Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Loot Check

So, what did you get for Christmas? I got some board games, and some new types of tea, and a couple books, and some clothes, and a bread pan (which really needs to get some lovin'), and I don't even remember all of it right now. Christmas was memorable by my Mom's dog, Sam, getting two bags of treats, which drove him so insane he started trying to eat everything in site, like styrofoam packing peanuts. Seriously, that dog is stupid sometimes.

However, today I got myself my own big Christmas present, a brand new 64 gig iPod Touch. I've already forgotten how I ever lived without it. I had not looked at portable media devices in over 3 years, since I got my iPod nano in 2006. Modern devices sure do a lot more, don't they? I am looking forward to experiencing Song Summoner, a game where you use the songs on your iPod to create characters that you use to fight the bad guys. I have no idea how that algorithm works, but it should be interesting trying to figure it all out and see what songs create the best fighters.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movie Time

With my time off from work for the holidays, I decided that I would watch one movie a day. I don't really watch many movies, so this is my way of forcing myself to engage in some popular culture. Maybe not American culture, per se, but culture none the less.

I'm on day three of my little adventure, and it has been interesting so far. The first movie I saw was Samaritan Girl, a Korean film about high school girls doing bad things and reaping what they sow. Or something like that. It was very odd. In fact, this is the third Korean movie I have ever seen, and "that was very odd" was my immediate reaction to all of them. That is probably enough to establish a theme, so no more Korean movies for me.

Yesterday and today were animated films. Yesterday was the classic Disney film Sleeping Beauty (I just love the art direction in that film), and today I watched Macross II. I thought I was watching a movie, as that is what Netflix said it was going to be, but it ended up being all six episodes of the video series streamed as one file. I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with the Netflix direct video feed; it looked quite good on my computer. Macross II is just as awesome and ridiculous as the original, except in six episodes instead of 39. And, yes, they still stop the aliens by singing. So ridiculous.

I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring, but I think Tuesday will be my day to go check out Ninja Assassin in the theaters. Hopefully it will be as ridiculously awesome as I have been told.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Playing Settlers of Catan Is the New Way to Be Cool

According to the Wall Street Journal, anyway. Since I got my copy in the later '90s, I can now say that I was cool before people even knew that playing board games was the way to be cool. This also lends additional weight to my secret plan of surviving my upcoming three month Detroit assignment by bringing Carcassonne with me and then finding people to play the game with in the hotel bar.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Have Already Forgotten How I Ever Lived Without It

So about six weeks ago I switched my TV provider from Charter cable to AT&T Uverse. Part of that included getting a DVR, as it is simply built into the signal box that AT&T gave me, and you can't even get a low grade service that doesn't include one. I wasn't sure that I would make much use out of the DVR, but after just a few weeks I am hooked and will have difficulty the rest of my life if I am ever without one. Like last night, I was watching the Premier League Review Show on Fox Soccer Channel. I have this program set to record every week, because some Sundays I have to travel for work and am unable to watch it. Since it was recording while I was watching it, I was able to simply pause the TV during the show when I wanted to go to the bathroom or get something to drink, and then resume it when I was ready to. I realize that other people figured out how awesome this is around 10 years ago, but that is really cool. Having a DVR has also solved some soccer game watching problems for me. See, when I had my standard Charter cable, it was fairly common for Arsenal matches to be shown at 10AM on Sundays. This meant that I had three options for handling my church/soccer scheduling woes:
  1. Go to church at 9:00 AM and miss the first few minutes of the game.
  2. Go to church at 10:45 AM and catch about the first 30 minutes of the game.
  3. Skip church entirely, thus being a dirty heathen, but a soccer enjoying one.
Now that I have a DVR, though, I can just record the game and watch it after church! Amazing! See, having a DVR assists in your personal spiritual growth! AT&T, feel free to quote me on that in your marketing materials. All I ask in payment is a few free months of service.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Survival

I survived the great northern blizzard (which Raygun humorously called DEATHSTORM '09!!!) none the worse for wear. It was kind of a strange week, as for two days my team and I were pretty much the only people willing and able to make it on the roads to get to the office. The upside of this is that we got a lot of work done that would not have otherwise gotten accomplished, so hooray us. I am now back in St. Louis for three whole weeks, which is quite wonderful. Now I just need to get some more Christmas shopping done, and I might be able to relax...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

More News on St. Louis' New Men's Soccer Team

The Post-Dispatch is reporting today that the new team has a name now, and some of the involved personnel have been named. I really have no idea how this is all going to play out, as any new league like this has a less than 50% chance of really making it and sticking around long term. However, since the Soccer Park is about three miles from where I live, if even that far, I'm sure I'll make it to some games, even if just to see what is going on. I did like the last line in the linked article.
"The challenge for us is to bring back the history of St. Louis and develop players and produce players and try to make them professional players. The whole project is exciting and a big challenge."
Man, you ain't kiddin' about the challenge part. Good luck with that!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It... Well, You Get the Picture

So this morning I flew back into lovely Omaha, Nebraska. When I left last Friday it was nice and dry, but for miles over western Iowa while flying in I could tell that it had snowed over the weekend. Upon landing, I find out that it is going to snow a whole lot more tonight and tomorrow than it had over the weekend. We're talking a full-scale blizzard, with a foot of snow, howling winds, and the whole bit. It should be glorious. To keep things interesting, the Director and Partner I am working with are scheduled to fly in from Chicago tomorrow morning, and none of us knows whether that is going to happen, or if I am going to be stuck by myself in Omaha for the next three days. And even if they do make it in, are we just going to be stuck in the hotel? Because if there is a foot of snow on the roads, I'm not really going to be keen on driving across Omaha to get to the client's office. Interesting times.

In other news, I learned today that I should never eat at the Denny's on 84th street in Omaha again. I told the waitress about my dairy allergy when ordering my meal, and after consulting with the chef I learned that the ONLY THING on the menu I could order sans dairy was the spaghetti off the children's menu. EVERYTHING ELSE was touched by butter, at the least. See, they don't use oil when they cook, they just smear butter all over the entire grilling surface in the kitchen. I couldn't even get a cup of soup that would be dairy free, or a salad, because that grilled chicken they put on top would have been grilled on a bed of butter. I'm pretty sure that other Denny's don't do that, but maybe I just have to knock the entire chain off my list. Annoying.

On the plus side (well, kind of), I have now stayed at Hilton Hotel properties enough to have earned myself back up to Diamond status, the highest level in the HiltonHHonors rewards program. I was Diamond three years ago, but that project I had in 2007 where I worked in St. Louis almost the entire year killed that for me. Granted, that project had me in St. Louis for all of 2007, so it isn't like I was upset about it or anything. Anyway, I have earned my road warrior stripes all over again, so look out, world! Pretty soon I'm gonna earn myself an entire free week at a resort in Cabo.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Suckage Time

Wow, what a lousy couple of weeks for Arsenal fans. First, we lose one-nil to Sunderland. Admittedly, Sunderland is quite good this year, but still. Second, we get murdered by Chelsea. Admittedly, Chelsea is the better team, especially when we lack Van Persie, but still. Then yesterday we get bounced out of the Carling Cup by Manchester City in a pretty brutal drubbing. The real problem with the Man. City game is when you look at the players on each side. Mark Hughes brought out all of his primary players for the contest, while Wenger had a bunch of bench-warmers and training squad players starting for Arsenal. Granted, we have a lot of injuries, but you could tell before the game, by just looking at the lineups, that we were going to get punched in the face for 90 minutes straight. I'm not a big fan of lavishing money on buying players, but if that lineup was the best we could muster then we definitely need better talent. Depressing.

In other news, it is snowing this morning in Omaha. Not enough to get any real ground coverage, but still, it's snowing. Let the fiesta begin!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Greetings from Omaha

Greetings, one and all, from Omaha, NE. I flew up here late last night and started on a project here today to help a local company improve its internal audit processes. It is a pretty cool project, but I am looking at 10+ hour days for the next two weeks, most likely. Ah, well, at least the food here is good. Well, except for the place we went for lunch; that place was kind of lousy. But there are definitely good steaks to be eaten in Omaha.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let Us Give Thanks, for Board Games

Wow, am I on a roll. On Wednesday my family had an early Thanksgiving meal (to allow my brother, Christopher, to have Thanksgiving on the actual day with his in-laws), so I was over at my parents' place most of the day. So what did I do there? Since it was a Thorne family gathering, we played games, of course. On that first day I played Commands & Colors: Ancients, Attika, Carcassonne, and Strat-O-Matic baseball. The next day, Thanksgiving, I actually was at home in the morning doing chores and writing a couple reviews for that anime website I am an editor for, but then I went to my parents' house at lunch, and some more Commands & Colors was played, as well as Eurorails. Then today I headed over in the morning after I got out of the gym and we played a lot of Shadows over Camelot, capped off with another game of Commands & Colors. I'm actually feeling a little gamed out, but tomorrow my wargaming club has a meeting, so I will be there in the afternoon, and then I am going to a friend's house to play some Arkham Horror, and maybe some Battlestar Galactica if we have time. It's all a bit much, I agree, but I love it!!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Rumors of my Death are Greatly Exaggerated

To allay the fears of anyone who thought that I was in my death throes yesterday, I am alive and (somewhat) well. While my current project has certainly tried to kill me, it has failed. So far, anyway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wiped Out

So, on Monday I had written that I was coming down with a cold. Well, if this is a cold it is a really severe one, as with colds I usually don't run a fever and have fever chills so bad I can barely stand up straight. Of course, since I'm on the road traveling for work, there is no calling in because you're sick. I mean, where would I go? I can't stay home because home is ~350 miles away. So I went to work anyway and did what I could. Not fun.

