Monday, March 30, 2009

Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium is a board game of space-faring races clashing over the shattered remains of an old stellar empire. Each player has a race that they control. Starting from one star system, they must dominate the galaxy and exert their will on the others. The board itself is semi-randomly determined each time. The Mecatol Rex system is always in the center, the player home systems are always evenly spaced around the edge, and then the players are randomly dealt other system hexes to place. You, of course, want to put systems with good planets close to you, while putting lousy systems (say, the one destroyed by a supernova) by the other players. Once the board is set, the game begins in earnest.

On its face, Twilight Imperium resembles those old 4X computer games where you start on one planet and then conquer the galaxy. There are many similarities: you start with a home system, some ships, and some basic technology. As the game progresses, you can develop new technologies, conquer new planets, and fight interstellar battles with the other players. There are, however, some differences that make this game different from its computer-based forebears.

First, you have limited actions each turn. You have a certain number of command tokens that you can use to perform actions. Maybe you use one to move ships, or you use one to activate a special action. But you rarely have as many as you would need to do everything you want. Second, each turn each player picks a specific Strategy card that allows them to perform a specific action. Maybe you get a free technology, or you can institute trade agreements with other players, or you can gain new command tokens, etc. Third, there are action cards, which allow you to break the game in various ways that benefit you or your allies. Maybe you can instantly destroy an enemy ship, or you can wipe out another player's colony, or your ships can move faster for one action. The action cards add an air of unpredictability to the proceedings. Let's be honest, if your buddy picks the Technology strategy, you know he's going to be developing a new technology. But you never know what his action cards will let him do until he pops one on you. Fourth, you would think that you win by just blowing up the other player's forces, but trying for that will probably result in failure. Instead, you win by collecting victory points. Each player has a secret objective that nets you a few points, but most of the time you get points by fulfilling public objectives, which are slowly revealed as the game progresses. For example, "I now spend 10 influence points," or "I have all three of my space docks in play." Various developmental or political goals are what usually get you victory points. I've even played in a game where the winning player never fired a shot in attack or defense the entire game.

I really like this game, but it does have its downsides. First, it is better the more players you have. However, the more players you have the longer the game takes. I have played in games that took over eight hours to play, which is a lot, even for me. Second, the game is not cheap. Third, it takes up a lot of table space. So, this isn't a game that you are likely going to have out on the table all the time. When you do get to break it out, though, it is going to rock.

Wow, It Might Actually Happen

The Blues won on Sunday, and Edmonton lost, so the Blues are officially sitting in the 8th, and final, playoff spot in the Western Conference with seven games left. If I had to bet money 8 games ago as to whether or not the Blues would make the playoffs, I would have bet on them not making it. With only 10 games left, I figured they had to win eight of those games to have a realistic chance of making it. Well, they've won the first three, so they are well on their way, I guess. I really didn't want to spend money on playoff tickets, but I may have to do that now. I guess that's a good thing, right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Soda Jerk

About a year-and-a-half ago, my younger brother got me a "make your own root beer" kit for my birthday. The kit came with everything you needed (well, all except sugar and bowls), including the flavoring sauce. It makes some pretty good root beer, actually, but the way the kit is set up you can't really experiment with it. You just mix together all the pre-packaged ingredients and away you go. I also wish it came with some different bottles. It came with four one-liter bottles with special gas-permeable caps. It works, but the bottles are a little big for travel purposes.

Well, I was wandering around downtown Columbia, MO on my lunch break and decided to step into the store Cool Stuff, which sells a pretty random assortment of nick-nacks and tchotchkes, T-shirts, incense, that kind of thing. Not an uncommon kind of store to find in a university town. However, in the back of the store I found these large boxes with dozens of plastic bottles in them, bottles that look exactly like what came in my root beer kit, except smaller. So I looked around a bit more, and saw that the store had a lot of beer brewing kits, hops, malts, and all that kind of stuff. I started asking the staff about it, and they showed me that they had some special soda kits, as well.

So, I now own 8 half-liter (almost 17 fluid ounces) plastic bottles with gas-permeable caps, a different root beer mix, and even a cream soda mix to try out. I could have gotten an orange soda mix, but I'm not a big fan of orange soda. The cream holds promise, though, because you should be able to mix other flavors with that pretty easily. Cherry cream, orange cream, there are many possibilities. In the beginning I neglected to mention that my brother, at the same time as the root beer kit, also got me a book on making your own sodas. It might be time to really dig into that and see what other concoctions I can come up with.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Japan! Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!

If you didn't watch the championship game in the World Baseball Classic last night, you missed quite possibly the best baseball game I have ever seen in my life. The technical precision of both teams was astounding, and it was an absolute nail biter all the way to the end. Crazy good stuff, and solid evidence that the stupid Americans who poo-poo the WBC have no clue what they're talking about. Yes, I'm talking about you, Hank Steinbrenner.

The Barbarian

And I set a new record with timely game collection updates. Well, considering that today I'm writing about the other half of the two-game set I mentioned yesterday, it's not quite the same thing as writing about two completely different games. I choose not to focus on that, however. I choose to focus on the fact that The Barbarian is one of the lamest games I have ever played. Let me recount my pain.

