaining rounds of the playoffs, but I don't have a team to root for anymore.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Home Can Be Nice, Too

A few weeks ago I posted some pictures from the office that I was working from in Seattle. I realized today that the view from my own home office in St. Louis isn't too bad, either. The above is photographic evidence that St. Louis is also cool, in its own way. BTW, the fact that the horizon is slanting has everything to do with my inability to actually hold the camera phone properly; it's actually pretty flat right around here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


This time up on my treck through my game collection we come across one of my favorite games of all time, Zombies!!! The basic premise of the game is the same as those "B" grade horror films; you are stuck in the middle of town with zombies all around you, and you have to escape. Of course, this being a competitive games, only one person can escape, so you don't really play cooperatively with the other players. No, you stab them in the back, hopefully at the most inopportune moment possible, because it is much funnier that way.

Mechanically the game is very simple. Each player gets three cards, which can be used to either help you or hurt another player. When your playing piece is on the same space as a zombie, you roll a six-sided die to fight it. Roll a 4 or higher, and you defeat. Roll a 3 or less, and you lose a life point. Unless you use bullets. Every player starts with three life points and three bullets. Each bullet expended lets you add 1 to a die roll. When you run out of life points, you die, your score goes back to 0, and you go back to the starting space in the middle of the town. This is all rather simple, which makes the game easy to teach new players.

What really makes the game interesting to play, though, is the board. There is no set playing board. Rather, the board is created as the game progresses by the players. The board consists of a number of 3" x 3" tiles, and on each player's turn, they get to place a new tile anywhere on the board they want. Thus, the map is different each time the game is played. Also, some tiles include specific buildings like the Fire Station, the Hospital, the Lawn & Garden Store, the Toy Store, etc. These named buildings have extra life and bullet tokens available to whoever gets there to claim them first, and some of the player cards also allow you to gain special items when your playing piece is in the correct building. For example, in the Military Surplus store you can get a hand grenade, which does to massed bunches of zombies pretty much what you'd think it would. With these advantages, players will try to get the buildings they want close to their own playing piece, while keeping them away from other players. It is a fun dynamic. The board placement and keeping other players from winning with a well-played card are what makes the game so much fun.

The game is popular enough that a bunch of different expansions have been created for the game. The most recent game I played was with the Zombie Corps(e) expansion, which was the first one created for the game. This expansion set adds new cards to the game, along with a new set of tiles that make an army base that attaches to the town. Other expansions add a shopping mall, a university, and a forest that you have to race through while chased by zombie dogs. None of the expansions really change the base rules, they just add new challenges and flavor after you have played the main game a dozen times or so. Still, I really like this game and the expansions. Because it's just fun to watch your friends get eaten by zombies, while you fly away in the helicopter to safety.

Busy Day

I am a big fan of taking it easy on Saturdays. Maybe play some board games, maybe read a book, maybe just generally goof off. Not yesterday, though. I spent over 3 hours working in the yard laying down topsoil, seed, and fertilizer. Then I went and got my haircut, picked up some items at GNC, went grocery shopping, and then brewed up a batch of homemade root beer, which is currently fermenting in the basement. I was able to fit in a little bit of soccer on TV in the morning, and then I caught part of the Memphis/UCLA game in the early evening. It was a full day, but it was a good one, too, as I got a lot done that needed to get done. Even if I did have to skip out of a game of Twilight Imperium to make it happen.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Monsoon Season

If I was a more enterprising man I'm sure I could look up statistics online to verify this claim, but I don't feel like doing that. Now that I have sufficiently prefaced this statement, I would like to state that I think this is the wettest firest three months of a year since I started living in St. Louis back in the '80s. It just won't stop raining. Granted, this isn't really a bad thing, as we were in drought last year, and we need to replenish the water table. It is getting ridiculous, though. The weather forecasters are saying we will get four inches of rain today and tomorrow. That is quite a lot. In fact, we are in what to this midwesterner feels like monsoon season. When I was in Seattle last week it rained most every day, but it was a misty rain for the most part, or it would last for an hour and then quit. This stuff here in Missouri is a hard rain that goes all day. Totally great for my grass seed, I know, but not so great for the psyche.

Also not great for the psyche, the St. Louis Blues are coming into the end of the season the way a runaway train does, with lots of wreckage and noise. They have been realistically out of the playoffs for the last two weeks, and may be setting records for finding ways to lose games they should win. There is no other way to put it, these guys are bona fide losers, because they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory almost every game. I would not want to be John Davidson this off season, trying to decide whose heads should roll to pay for this pathetic slide into a high draft pick. I was at the game on Saturday night against Chicago, and they were just bad, with almost the same players that looked so good in the first half of the season. They better figure out what happened, or they will see leakage in season ticket sales, for sure.