Not a Normal Fortune Cookie for an Auditor to Get

"You have a heart of gold."
- P.F. Chang's, Franklin, TN

Monday, November 16, 2009

Back in the Music City

I'm back in Nashville again, probably for the last time on my current project. I'm staying in a different hotel again, because the place I stayed last time was garbage. I just can't seem to find a place that satisfies me, because I insist that things work right. I'm irrational like that.

Speaking of irrational, as of today I have been employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers for a full six years. That is kind of a long time. When I hit my five year anniversary I had a fancy dinner at a steakhouse in Reno, NV. Tonight I went to P.F. Chang's and got a vegetarian stir-fry dinner, because I think I'm coming down with a cold. I chased my herbal tea with some drugs, so hopefully I sleep pretty well tonight. Such is the exciting life of a traveling internal auditor in 2009.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

St. Louis Has a Men's Soccer Team

According to the St. Louis Business Journal, St. Louis is going to have a new men's soccer team real soon. I know that Mr. Cooper is miffed about getting shut out of the MLS, but forming your own league? That seems a bit extreme. Why not just try to get a USL team, instead? I am also surprised at some of the teams joining the new league, as the Montreal Impact are front-runners to make the jump from USL division I to MLS in a year or two. Very interesting development. We'll just have to see what happens.

The City of Brother Love

Greetings from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! I'm here doing work for a logistics company that has its offices in the Naval Yard. It is interesting driving to work every morning past very large military warships mothballed in the yard. Oh, and as we pull into the parking lot there is a huge cruise ship parked right next door, as well.

My team and I are staying downtown at the Ritz-Carlton, and it is pretty nice. The bathroom even has an electric motor for the window blinds, so you can move them up and down using a switch by the door. I thought that was pretty cool. Another cool thing is the view from said window:


Yes, my camera phone takes lousy pictures, but you can get the idea. Supposedly the Liberty Bell is right by the hotel, as well, but I haven't seen it yet.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory is one of the finest wargames I have in my collection. I first bought the game back in '99 or 2000 when my younger brother got it, and immediately contacted me and said I HAD TO GET IT!!! The intention was that we would play it against each other via email, but that has yet to actually happen. Even though its original purpose has not yet been fulfilled, I am still glad I own this game.

Paths of Glory is a strategic/operational level game of World War I, with one player taking the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, France, Russia), and the other player taking the Central Powers (Austria/Hungary, Germany, Ottoman Empire). The playing counters represent either armies or corps, which the players maneuver around the map trying to bring the most force to bear against their opponent. The game itself uses a mechanic known as "CDG," which stands for Card-Driven Game. It is called this because each player starts each turn with a hand of cards. Each card can be used for four different things: action points (which let you move and fight with your armies), reinforcement points (which let you rebuild damaged armies and corps), strategic redeployment points (which let you move armies and corps long-distance across the board), and a specific action of some type, which represents an actual historic occurrence. The brilliance of this mechanic is in teh fact that the best events (like, say, bringing in another nation on your side of the war) are on cards that also provide the most action, reinforcement, and redeployment points. And for most non-combat events, once a card is played for the event, the card is removed from the game entirely. So if you use it for that great event, then that high value card is gone forever. Thus, each time you have a play to make, you agonize over exactly the best way to use your cards. You never have enough cards to do everything you want, either. You are always struggling against whether to move armies, or save reinforcement points to re-build damaged ones, or to take that action that gives you victory points.

All of that would be well and good, but the dual-front nature of the gameplay really makes the game shine. Most readers of this post will be passingly familiar with the trench warfare of the western front, where armies lined up and faced each other in relatively restricted areas. Not so on the eastern front, where Russia fights against Austria/Hungary and Germany. On the eastern front there are a lot of maneuver possibilities, and the first two turns can have a significant impact on the game if either Russia or Austria/Hungary gets a breakthrough. There is even a standard opening move for the Allied player known as the "Dance of Death." And remember how you only get one card play a turn? Not only do you have to decide what aspect of the card to use, but whether you want to use it on the western or eastern front. And you can't just ignore one of them, because you run the risk of the other player completely over-running your defenders as they stand still. The back-and-forth tension of the game can be pretty brutal on the nerves, actually.

The game has gone through three printings, I think, and a fourth one is currently being planned. However, one little extra was put out for the game in 2001 that makes a wonderful addition to play, the Paths of Glory Player's Guide. This was essentially a special issue of the publisher's magazine, but all of the articles focused on Paths of Glory. New game setups were introduced, as well as new play cards, counters, and play aids. There were also a number of articles discussing the game's strategy. Seriously, some people ponder this game the way that others ponder chess. There are standard opening moves, standard counters to the openings, and so on and so forth. Very neat stuff. Too bad it is out of print. I personally consider the revised setup in the Player's Guide to be the best way to setup the game. It minimizes some of the initial Russian advantage in the East while giving Italy a bit of a boost when they enter the game. An excellent addition to an excellent game. Hey, you can't be the 2nd highest ranked wargame on the Geek by accident, you know.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

So Far Off Base, This Can't Be My Fortune Cookie

You are very expressive and positive in word, act and
feeling.

- Fulin's Asian Cuisine, Brentwood, TN

Head Em Up, Move Em Out

Back in Nashville, TN this week. I had originally thought I was going to be here all week, but I found out this afternoon that I am actually heading back to STL tomorrow. I'm not going to complain too loudly about that. I had also originally thought that I would be able to work an Andrew Peterson concert into the week's activities, but then I learned that his appearance in Nashville was actually at a chapel service for a local private school, and having some random dude from out of town show up at their 8AM chapel service would likely make the local news, and not in a good way. So I passed on that.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Second City

This past week I found myself in lovely downtown Chicago for three days, as I was sent there by my company for training. I got to learn many valuable things (that I already knew, as I have been doing my job for years), but I also got to see my brother Mark, who lives in Wheaton. We got together and did the perfect Chicago trifecta: a lovely Thai dinner, talking with a homeless man, and playing a game. What else did you think I was going to do?

I Just Got Upgraded

The nice AT&T man just recently left my house, and I am now the proud recipient of upgraded U-Verse service. I now have more TV channels than I could ever watch, an internet connection three times faster than I had before, an improved wireless network, and a DVR with a ridiculous capacity, all for what I was paying for cable and internet before. Am I ever going to actually use all of these things? Probably not, but having the DVR will be nice since I travel all the time for work, and can now record important things like the Premier League Review Show that I can't see when I'm driving to Nashville for work. Yes, this is important.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Southern Style

Greetings from Nashville, TN. Well, I'm really staying in Brentwood, a suburb south of Nashville, but most people who read this blog won't know the difference. This is the first of ~six weeks on a project to help a company here get a grasp on how they could improve their internal controls over their IT operations. Not the most exciting work ever, but still pretty interesting.

I have felt pretty lousy a good part of the week. I'm not sure if that is due to some kind of allergic reaction to a plant around here, or if I am fighting something off. Whichever it is, I haven't had a lot of fun this week. I also have had to work some pretty long hours, which probably hasn't helped whatever my situation is. I did have a chance to go to dinner at B. B. King's blues house in Nashville last night, though, which was cool. They had a band and some singers doing R&B and old Motown music, which wasn't as good as if they had a straight blues band, but whatever. I did snag a glass from the gift shop to go with the one I got from the Memphis location last year, so my collection of glassware from my travels continues to expand.

Lastly, the manager I am working with on this project was Lee Ann Womack's roommate in college, and while growing up knew Dolly Parton, as her parents lived in the same neighborhood as the singer. That's not something you hear every day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ogre

As opposed to my last game collection entry, this one is not preceded by many months. The reason is that the game randomly selected from my collection this time around is one of my all-time favorites, Ogre. I actually own to editions of this game: the third edition that came in the black clamshell plastic box and that I picked up in the late '80s, as well as the Ogre/G.E.V. combo game that I won at a game demonstration back in 2000 or 2001. I also own two copies of the follow-on game, G.E.V., as well as the Ogre Book, the Shockwave expansion pack, the map pack, etc., etc. While I used to play this game quite a bit, it had been years since I had last played it, probably not since 2001 or 2002.