The backstory for this game is that some barbarian prince dude is wandering the wastelands looking for the old magic sword and shield of his grandfather. If he finds them, he can conquer evil and reclaim his father's kingdom. Of course, there are monsters in the wastelands, and monsters exist to kill good guys, so they attack on sight. The game board consists of a road running through the middle of the board, and three different wilderness areas on each side. Each area contains from one to five monsters (the fewer monsters each area has, the tougher they are individually), as well as a possible location for the sword or shield you are looking for. Gameplay consists of moving the barbarian around the map to try to find the sword or shield. Each time you enter a wilderness area, all monsters in that specific wilderness move to attack you. You fight them and move onto the space that may contains the sword or shield. You either find nothing, find an item, or get cursed, which slows your movement to half normal.

Combat is very basic. The barbarian hero and all the monsters have a toughness rating. To make an attack, roll 2d6 and match or exceed the target, to give the target one wound. Basic monsters are killed by 1 hit, while tougher monsters take more hits to kill. The barbarian hero takes 20 hits to kill. This seems way high, but you will need it. This leads to the first thing I didn't like about this game: it is all random. You roll dice to fight, but there is a distinct lack of strategy or tactics about it. You just roll dice until one side is dead, and then move on to the next wilderness area, where you repeat the same process. The way the game tells you to position the monsters on the map, you are close to guaranteed to need to fight all of them. The only choice you have as the player is in what order to tackle them. That's pretty lame. The second thing I don't like is that the rules appear incomplete. For example, in the combat section of the rules it mentions that adjacent monsters can gang up to fight the barbarian, but then it never mentions what effect this has on the game. So they can gang up, but it doesn't mean anything. That's pretty stupid. Just like this game. I can't imagine ever playing this game again.

I should note that the rules provide for two ways to play the game: solitaire, and as a two-player game. The two-player game has one player being the barbarian, and the other player running the monsters. With the distinct lack of tactical complexity here, the end result of that would be two bored players, rather than just one.

Monday, March 23, 2009


This time up in my walk through my game collection I played a couple solitaire games of a little game called Survival, which is part of a double-pack of games I picked up at some point in the past, probably when I was in college. It got it used, but the pieces for Survival were never punched out, so obviously I had never played this before.

The base game in Survival tells the story of a member of the stellar scout corps who crashes on a distant planet, and has to journey across the wilderness to get to the old scout station, where he can send a distress signal. You have six days to get across the map to the station before your food runs out and you die. Unfortunately, there are many nasty animals on this planet who are interested in eating you. Every new space that you enter, you roll a six-sided die. If you roll a 1 or a 2, nothing happens. On a 3 through 6 you encounter an animal who tries to eat you. You can fight animals with your fists (not recommended), or you can use weapons to do so.

The use of weapons is the primary element of strategy in this game. At the beginning of the game you can select 8 weight points worth of weapons. The heavier a weapon is, the more deadly it is. The pistol is wimpy, so it weighs little. The flame thrower is deadly, so it weighs a lot. To make things more interesting, the heaver a weapon is, the less ammunition it has. Every time you use a weapon, it loses a point of ammunition. If you only pick big weapons, you can quickly run out of ammunition, and then you are dead if one of the nastier animals shows up. You need to husband your ammunition so that you can use your big weapons when you need them, but if you never use your weapons you will get your face eaten by an alien spider-thing, so you have to find the right balance.

One interesting feature about this game is that it comes with a lot of different scenarios. The basic game is solitaire only, and is very simple, and pretty easy to beat. The rules admit this, and encourage you to quickly move on to the advanced game. The advanced game has tougher animals, and more chances for encounters with them. It also lets you run away, which is a nice option, though you have to drop weapons to do so. There are also advanced scenarios that let you play the game with multiple players. You can have everyone crash land in different areas and try to get to the base first, you can have everyone crash land in different areas and try to kill each other, and you can have everyone be hunters on an alien safari who just wander around trying to kill the most animals.

Overall, this game is decent, but not great, and is pretty dead average. It has some decent attributes, but if I want a survival game against alien monsters/animals, I have better options.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures

I don't even remember how long it has been since I last wrote about one of my games. This is what happens when you travel non-stop for two months, I guess. Well, I finally forced myself to sit down and play another one. This time up I played Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures. This is a collectible miniatures game of World War II naval combat. The starter set provides the rules, maps, and counters, as well as 15 miniature figures to play the game. The figures are painted plastic models, and each one represents either one ship, one submarine, or a flight of aircraft. The miniatures look pretty good to me, though the smaller ones lack detail. For example, my Italian patrol boats appear to be about 5 mm long. As with many other games I am writing about on my walk through my game collection, I have never played this game before. I picked it up in 2007, I think, when I had a bunch of money burning a hold in my pocket while visiting my local game store. Then, late in 2007, the Game Nite on Crestwood Mall was closing, and I was able to pick up about 6 booster packs (each containing 8 figures) for half price. So, with that many figures, I can put together some good battles.

