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


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


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


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