Ogre is a pretty fast game. The basic scenario gives one player a group of tanks, artillery, and power-armored infantry, while the other player gets only one unit. But, oh, what a unit, as they get the ogre. An ogre in this game is not a mythological beast, but rather a giant, cybernetic tank, bristling with guns and missiles, and bearing armor at least a meter thick upon every point. The defending player throws all of his forces at the ogre, while the ogre players blows up the other guy's units. This is one of those games where each side plays very differently. Infantry and tanks are pretty fragile, and can be disabled or destroyed pretty easily. The ogre, however, must be slowly worn down. Each time you fire at it, you can either target one of its guns or missiles, or shoot at its treads. To destroy it, you have to eliminate ALL weapons, and ALL of its treads. As you destroy its weapons, it has fewer to shoot at you, and as you destroy its treads it moves slower. Both are beneficial to the defending player, but you have to decide if you want to eliminate guns but still let it move at full speed, or if you want to get it so it can't move but leave its guns intact (which means they are shooting you to pieces while you try to destroy the treads).

While relatively simple (only a few pages of rules), there are some interesting tactical decisions that each player has to make. If defending, what units do I want to defend with? Will I go with lots of lightly-armored but fast ground-effect vehicles? Or heavy tanks, which have good armor but need to get close to the ogre to attack? Or maybe missile tanks which have weak armor but a long-range attack? Or, perhaps, I want lots of howitzers, which have long range, powerful attacks, but can't move and die pretty much instantly if shot at? When playing the ogre, do you just charge right in to the thick of the defenders to destroy the enemy command post ASAP, or do you hang back and try to pick off defending forces in pockets? Do you hang on to your missiles (running the risk of them being destroyed), or do you fire them off early? With all of the different decisions, this game stands up well to multiple playings, especially when you mix it with the G.E.V. game (which focuses more on the traditional armor and infantry, and has a different playing map). Definitely a good time, especially if you ever liked Keith Laumer's Bolo stories or just games that provide different play experiences for each side.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Company

I actually had people over to my place for the first time in a while tonight. My parents and my friend Gabe came over to play games. We played a couple rounds of Carcassonne before my folks left, and then Gabe stuck around for about half-a-dozen hands of Fluxx, which he had never played before. It was fun. I'm not sure why I don't do this more often. Oh, that's right, because I'm hardly ever in town.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm an Auditor; I Need More Precision than This

You will discover the truth in time.
House of Wong, Creve Coeur, MO

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ran

Well, it has been a few months since I last wrote about a game in my collection. This has been due to a number of things, but one of the primary reasons is the specific game that was randomly chosen. Ran is the twelfth volume of GMT's Great Battles of History series. If you like tactical-level games focusing on famous historical conflicts, then this is a fantastic series. If you like your games more on the low-complexity scale, however, this is a pretty lousy series. While not having the rules complexity of Star Fleet Battles, these games are still relatively complex. So much so that a number of years ago the publisher put out a separate rulebook that simplified the rules for those who wanted to play the games without learning the rules to the point where they could write a PhD-level thesis about them.

Ran, as you might have guessed from the name, focuses on battles from Japan's history, specifically the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States, period. This is actually the second Great Battles of HIstory game focusing on this era. I have played, and own, the first one, Samurai, and I think I like Ran better. Why? Because they took those simplified rules to heart, and Ran plays a lot like Samurai, while being less complex. It still has the same "counter overload" problem, where an individual unit counter can have three status counters stacked on top of it, but that problem is lessed in the streamlined rules used by Ran.

As is common in Great Battles of HIstory games, you don't just eliminate enemy units, as that has almost never happened in real life. Instead, you try to get them to rout and run away. The way this works in the game is that once combat is joined, units take "cohesion hits," which represents combat casulaties as well as the loss of unit formation (and morale) that can happen in the chaos of close combat. Each unit has a Troop Quality rating, and once enough hits have been taken to match that rating, the unit becomes "disrupted," and is flipped over (missile units are wiped out at this point). The disrupted side has lower quality and movement ratings. Once a disrupted unit takes hits equal to its lowered Troop Quality, the unit has routed. You win games by making your enemy's units rout off the map, as each scenario has a specific rout level, where if you can get enough points of enemy troops to rout to meet or exceed that number, then you win.

Troops don't just rout from direct combat, though. To try to mimic the peculiarities of combat in this period, each unit is part of a contingent, led by a specific leader of a clan. Battles consist of groups of allied clans fighting each other. For example, in the Battle of Nunobeyama, the Mori fight the Amako, but most of the fighting soldiers are from allied clans, each clan having its own contingent. If enough units from a contingent are routed or disrupted, the entire contingent has a chance of turning tail and running away. This is checked at the end of every turn. This can lead to a situation where due to really bad die rolls, you could be winning a fight on the board, but if you get enough units disrupted your entire contingent could run away and all of those units are immediately GONE. If you have any wargame experience you can imagine how this could be a problem. In fact, in the game I played (the aforementioned Nunobeyama), the Amako had two of their five contingents roll really bad and run away at the same time, which immediately put them over the rout limit and they lost. This feels very "gamey" to me, and I'm not sure if I like that game mechanic or not. Yes, troops historically did rout for seemingly strange reasons from time to time, and a mechanic is needed to address that, but I'm not totally sold on this being the right way to do it.

There are other aspects of the game, like individual samurai duels and using a commander with a good quality rating to try to get extra turns with your forces, but I have covered the core of the game. You get your troops, you try to engage the enemy in advantageous terrain, and you try not to botch dice rolls at critical times. It sounds simple when I put it like that, but maneuver of troops is not easy, and you can get hammered very hard if you get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. So this is a good game, and definitely one I will be keeping in my collection, but I don't plan on trying to get it on the table all the time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

All Work and No Play Makes Aaron Tired

I had a pretty long week this time around. With the exception of one day when I left work after only an 8 hour shift because I hadn't yet gotten the documents I needed, and I wasn't going to get them until the next day, I worked at least 10 hour shifts pretty much every day this week. So even though I was at home in St. Louis this past week, it didn't feel all that different from a normal travel week. I even slept almost 11 hours last night, so you know that I was pretty wiped out.

Part of that could be because of the painkillers that got shot into my head on Thursday when I had my broken tooth finally worked on. It now has a temporary crown over the entire tooth, and they took a bunch of molds and sent them off to some lab somewhere to have a permanent porcelain crown made. That will get put on at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future, as after next week I am out of town until almost Christmas, barring the Thanksgiving holiday. It is currently looking like it will be mostly Nashville until Thanksgiving, and then after that New Jersey and Omaha, Nebraska.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Lots of Games Were Played, Almost Nobody Got Hurt

This weekend was Archon, the premier St. Louis science-fiction convention. Yes, I was there. No, I did not go to any of the panels, or the costume contest, or sit and watch goofy movies in the video room. I played games all weekend. I went with two of my local friends who I play games with, and I drug them into three different games, two of which they really enjoyed. Truth be told, the one they didn't enjoy I also didn't enjoy very much. Ah, well; I had never played it before and wanted to try it out, and now I have. I also won a free card game, spent money in the dealer's room (though not as much as Roy did, so I can still claim that I showed proper restraint), ate good barbeque, and ate good Chinese food. Good times. We're already planning for next year.

If Only I Knew the Question

You will find your solution where you least expect it.
- Peking Garden, Collinsville, IL

Monday, September 28, 2009

Weekend Sports Roundup

Let's take a look at what I cared about from sporting events this past weekend:

Arsenal beat Fulham 1-0, which was probably the right score there. Fulham is a good, but not great, football club, and showed last year that you underestimate them at your own peril. Without stellar goalkeeping Arsenal could have easily lost this match.

Robin Van Persie acknowledged that he likes to embellish his reaction to fouls. In other news, water is wet.

The baseball Cardinals clinched their division, thus assuring their appearance in the playoffs. This is good news, of course, but the team still has its problems, and I don't think they will make it to the world series. I pick the Dodgers for that honor.

Iowa put the smackdown on Penn State on Saturday, with what was one of the most brutal defensive beatdowns I have ever seen. Seriously, that 4th quarter showing by the Iowa defense was amazing. If you use just the points the defense scored they would have almost won the game by themselves. Four turnovers by Penn State in the 4th alone; just brutal. Unless you are a Hawkeye fan, of course.

The Detroit Lions, God love 'em, won a football game. For real! Against the Washington Redskins. As someone who lived in the D.C. area for over five years, I can state with authority that Redskins football is not just a game in that area, it is a full-blown cult. There will be blood, people, the cult members will demand a sacrifice for this one.