For my test game, I pitted a 60 point American force against a 60 point Japanese force. The Japanese force consisted of 2 auxiliary transport ships, so I put two islands on the map in the American zone to give them somewhere to deposit their supplies. This is a good time to mention one neat aspect of the game, the special abilities. Each figure comes with a related card, the same size as a sports trading card. One side of the card has a drawing of the ship, sub, or plane, and a brief historical note on what it did during the war. The other side contains all of the game stats. Your armor, your guns, your range, your speed, etc. In addition, each figure has at least one special ability, some way to bend the rules. For example, one of the American ships, when undamaged, can fire at a range of 4 sectors, even though most ships have a maximum of 3. One of the American subs can fire torpedoes at two different targets once per game. One of the Japanese cruisers has torpedoes that do extra damage (which is an insta-kill on almost any ship in the game!), while the Japanese auxiliary ships allow you to land them at an island, scoring extra victory points.

So, the real trick to the game is to figure out how to best align your units' abilities to maximize their strength, while protecting yourself from the enemy. The basic turn sequence consists of both sides moving, both sides having their aircraft fly missions, having ships fire guns, and having ships and subs fire torpedoes. I have to admit, the game rules are pretty simple, but the special abilities of the units adds the right amount of complexity to spice things up and turn a simple game into an interesting one. And the use of miniature figures gives the game a nice visual bonus that I like. The downside, of course, is that this is a collectible miniatures game, so you don't know what you are getting when you buy a set at the store. In the end, I don't like those kind of games anymore, so I don't anticipate getting many more ships, but I'm happy to play around with what I have.

Futbol is Back

Last night was the first game of the 2009 MLS season. It should prove to be an interesting year, with my favored DC United getting routinely slapped around the field like a red-headed step child. Just like last year, then. But now that the games have started, I at least hopefully won't have to hear near as much about David Backham and whether he will or will not play for the LA Galaxy this year. My money is on "no," but what do I know?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Huge Feet

I am a strange creature of habit. The last time I bought athletic shoes was March of 2006, when I was in Columbia, MO, on a business trip. So, three years later, I find myself in Columbia on another business trip, and what do I do? Why, go buy a new pair of athletic shoes, of course. I mean, it's what I do in March in Columbia, isn't it? Anyway, I had a new experience this time, something that has never before happened to me while buying shoes. Just like normal, my feet were measured, and both of them are size 8. Just like last time, I get a pair of Asics running shoes. Unlike last time, when I had size 8 shoes, this time the smallest size that fit me was a size 9 1/2. 9 1/2. This is craziness. Does Asics use crazy European shoe sizes? How on earth could my feet be too large for a 9, when the measuring device shows I'm an 8, just like it has for the last 18+ years? Insanity.

Or, maybe, since this is the first time I've purchased shoes since I started using the orthopaedic inserts to control my tendonitis, all shoes I buy from now one will be larger, since my foot is sitting on top of an extra insole? Whatever the reason, I'm kind of weirded out by it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blues Win!

My friend Gabe, who I have taken to a handful of Blues games in the past, got a pair of tickets at a charity auction and decided to treat me to the game last night. Well, he first tried to treat a young lady whose company he was interested in, but that didn't happen, so I was the fallback. Since Gabe's tickets were on the 5th row, behind the goal where the Blues attack twice, I wasn't going to complain.

The game was great. I don't know that I have ever sat that close to the glass before. We had a couple good hits right in front of us, one so hard that it knocked the goal lights off their moorings, so they were just sitting cock-eyed up on top of the frame. The glass bent a good 15 degrees on that one. We also had a couple hard shots that smacked the glass in front of us, as well. One thing I'll say for sitting low; it gets LOUD down there.

In the end the Blues won against San Jose, which for pretty much all season has been the best team in the league, so that bodes well for the stretch run. I still don't think the Blues will make the playoffs, but they are giving it a good effort this year and that is good to see.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


I took my third Certified Internal Auditor exam this morning, and I passed. I don't have to take the fourth exam, since I am already a Certified Management Accountant and the IIA gives credit for that certification. So, once the paperwork is all done, I will be a Certified Internal Auditor. It will be good to have all of these exams behind me!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Taking it Easy

Well, I'm in St. Louis this week. Yes, for the first time since early January, I'm not on the road. Know how I pulled that off? I took this week as vacation, that's how I did it. It's not the most fun vacation ever, though. On Thursday I have a professional certification exam, the last one I need to become a Certified Internal Auditor. So, I've been going over exam materials ever since Sunday. It hasn't been a lot of fun. Also, when I travel all the time, the house can get a bit messy, since I don't feel like cleaning during my few hours home on the weekends. So, I've been doing a fair bit of cleaning this week, as well. The big job today was the kitchen, which hasn't had a thorough cleaning in a long time. It looks really good now, I just wish it didn't take as long as it does. Ah, well, once my exam is done with on Thursday I'll be able to really relax.