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.