And, to top it all off, the Blues are in Sweden, getting ready to open the NHL season. Just a few more days, and I have hockey again!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Even Fortune Cookies Can be Wrong

"You cheerful outlook is one of your assets."
Pei Wei Asian Diner, Overland Park, Kansas

wallpaper fun

This season, one of the things I am doing to show my support of Arsenal football is putting wallpapers of their games on my work computer. Every time they win a game, the team creates a wallpaper from some point in the game. Sometimes, admittedly, these a pretty lame. Other times, however, they are unintentionally hilarious. For example, the wallpaper for the Champions League win against Standard Liege has a Liege player looking at Eduardo with a rather forlorn expression on his face. The best so far, though, is from the 4-0 thumping of Wigan Athletic. The Wigan player to the left of Vermaelen in the picture has this total "How did I get stuck on a team with these losers?" look to it that it makes me laugh every time I look at it. Good times. It would be pretty cool if the St. Louis Blues did something like this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

(Late) Weekend Update

News and notes from the weekend that was:
* On Friday I did not, in fact, have the dental appointment that I was supposed to have in order to fix my broken tooth. The dentist's assistant was "sick." Considering that this happened on a beautiful Friday, I'm going to be officially suspicious of this.
* Later on Friday, I met up with my friend George and went to the Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in concert. Not totally my thing, but it was a good concert. it was odd to be listening to swing dance music in a concert hall, though.
* Saturday was a lazy day, where intentionally not much happened, except for the fact that I got absolutely hammered by nasal allergy problems. I'm not sure what hit me, but it was pretty bad. Because of this, when I got together with Art, Dawn, and Roy to play games that evening I was definitely not with my full mental faculties.
* Sunday was actually pretty productive. The allergy problems kept me from church (when you can't breathe well, it is hard to focus on the sermon), but I was able to do some general cleaning and picking up around the house, which was needed.
* I am now back in the Kansas City area, maybe for the last week, and maybe not; I might be here Mon-Wed next week, as well. We'll have to see how this week goes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Half-Price Books

Yesterday I took advantage of my project in KC to actually make it to a Half-Price Books for the first time in my life. If you haven't been to one, it is a used bookstore writ large. It was actually pretty cool, though they had a pretty bad drek:awesome ratio in the sci-fi section. I didn't find what I was looking for (I was looking for some of the old Martian books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but no luck), but I did find some essentially brand new Osprey military history books for $6 a pop, which is well over 50% off the standard price, as well as an omnibus edition of a sci-fi trilogy by Elizabeth Moon. I haven't loved all of her stuff, but her Paksennarion stories still rank among my favorite stories of all time, so I figure it won't hurt to give some of her other work a shot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Night Out With the Girls

Since I'm still staying in Overland Park until my project finishes, I took advantage of the proximity to family today and had dinner with two of my cousins, Diana and Kristi. Even though the KC area is just 4 hours away from me I almost never get over here, so it was good to catch up with them. We went to a Thai restaurant that was literally across the street from Kristi's apartment, and the food was great. We all seem to have settled in our ways a bit, as it is all the same stuff we talk about the few times I see either of them (usually Christmas), but it was a good time anyways.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

St. Louis Ruins Everything

So I've been watching Hockey: A People's History off-and-on ever since I got it in early July. Episode 6 contained a real treat for me. After spending at least 20 minutes describing how awesome it was back in the "original six" days for Toronto and Montreal to meet in the Stanley Cup finals seemingly about every other year, at the end of the episode they mention the NHL's expansion in the late '60s, and how every one of those teams was American, and how the Leafs and Canadiens have never met in the finals since. While the anouncer is being all depressed-sounding describing this, all of the images are of the St. Louis Blues. They have old TV footage of the players, the fans, even the old Barn (aka, the St. Louis Arena). While there were five other teams that joined at the same time, all of the video footage is from St. Louis. Someone up in Toronto (where the CBC is headquartered) must really hate St. Louis to use only their video footage to describe how Americans ruined everything. It made me laugh out loud.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Time Warp

I was driving on Manchester Boulevard today, around 2PM, listening to 89.1FM, the Lindenwood University station, when they put the song Goldie's Last Day on the air. Man, I hadn't heard that song in ages. It's probably been at least five years since I listened to that album. Crazy.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Revenge of the Fortune Cookie

You will enjoy doing something different this coming weekend.
China Wok, Des Peres, MO

Friday, September 04, 2009

I'm Broken

So I had an interesting experience this week. While biting down on a gumdrop, I had half of a crown fall out. Well, not really a crown, but a large porcelain filling that is supposed to last forever. Almost half of it just cracked right out. None of the actual tooth material on that tooth was damaged, just part of the porcelain separated and came out. I was able to get the dentist and have it checked out yesterday, and it looks like what is left is sturdy, and it isn't causing me much pain (just some cold sensitivity since the nerve doesn't have much covering anymore, so it's not being treated as an emergency. This means I get to go two weeks missingn part of a tooth before I get it fixed. Joyous.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Setting the Bar High

Since we are working out of town, my colleague, Daniel, wanted to go to a Royals game yesterday evening. Zack Greinke was pitching, so I figured I should tag along. Daniel is a big sports fan, so I imagine we will be hitting some more games before our project is done at the end of September. Anyway, we headed out to Kauffman Stadium with no tickets, planning on buying some at the ticket counter. A hundred feet or so before we reached the ticket counter, an older gentlemen came up to us and asked us if we wanted to buy his tickets. He wanted $10 for each of them. We decided that this was a good deal, considering that the seats were 14 rows behind the visitor's dugout in the lower section. Those tickets would cost at least $40 normally, if not more. I guess that man really wanted to sell those tickets. So, yeah, great seats. Also, it was free T-shirt Tuesday, so now I have a KC Royals T-shirt, which is one more than I have of STL Cardinals T-shirts.

It turns out that Kauffman Stadium is a really nice ballpark. It isn't fancy, but it has a good setup, and it didn't look like there were hardly any bad seats in the place. I would definitely go see more ballgames there. I also really like their new screen, which is built in the shape of the Royals "crown on top of home plate" logo, and it was very different seeing a screen that was taller than it was wide, but I really liked it.

The big thing, though, was getting to watch Zack Greinke, the ace of the Royals staff, not only beat his own personal strikeout record of 11 in an game, but set the Royals all-time franchise record for striekouts in a game with 15. Fifteen. The guys behind us working the K count ran out of pre-made K sheets, and had to resort to ripping pages out of a program and writing "K" on them with a sharpie so they could hang them up. So, in my first Royals game ever, I got to see history made. And we got T-shirts. And we got awesome seats for $10 each. As Dan said as we left the stadium yesterday, "I know we're going to some more games next month, so hopefully we haven't set the bar too high already." Yeah, I'm not sure how we're gonna top this one.

Monday, August 24, 2009

KC Stylin'

Greetings from Overland Park, Kansas! I am here most days from now until the end of September, working on a project at the US Department of Agriculture office in Kansas City, helping them figure out how many computer systems they have. It promises to be quite boring, but it pays the bills. My colleague and I do plan to hit at least one Royals game during this project, which should prove interesting. I have driven past Kaufman Stadium many times, but I have never actually been in there. If anything exciting happens, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Being a General Manager is Hard

As I believed I have mentioned earlier, I started playing Eastside Hockey Manager a few weeks ago. Well, I have now played it long enough that I have five full seasons under my belt as the GM of the St. Louis Blues. You know how many Stanley Cups I have won in that entire time? Zero. At least I made it to the finals three seasons ago, though that was only to be the face getting hit by the fist of the Ottawa Senators. I'm currently in a slight re-building mode after getting knocked out of the playoffs in the second round for the second year in a row, but the talented free agents either want too much money, or they don't want to play for my team. At least I got the owners to up the player budget this season for the first time ever, but I'm having trouble finding people who want to take my money (well, players who I think are worth it who want to take my money; losers are easy to find). Plus I know I have a brewing problem at my goalie position, but none of my prospects are really panning out properly. I almost feel sorry for Larry Pleau, know, having to put up with this kind of stuff in real life.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Are You Ready for Some Footy?

Today marked the start of the English Premier League '09/'10 season, and my Arsenal got off to amazing form, slapping around a hapless Everton 6-1 (and that Everton goal was a gift to them, really). If you haven't ever watched much soccer, any goal differential higher than 3 is an absolute shellacing, and I can't even imagine how brutal it must have been for the home-side Everton fans to watch it. Perhaps kind of like that 10-2 game I saw back in '02 where the Washington Capitals got hammered by Ottawa, but you occasionally get games like that in hockey; giving up 6 goals in a soccer match is practically unheard of at the top flight. I do not have high hopes for Arsenal this season, but if they can keep up this form I may have to revise my predictions.

The Car as Money Sink

I had a new experience on Thursday; after spending the evening at my parents' house visiting with my brother and sister-in-law, who were in from Florida for a visit, I went out to the driveway to get in my car and drive home, when I discovered that the driver's side window was gone. After a moment of panic I was able to determine that it wasn't busted out, but instead had simply fallen down of its own power into the door frame. Some minor detective work discovered that the tension cable had come off its moorings, and when I tried to move the window up using the electric moter it sounded like the motor also had a problem. So, the car is now at Dobbs getting fixed. I know that people always talk about how their homes are money pits, sucking away all their free cash, but I'm pretty sure that cars are close seconds in that race. Ah, well, it's only money.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Aaron being Aaron

One of the things that I have noticed about myself over the years, that I haven't ever noticed with anyone else, is the fact that I will occasionally get myself all set up to do something, and then not actually do it for a while, sometimes even for years. As a small example, let me point out that during my university years I discovered the band Sixpence None the Richer, and I wanted to get their album This Beautiful Mess. This led to me doing nothing to actually accomplish that goal for about three years, when I was wandering through the One Way bookstore on Manchester Blvd., saw it on the shelf, and I thought "Aaron, it is time to get that album." So I bought it then. Why did I not buy it before? I don't know, I just never really felt like doing it, even though I wanted to.

So this brings me to today. This afternoon, I finished playing through the video game Sakura Taisen 3. I have owned this game since either late 2002 or early 2003, I'm not sure of the exact acquisition date. I got it as part of the Sakura Wars Complete Box, which had games 1 through 4 in the series all in one complete package. Right after getting that package, I played through the first game in the series twice (it's one of those "story games," where you make dialogue choices kind of like in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, plus you have occasional combats where your steam-punk mecha fight bad-guy steam-punk mecha. If you makes no sense at all to you, you can read about it all here.

Anyway, after that I moved to St. Louis, the Dreamcast got packed away, and I didn't play any more of the games. Fast forward to 2006, when I felt like breaking out the second game in the series, which I played for a couple weeks over Christmas break. The rest of the series sat unused until recently, when I started feeling the bug to play the next game. As is usual for me, that feeling built for a few weeks until I decided to setup the Dreamcast again and play it. Thus, over the last three weeks or so, I've spent about 35 hours playing Sakura Taisen 3. Now that it is finished, I can finally enjoy the rest of the experience.

See, in Japan, video games like this don't exist on their own. No, there are art books, and soundtrack CDs, and animated videos, and action figures, and trading cards, and pretty much every possible way of making money off of a property. Knowing about all this, when I got the Complete Box back 6+ years ago, I started looking for the rest of the associated swag. I picked up some manga, a bunch of CDs, the complete trading card set for the first game, and even a pencil board. This included stuff for all of the video games, but I have refrained from really dipping into the stuff I have until the time is right.

Case in point, I own both of the soundtrack albums for Sakura Taisen 3, but I have never listened to them before. I got the CD with the vocal songs off eBay used, so it was opened, but the full video game background music album is still in shrinkwrap, which it has been in for a good 6 years. Most people find this kind of thing odd, but I figure why ruin the experience by listening to the music before playing the game? This does mean that unopened albums sit on my CD rack for years, but if you want to do things right, you do them in the proper order. The animated video for Sakura Taisen 3 released domestically 5 years ago, and I picked up the DVD at a local Best Buy around 3 years ago for a good price. Again, it is still in shrinkwrap. However, now that I have played through the game, I get to enjoy the experience of listening to the soundtrack and watching the DVD with a full understanding of what the underlying story is supposed to be, and being able to pin specific songs to specific scenes or moods in the game.

No, I'm not finished, either. I still haven't played Sakura Taisen 4, and I have that soundtrack CD in shrinkwrap, as well. Since I played the first game in 2003, the second game in 2006, and the third game in 2009, I figure I will finally get my money's worth out of that boxed set, and finally crack open that remaining soundtrack album, sometime around 2012. Why rush it? I'm obviously not in any hurry.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Fortune Cookie, Part 6

"Your courage will guide your future."
Hong Fa Chinese Restaurant, Valley Park, MO

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I just got a phone call from Joe Carter

It was a pre-recorded message, of course, but Joe Carter, of the '92 and '93 Blue Jays champions teams, just called to invite me to a party celebrating those championship seasons. The party happens to be this weekend, in Toronto, so there is no way I'm actually going, but I think that is pretty cool. Now I know why when I bought that ticket online for the Jays game I went to in June, they wanted my phone number. I wonder what phone-spam I'll get next from my friends up north?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Updating

Not much blogging, because not much has been happening around here recently. I did get my canaled tooth crowned yesterday, which was perhaps the easiest dental procedure ever. I have also been at home for a week, between taking a day off work after the root canal and then being on a project where I was given permission to work from home, which I totally took advantage of. On the entertainment front, my recent installation of Diablo II on the home computer has pushed me back into digital games for the time being. I am currently working to finish the second Act in Diablo II, in chapter 6 in Sakura Taisen 3 (which I've owned since late 2002 and never played, incidentally), and over the weekend I installed the 2001 version of Eastside Hockey Manager and it has completely consumed my brain. That is the downside of working from home, fighting the temptation to go upstairs, forget the work, and pretend to be a hockey club General Manager. That's not an easy temptation to fight, but I've been successful so far.

Speaking of hockey games, my younger brother got me the Strat-O-Matic hockey board game for my birthday (28 days late, but who's counting?), and now I need someone to play it with, because I want to try it out. Hey, Ben, what are you doing next weekend?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ain't Life Grand?

So, I had a root canal yesterday. It wasn't really part of the plan, but I had been having some pain in a tooth that had a filling put in it a few months ago, and I had made an appointment to see my dentist to have it checked out. Over the weekend I got a phone call from his assistant telling me to go see a specialist, because my description of the problem made my dentist think it could be something serious. So I called the specialist on Monday morning, and they had an opening at 11:00 AM, which worked out great. So I headed over there for a diagnostic check and by 12:10 they had scraped the root out of the tooth. The odd thing is that supposedly root canals hurt. However, I have had no pain, just some lingering soreness in the jaw, which totally makes sense considering what was going on yesterday. Still, what a way to start the week, eh?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Busy Days

Yesterday I spent most of the day at Game Nite at South County Center, where I played a couple games of my new game (just got it in the mail on Thursday), The Kaiser's Pirates. It is an abstract game of German commerce raiding during WWI. It is abstract because each player has both German raiders as well as Allied and neutral merchant ships. You try to sink the other player's merchant ships and raiders, without losing your own. It is a lot of fun, though the first hand was totally screwed up because I forgot a very important rule. D'oh! While driving to the store, I noticed that there is a new El Pollo Loco that was put in on Tesson Ferry just south of Lindbergh. I realize that most St. Louisans have no idea about El Pollo Loco, but let's just say that they were doing great grilled chicken decades before KFC decided to give that idea a try. Needless to say, as someone who spent a majority of his childhood in California, I had to get dinner there. If you can get past the greasiness of the chicken, it was a pretty healthy meal. The mixed veggies I got didn't even have any butter on them, they were just lightly steamed, which is the perfect way to prepare that kind of thing.

I have also been knee-deep in the process of thinning out my game collection a little bit. I've got some good money in return for my efforts, which I'm trying to keep from spending on new games. It will probably be a losing battle. I did buy a copy of Carcassonne while at Game Nite yesterday. My brother, Mark, has owned a copy for years and I've played his copy maybe a half-dozen times. I like the game, so I figured I should get my own copy. I hope to break it out and get it on the table fairly soon.

On the work front, things are slooooooowwww. Nothing is happening, and very few people are actually there. That's summer for you, when most people take vacations and clients don't run many projects for us to work on, because, you know, all their people are on vacation.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

All-Star Fun

Last night I got together with my friend Mark, his wife Christy, and some of their friends (one of whom I had met before) to watch the All-Star Game at the Buffalo Wild Wings on Olive west of I-270. It was a fun time, even if the place was packed to the rafters (which we expected to be the case). Mark was rockin' his retro Astros tee, Christy was all done up in Cardinals gear, and I was sporting my Blue Jays jersey and cap, so we had all the bases covered. And in case the day wasn't basebally enough, Mark brought his Cincinnati Reds scrapbook and showed us all of his autographs and newspaper and magazine clippings from the last 8 years. My favorite was the fact that he got Bud Selig to sign an editorial cartoon about him keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. In a book with a bug Cincinnati Reds logo on the front. Priceless.

I think my highlight of the night was the probably inevitable conversation about our personal all-star team from players we had seen play in our lifetimes. I had a hard time remembering the positions of the big names from the '80s, but I was able to hold my own. I got props for bringing up Orel Hershiser in the pitching spot (we went with a 5-man rotation for that position), and nobody could argue with my choice of Mike Schmidt at the hot corner. Man, I loved Mike Schmidt, even though I don't care about the Phillies at all. I caught a lot of grief about wanting to go with McGwire over Pujols at first base, but what can I say? I started watching him as a child in Oakland so I don't see him as just a Cardinal like a lot of locals do. Anyway, it was a good time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kickin' It Old School

So, recently I find myself pulling out old computer games and installing them on my computer. I blame finding my CD of Combat Mission, because I installed that thing and found that it was just as fun as it was when I stopped playing it back in 2002. So, what do I do yesterday? Install my copy of Diablo II. I hadn't played that since 2003, I think, but I had never really played with either of the expansion characters, see, and I wanted to try that out. Diablo doesn't hold up so well in the graphics department, since its maximum resolution is 800x600, but it still runs fine. And now I thinking about breaking out the 'ol Dreamcast to replay Skies of Arcadia, or maybe some more Sakura Taisen. Who needs modern equipment, anyway?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

American Airlines actually acknowledges when they screw up

Remember when I was miffed at American Airlines for the ridiculousness of my Chicago connection last Monday? Well, today I got a "mea culpa" email from them acknowledging that they screwed up bad and giving me 5,000 extra frequent flyer miles to try to make up for it. it doesn't make up for it, but it is good to at least know that they are aware of the problem. As G.I.Joe used to say, "knowing is half the battle."

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Random Things Found While Cleaning

So I decided to do some cleaning this morning. I really meant to get more to the downstairs living area, but I pretty much got stuck in the guest bedroom/computer room, as that one was pretty much a mess. I threw a bunch of junk away, put books back where they belong, moved a couple games back to the basement, etc. But that was not all. I also decided to do some organizing of my computer game discs and boxes, which I don't think I had done since I moved in over 4 1/2 years ago. I found a number of old computer file backup discs dating from 2002 and 2003, and actually bothered to look at them and see if there was anything on there worth moving over to my main machine. I found a lot of old stuff that I had forgetten I even had, including articles from when I wrote for Lone Warrior and a folder of graphic images, including the one below. I have no idea where I got this from, but truer words were never spoken, I'm sure.

I also finally found my disc for Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, which I bought ever nine or ten years ago. I had been looking for that thing for months! I had found the rulebook, but not the disc. I found it in a CD holder hidden under some computer game boxes. No idea what it was doing there, but to this day that is still the best small-scale WWII combat game I have ever played. So I immediately loaded it up and played a game, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I remembered how to play it.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Happy Canada Day!

One of the things that got beat into my head very effectively during my recent trip to Toronto was the fact that July 1st is Canada Day, representing the day that Canada became an independent country in 1867. Another thing that I was made very cognizant of while in Toronto was the fact that the NHL free agency period starts at Noon EST on July 1st. Coincidence? Knowing what hockey means to Canada, I doubt it.

EDIT: Super special Canada-specific link just for you!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fortress America

Fortress America is one of my most favorite games ever. It was the next-to-last game produced as part of Milton Bradley's Gamemaster Series in the mid '80s, and is set in an alternate early 21st century where the Soviet Union never fell, and in fact it has conquered all of Europe and the Middle-East, and has influenced successful rebellions such that most of Asia as well as Central and South America band together and join in it a massive invasion of the United States.

The game itself is a fairly light-complexity wargame for two to four players. One player will always play the United States, while the other players handle the invaders. If there is only one invader player, he plays all three invading groups. With three players, one player handles the west and east coast invaders, while another handles the southern invaders. With four players, each power is handled by a separate player.

One of my favorite aspects of this game is the fact that each power group plays differently. While there are definitely similarities to the invaders, the invasion areas for each are different enough that you can't just use the same strategy no matter which group you are playing and expect to win. The western invaders have five American cities to capture right near the coast, but then you have to push inland pretty quickly. The southern invader has to decide if he wants to push straight up or cut to the right, while the eastern invader has to decide if he wants to push more towards the weak southern area or try to push harder into the extremely lucrative by heavily defended NE corridor. And, when playing with more than two players, the invaders can actually come to blows among themselves, as if the invaders win an individual winner is chosen based on how many points they have. Points are earned by capturing American cities, as well as territories with resource symbols and destroying laser stations. I've been the American player before and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by convincing one of the invading players to leave me alone and to attack another invader to grab points. Man, I love doing that.

The American player has a pretty hard time if the invaders know what they are doing, and playing the American is a very different experience. While the invaders are on the offensive, the American player has to balance defense and offense while trying to keep the invaders from capturing 18 or more cities. The American player has two unique things to help try to win. First, each turn you get to place a laser tower in any of your cities. On each turn, each laser tower on the board gets to fire at any space, with a 60% chance to kill any unit in that space. Since you add one every turn, this can add up pretty fast. Second, rather than having the set reinforcements that the invaders have, you draw reinforcement cards every turn. The cards all have different effects, from placing new units on the board in various spaces (sometimes you have a choice, and sometimes you don't, in where the units are placed) to destroying invader units. The cards are the only way to get the unique American units, partisans. Representing minuteman survivalist groups and other "non-traditional" warfighting assets, these units act like regular infantry unless they are by themselves, in which case they fight like hovertanks, representing their use of guerilla tactics when not combined with regular military units.

Combat itself is pretty straight-forward. Infantry and mobile units (like APCs and IFVs) roll a D6, hovertanks and helicopters roll a D8, and bombers roll a D10 in combat. You usually score a hit on a 5 or higher, though if attacking a city or a mountain space you only score a hit on a 6 or higher unless you have "combined arms," which means you have at least one infantry, at least one armor unit, and at least one air unit involved in the attack. This adds to the strategy because to successfully attack these spaces you need to make sure you have the units you want in position to attack. Since infantry are slow, this can often result in a choice to press an attack with armor and air units now, taking the harder to hit number, or waiting a turn (or more...) to bring up infantry while teh American player continually reinforces his position and gets more lasers on the board. Combats go fast, and can be quite tense when one side doesn't have overwhelming numbers.

In fact, the thing that I like best about Fortress America is the asymmetrical nature of the game. Each side just feels different from the others, especially the American side. Also, unlike many of the Gamemaster Series games, this one will not run on forever if the players decide to go defensive. See, the units that the invaders have in their trays at the start of the game are all the units they will ever have. You start with 20, and then on turns two through six you put eight more on the board each turn. After that, you get no more, ever. So, the invader needs to push hard and fast, because by the time you run out of new units the American player will have six lasers on the board killing your units. And more die every turn, which can never be replaced. It can get tense. The American player never runs out of possible reinforcements, so the American player is just trying to hold out as long as possible. Usually if the American player hasn't lost by turn eight, they can turn the tide as they keep getting new units and the invaders get none.

Definitely one of my favorite games of all time, this is the first game ever to get a "10" rating from me on the Geek. Used copies can be very expensive, but if you like light wargames with good production values and high toy factor (as every piece in the game is a molded plastic piece), it could be worth the money to get your own copy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

True North, Day Four

aka, "The Journey of Death!" See, my flight schedule had me landing in St. Louis at 10:55 AM Central time, which would have given me the whole afternoon to get back into the swing of things in St. Louis. Instead, my connecting flight from Chicago landed at 4 PM Central time, which is a bit later in the day. See, when I landed in Chicago, I was greeted with the news that my connecting flight to St. Louis had been cancelled. Oh joy, oh rapture! No explanation, which is par for the course for American. What wasn't par for the course was that they automatically booked me on the next scheduled flight, which was a step up in service from their usual handling of things.

However, it went downhill from there. The new flight should have landed me in St. Louis at 1 PM, which wasn't too bad, just a two hour delay. So, we boarded the plane on time, got everything stowed, and then sat there at the gate, not going anywhere. Turns out the plane radio had a problem, and the mechanics were working on it, and working on it, and then they left to do something and nobody had any idea what was going on. Eventually, after an hour or so of sitting there, they had us deplane. So we stood around in the terminal for a while before learning that we were getting a new plane. There was much rejoicing. So, we all trundled over to a different terminal, to the new gate, and then things kept going downhill.

See, the new plane, which had just landed (from either Newark or Philly, I don't remember which), had a brake problem, and they needed to drain the brake lines and then put new fluid in. So, another hour of standing around in the terminal. Then we finally board the plane, only to sit in it for over half an hour while mysterious goings on were occurring the cockpit. Eventually they got us off the ground and to St. Louis, but I want those five hours of my life back. Those were five annual leave hours! Those are precious!

So, in the end, the old rule was reinforced: CHICAGO RUINS EVERYTHING!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

True North, Day Three

I started the day by calling HSBC again, and telling my story again. The non-Indian lady who took the call agreed that what I was told yesterday was wrong, and my card was not one of those involved in the potential vendor fraud. Thus, it should not be suspended, and she released the lock on it. Yeah! It turns out that Mastercard is not an evil empire, after all. HSBC just has poorly trained phone support personnel. Who knew?

After clearing that all up, I headed off to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It is a pretty cool place, though smaller than I had anticipated. I had figured that they had some kind of exhibit that at least listed all of the people that have been inducted, but they had nothing of the kind. They had a huge exhibit, right up front, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club, and a number of cool exhibits focusing on specific individuals of major importance in the NHL, such as Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. That makes sense. What I hadn't counted on was the fact that this is not just the NHL hall of fame, it is truly the world hockey hall of fame. For example, an entire wing was dedicated to the International Ice Hockey Federation. The coolest part of this was all of the jerseys from various countries that you wouldn't think of as hockey places, such as South Africa, Ireland, Mongolia, and Mexico.

After seeing all of that I headed off to the section that focuses on North American hockey, which is pretty cool because they had a lot of displays focusing on Collegiate and minor league hockey on the continent. Until you really pay attention to minor league hockey, you just don't realize how many teams there are out there. Probably not as many as baseball, but it seems close. Each NHL team has at least two affiliated minor league teams, and there are many more out there, especially when you consider the Canadian development leagues. One thing I learned today that I had never known before was that every minor league follows the NHL's lead by having a championship trophy (or plaque, or cup, or whatever) that just gets passed around every year, rather than creating a whole new trophy for each season or tournament.

Speaking of that, the best part was of course going into the trophy room and seeing the Stanley Cup as well as the other major trophies (Hart, Vezina, Calder, Lady Byng, etc.) that are handed out every year. Everything but the Stanley Cup was in a plastic casing, but the Stanley Cup is just right there on the back wall (with an employee that does nothing but watch it and make sure you don't engage in inappropriate behavior with it), completely free and open. Coolness! I had last seen the Cup in 1996 in St. Louis during the entry draft that year, but seeing it in its home was great. Speaking of it, the trophy room is a total cathedral, with nice wood paneling, carved designs in the ceiling, and a wonderful stained glass dome right in the middle. The design of the room really lets you know that while the displays of players and jerseys, sticks and pucks, skates and masks are all nice, the trophy room is serious. This is why you trek in from all over the world, for the trophies, and specifically for the Cup. At the risk of being sacreligeous, it's kind of like making your hajj journey for a hockey fan, you're just going to the Hall in Toronto rather than Mecca.

Speaking of the cup, did you know that what you see on TV, and is displayed in the trophy room, isn't the original? The original is in the "vault" (which opens to the trophy room), and looks basically the same, but there have been lots of changes in the rings underneath it, and at some point in the '40s, I think, they made a whole new trophy based on the original. Pretty interesting. They even kept all of the old silver rings that used to be on it, and they are mounted around the room.

My journey ended in a trip to the gift shop, at which I spent lots of money getting various books and tchotchkes that I don't need, but you don't buy a book of hockey quotes because you need it, you buy it because it is funny (example: "How would you like it if, at your job, every time you made the slightest mistake a little red light went on over your head and 18,000 people stood up and screamed at you?" by Hall of Fame Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante). I also bought a really dorky looking mug with my name on it, which is rad.

After that, my legs were tired so I headed back to the hotel to rest up a bit. For dinner I am going to go to St. Louis Bar and Grill, which is right across the street from the Rogers Centre, because I'm from St. Louis, so of course I need to eat there. I shouldn't even have to explain this to you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

True North, Day Two

Today was a baseball day. The day started with breakfast, and then a lazy walk around the Rogers Centre, just checking out the nice-looking apartment and condo high-rises that surround this part of the city. I think everyone who lives near the lack has more money than they know what to do with. Well, either that or they are in debt up to their eyeballs, there is that possibility.

Before the ballgame, I went to the official team store and spent a lot of money. Well, I actually only spent a little bit of my own money on a Blue Jays t-shirt. However, I used two American Express gift cheques I got from my boss to get a Blue Jays hat and a replica jersey. I even got the jersey customized with "Thorne" ('cuz that's my name) and "35," as today is my 35th birthday. Yes, happy birthday to ME!

Well, it would have been if the Blues Jays had cooperated. However, they, in their infinite wisdom, decided to send some young punk just up from the minor to pitch, and he got beat like a drum. The Phillies hit two home runs in the first inning. That just doesn't bode well, does it? By the end of the day, the game ended in a 10-0 drubbing that we will never speak of again. Seriously, the Jays couldn't do anything right. So frustrating.

After the game, I chilled in my hotel room for an hour or so, and then I headed next door to the CN Tower. This is supposed to be the tallest "free standing structure" in the world. Please do not ask me the difference between a "free standing structure" and a regular building, because I have no idea. Anyway, it is really tall. The upper observation deck, called the Sky Pod, is about 1.5 kilometres up, and you can see forever from up there. Seriously, I could see the U.S. on the far side of Lake Ontario, over a hundred miles away. Craziness. The clear sky helped a lot with that. The only other time I've been up in an observation tower was about four years ago in Seattle when I was in the Space Needle, when it was cloudy and hazy. Yeah, that didn't work so good. I'm not sure if it was worth $24 bucks, but it was kind of neat.

After that, I got an interesting call from HSBC, the bank that issued the Mastercard I use. They said that Mastercard had contacted them and informed them of some kind of potential fraud involving my account, and to cancel that account immediately and issue me a new card with a new account number. The nice lady in India who talked to me (I mean, where else would she be from? She works phone support.) informed me that HSBC had no actual information on the situation, they were just given a dictate by Mastercard. I didn't realize that Mastercard was god and could do whatever they wanted without explanation. I think it might be time to get myself a Visa card, because I'm pretty sure that being in a foreign country with no active credit card is going to pose some problems. Yeah, this trip could end up being a lot more adventuresome than I had anticipated. Thanks, Mastercard! Now go die or something.

After that was an attempt at a healthy dinner (a salad with spinach, oranges, almonds, and what I think were onions of some sort, and something else I couldn't recognize), and now it's time to rest up for tomorrow, when I go to the Hall.

P.S. Mr. Brad Mills, enjoy your trip right back to triple-A Las Vegas, and I hope somebody ruins your birthday, too. I mean, I've only waited 25 years to actually go to a Blue Jays game in Toronto, so it isnt like this game was important to me or anything. Hey, maybe Mastercard will do it! Lord knows they have the power...

Friday, June 26, 2009

True North, Day One

Greetings from Toronto, Ontario, Canada! I flew up here today to take a brief vacation and enjoy my 35th birthday while doing two things I have never done before, but wanted to do: go to the Hockey hall of Fame, and a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game. Tomorrow is the ball game, and then on Sunday I'm going to the Hall.

The flights up here were generally on time, and I saved ~$35 by taking a bus downtown, rather than taking a cab straight to the hotel. I was able to talk the bus driver into taking me about half a block away, though, so it was very little extra distance I had to cover on foot. I am staying at the Renaissance Hotel inside the Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays baseball stadium. My room is pretty nice, with a king-size bed, a nice bathroom, a full couch, and a sitting chair. My view out the windows isn't very good, but considering that I'm not paying any actual money for the room, I'm not going to complain!

I hit the hotel bar/restaurant for dinner, which has a full wall of windows that looks out into the Rogers Centre field, so you can watch the ball game while eating. Sweet! Granted, I spent my time glued to the TV watching the first few picks in the NHL entry draft currently underway in Montreal. Let me tell you, the NHL draft coverage in Canada is light years away from what you can usually get in the States. Gee, I wonder why I'm here?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Don't Believe What I Just Saw!!!

Whoah! The U.S. Men's team just beat Spain! #1 in the world Spain! European champions Spain! Cesc Fabregas (who played great) is from Spain! Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!!

(Sane posting will resume at some time in the distant future after I find a way to get over the ridiculous awesomeness of this moment.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Runebound

For the next entry in my walk through my game collection, we come to Runebound, a fantasy adventure board game. I picked this up about two years ago because I had heard that you could play it solitaire against the board quite easily, and that is true, especially if you use the solitaire-specific rules from boardgamegeek.com. There are many different expansions available for the game, but I have only ever played the base game. I have played it solitaire, as well as against opponents, and it is a fun, though not great, board game.

The basic premise is that each player has a character, and you wander the board having adventures to earn experience points, which you can spend to improve your character abilities. Once you feel you are strong enough, you can go after the big bad guys and try to win the game by defeating them. There are 12 different characters in the base game, all with different abilities and attribute scores. The way the game handles character attributes is a bit like console RPGs do, where you start with a fairly low number and can increase them as much as you want, with no limits other than your opposition.

As you move your character around the map, you can have adventures when you land on a space with a colored dot. The colors indicate roughly how tough the encounter will be. Green spaces are the easiest encounters, yellow are harder, blue are harder still, and red encounters are reserved for the main bad guys. Each colored space has a deck of cards that goes with it. When you land on a space of a specific color you draw a card and resolve the encounter, usually by rolling dice along with an attribute to determine if you win the encounter or not. Combats run until one side is defeated, though you can have non-combat encounters, as well. Successfully completing an encounter gives you experience points, which as noted before, you can spend to get better. The number of points needed to improve an attribute varies depending on the number of players, which works out well in actual play. For example, with one or two players, you need five points to improve an attribute. With five players, you only need three. This helps the game because the more players, the more time each individual spends watching other people play the game.

This leads me to the big fault with the game, the lack of interaction between players. Generally, when it is not your turn, you have nothing to do. There are a few times when you can play a card to hinder another player from doing what they want to do, and players can have their characters fight each other if in the same space on the board, but generally you just take actions when it is your turn and watch other people take actions when it is their turn. Because of this, I would not recommend playing the game with more than four players, max. Anything more has you spending too much time not doing anything.

But back to the game. The aforementioned mechanics are OK, but not very interesting. However, the board also includes a number of towns. Towns are great because if your character is in one you can heal wounds, buy new equipment, and maybe hire allies to aid you in your quest. Allies are really, really important, in my experience, as having an ally that has complimentary strengths and weaknesses to your main character means that there shouldn't be any encounters that you don't have a good chance to beat. Granted, it can take work to find a complimentary ally, and the luck of card draws has something to do with it, but getting good allies (and keeping them alive!) is part of the strategy of the game. Some of the items are pretty amazing, too, and having that special armor when the dragon is beating on you can literally be a life saver.

So, Runebound is a fun fantasy adventure game, but I wish it had more inter-action between players. As it is, it makes for a nice "RPG lite" diversion every once in a while, but it isn't something I'm always trying to get on the table.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knightmare Chess

To be honest with you, I have never been much of a Chess player. As much as I like playing board games, the subtleties of Chess have always eluded me. It is a popular game, though, so I used to feel like I needed to learn it better, making myself suffer through many humiliating defeats before I was able to find peace with my weakness and peacefully go my own way.

During the time that I was trying to "get" Chess, I picked up a deck of cards called Knightmare Chess, published by Steve Jackson Games a dozen years ago. The basic gist of this add-on is that you have a deck of cards, each of which breaks the rules of Chess in one way or another. The changes are highly varied, from letting you swap pieces on the board, or move a piece differently than they normally move, or my favorite, the Fireball, which blows up one of your pawns and every piece in an adjacent space. That card is awesome. The basic result of playing Knightmare Chess is that while you know how pieces can normally move, you never know what cards your opponent has in his hands, and how that will break the game. Thus, you can end up being more cautious than normal, while trying to put your own pieces in position to do something crazy.

The way that Knightmare Chess is supposed to work is that each player has their own set of cards, and then you create your own play deck. Each card has a points value, from 1 to 10, and you have 150 points with which to build your own deck. Some cards are unique, and you can only have one of them in your deck, while you can have multiple copies of non-unique cards. I have never actually played the game that way, though. I have always used the optional rule where you just use the entire card deck that comes in the box, and both players draw from the same deck. The normal rules add a deck-building aspect to the game that apes collectible card games, but the optional way that I play has easier set-up, and you only need one deck between both players.

I find Knightmare Chess to be a fun diversion, but it is not my favorite game, so I hardly ever break it out. In fact, I think the last time I had played it prior to getting it out just to write this blog post was in 2002, which was the last time I had used my Chess set. If you like Chess, though, and want to add some chaos to your games, then Knightmare Chess is a good way to do that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Last Flight of the Eagles

So this weekend the F-15 fighters from the Air National Guard that have operated out of St. Louis for I don't even remember how many years will be gone. I have a number of memories of sitting in Lambert airport waiting to take a flight out of town, and having one of "Lindbergh's Own" buzz a little closer to the terminal than was technically considered appropriate while on a training flight. One time one of the pilots got a little crazy and pulled one of those stunts where they fly really slow over the runway, and then tilt the nose 85 degrees up and hit the afterburners, blasting straight up and threatening to blow the windows out. Good times, but they are now gone. Because, let's be honest, what is the current risk of an enemy nation putting planes in the air near eastern Missouri?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rational Discussions on Abortion

I don't usually cover more "serious" topics on my blog, but I thought that this Slate article was actually really interesting, and worthy of pondering. With the current approach to abortion rights in the US, more middle-of-the-road positions get drowned out all the time, such that the situation remains constantly polarized. Until we as a country decide to actually try to compromise and find a middle ground, we won't be able to actually try to bring the situation to any kind of fruition.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Happy D-Day!

So, what did you do to celebrate the Allies' invasion of Europe?

Exhausted

I got up early this morning to go hiking. I'm trying to do at least one good hike every quarter, on varous trails around the area. My friend George went with me, and we decided to do the Lewis and Clark Trail out in St. Charles County, which is part of the Katy Trail system throughout the state. The weather was great for it (if the trail itself was too wet in some places), and it included one real good overlook on a bluff over the Missouri River. There were too many mosquitos, though; they were everywhere in the lower areas. And I got us lost just a little bit, but it's not my fault, because the trails were not properly marked. Seriously, there's a good use for some stimulus money, putting up new trail signs. At least one tree we passed had a rusted out sign laying on the ground next to it, which isn't exactly helping, you know?

After at least 5 1/2 miles (it was supposed to be 5 1/4, but we kind of made a little circle about halfway through), both George and I were very happy to hit the parking lot again, none the worse for wear, but quite tired. I immediately came home and passed out on the couch, which is a little surprising, since 5 1/2 miles isn't really all that long. We did go up and down hills quite a bit, so maybe that was it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Comic Books

As most people who read this blog know, I collect comic books. While I read G. I. Joe and a bit of Transformers in my childhood, I really got into the scene while I was in undergrad at Missouri State. I blame my Star Wars fandom, because I was knee deep in that scene when Dark Horse released their Dark Empire series, and I couldn't exactly ignore an entire new way of experience the Star Wars universe. That then led to innocent little experiments with other series that looked interesting, like Shadow Empires: Faith Conquers, and Tempus Fugitive, and... it just snowballed from there.

With the looming demise of Geocities, I wanted to find a new place to do comic book stuff online. I know I mentioned this already in a blog post, because an ex-coworker of mine found a link to my blog from my LinkedIn profile, and then wrote me an email to let me know about a website that a friend of his runs, Comic Book Realm. it is a pretty interesting place. You can discuss comic books, and rate comic books, and even better, you can log your entire collection and get pricing estimates. Being the obsessive-compulsive nerd that I am, I couldn't resist that temptation, and I recently did exactly that. And, sure enough, my collection breaks the $10,000 barrier in estimated value (when I include the books I am interested in selling). I gotta upgrade my insurance on those comics (yes, I specifically include my collection in my condo insurance. Why would I not?) There were some strange surprises in that process, though. I have a couple old Whitman comics like Scrooge McDuck and Looney Tunes. Just random issues mind, and they are worth about $15 a pop. Those old Radio Shack Tandy computer comics? $16 a pop. Even that old Robotix one-shot that I was sure nobody would care about was worth $7.

But the big surprise was a G. I. Joe comic, which ties back into my days at Missouri State. Sometime in the mid '90s Marvel cancelled the long-running G. I. Joe series they had published non-stop since 1981. Even though I hadn't picked up a copy in years, I figured I should get the last issue, dropping a good $1.50 to do so at that oddball comic and gaming store just a few blocks south of the east side of campus. Know what it is worth these days? $80. I was floored. Talk about a good investment.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trailblazer

Next up on my journey through my game collection is Trailblazer, a small game from the early '80s about making money in space. Seriously. The setting is a generic future where interstellar engines have been invented, and mankind takes to the stars to find its fortunes. Each player controls one of four corporations, trying to make the most money. You do this by buying items and then selling them. Each star system only creates a small number of items (there are 12 total in the game), and systems want to sell what they do make, and buy what they don't make. The player corporations are the middle-men, building fleets of ships to travel between systems, trading goods.

The underlying system is actually fairly simple. Each turn, players bid money to purchase items at each system. The order in which this is done matters, in that money spent to purchase items at the first system isn't available to purchase items at other systems. The bidding is fairly simple, with players bidding how much they want to spend per item, and how many items of the good in question they want to purchase. For example, if system A has 3 drugs for sale, and player A bids 6 money for 1 unit of drugs, and player B bids 4 money each for 2 units of drugs, and player C bids 3 money each for 3 units of drugs, then player A gets 1 drug at a price of 6, player B gets the remaining 2 drugs at the price of 4 each (total 8), and player C gets nothing because none are left to sell at 3 money each.

Once items have been purchased, players put them on starships and transport them to other systems, where they are sold. Charts that come with the game detail what price different systems will pay for goods, and this changes over time. To use the previous drug example, a system that doesn't produce drugs may pay 8 money for drugs. Once they have some, they don't need as many anymore, so the price they are willing to pay goes down. If nobody sells them any drugs, they might then raise the price they are willing to pay. So, you have to balance scarcity against plenty to get the best price for your goods.

There are other complexities to the game, but not many. You must have a starship in a system in order to transport goods offworld, which especially early in a game limits who gets involved in goods auctions in each system. You can build what the game calls "factors" in systems, which basically means you open a branch office of your company, which allows you to store goods from turn to turn, so you can buy goods at a system even if you have no ships present. Players can also purchase scout ships, which let them explore more of the galaxy, perhaps bringing new systems into play, increasing the opportunities to sell goods to more systems, and thereby make more money.

And that is pretty much it. Players can play as long as they like, but there are suggested ending points based on earning certain amounts of money. Being a game that is over 25 years old, the graphics design is very minimal. The galaxy map is just a blank grid with words in the spaces where starting systems are. The counters are simple pictures of starbases, buildings, or spaceships, all in a two-color pattern. There are no dice, as nothing is random except drawing newly discovered star systems out of a cup. This is a great example of what I like to call a "spreadsheet game." I call it this because gameplay is enhanced by creating spreadsheets to track everything, rather than writing it all down on paper charts, which was the only option realistically available when the game was designed. Being a professional accountant and auditor, you might think I would like this kind of thing. Well, I did. Back before I became a professional accountant, and just had dreams of being such, I loved games like this, because it let me pretend I was an important business person doing important business things. Now that I crunch numbers and track data for a living, I don't have much desire at all to do the same thing in my spare time. Thus, I kind of doubt I will ever play this game again. In fact, my copy has never been played, as the counters are all unpunched and pristine (my plays of this game many years ago were with my brother's copy). Anybody want it?