Friday, January 29, 2010

Television News Reporting Explained

You know it's true.

(via Dean's World)

Monday, January 25, 2010

How YOU Doin'?

Hello, everybody. Back in Detroit for another week of delirious fun and excitement reviewing year-end journal entries. Speaking of delirious fun and excitement, those were a couple good football games on Sunday (not that I got to see much of them). I especially loved the perfect ending to the Saints/Vikings game. You can put me in the "Brett Favre, please go away forever" camp, as the man annoys me, but how about that last throw, eh? Brilliant stuff, perfectly scripted.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Primarily A Question For My Brother

Hey, Mark, this book sounds interesting. Think it is worth reading?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

I-270 in St. Louis called one of nation’s worst commutes.

In other news, human beings breath air. I do like the following line in the article:
The Daily Beast ranks I-270 — particularly southbound at Dougherty Ferry Rd/Exit 8 — No. 45 on its list of 75 congested “highways to hell.”
Yeah, that would be MY exit, so I know all about this particular piece of fun.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back in 'The D'

As opposed to last week's travel adventure, things are different this week. First, my luggage arrived on time. In fact, it was the most on time luggage pickup in history. Literally, as I walked up to the carousel it started spitting out bags, and right when I got to the opposite side of the carousel, where the bags come out, there came out my bag. I literally didn't need to stop moving, just grabbed it right away and off I went. In other news, maybe I should try this to make sure I never lose a bag again. Seems a bit extreme, though.

Tomorrow I am supposed to be heading to the North American International Auto Show with some coworkers. I haven't been to a real auto show since 1992 at the latest (maybe it was 1991), so I'm not really sure what to expect. I did bring my camera, so I might even have some cool pictures for you in the next week or so.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Federation Commander

In the beginning, was Star Fleet Battles. Back in the 1970s, a group of guys in Amarillo Texas got together, obtained a license to use material from the Star Fleet Technical Manual (which contained technical details about ships from the Star Trek series), and created what many people consider to be the greatest starship combat game of all time. Back when I was in high school and in my undergraduate years at university, I played quite a bit of Star Fleet Battles (SFB). However, the game does have a downside, in that it is quite complex. Those of you who have never played it simply can't understand how complex it can get. If you played a scenario with all of the rules, those rules would number well over 1,000 pages. Craziness, though being able to handle that much game certainly puts one in the annals of greatest gamers of all time. Because the game was so good, it was successful despite its complexity, and stayed a regular seller over the years.

Fast forward to 2005, and the company that still publishes SFB put out a brand new game line, set in the same general universe, called Federation Commander. The basic concept of the new game was "let's take everything cool about SFB, and make it less complex." I am happy to say that the new design is very successful, and has everything I like about SFB in a package that I can actually play. Most elements of SFB are streamlined in Federation Commander, but all the cool stuff is still there. You still allocate power at the beginning of each turn, but it is no longer a strait jacket on you. You still have lots of impulses, but they are bunched up now, so it is easier to deal with. You still maneuver and fire weapons in the same way, but there are set weapons firing points. It is all there, but doesn't take as much time as SFB does.

The publishers did do something a bit odd, though, with the game. Sticking with the SFB model, every few months they are putting out a new module for the game. Each module adds new ships, or even new races. However, rather than there being one base set, there are two separate starter sets: Klingon Border, and Romulan Border. Both sets come with six map boards and the full rulebook, but they each have different ships and races. Both come with Federation ships, but Klingon Border has the Klingons (duh), Kzinti, and Tholians, while Romulan Border comes with Romulans (duh) and Gorn. I do not have the Romulan Border set, but I do have the Klingon Border set, because Klingons are rad to the max, even if I don't play them very well.

The basic gameplay consists of using your available energy (produced by engines) to power your engines for speed, your weapons for firepower, and your shields for protection. Damage goes first against your shields, but if it eliminates a shield then further damage goes straight to your ship. There is a damage track that you roll a die on if you take damage, and then you mark off the relevant damage to your ship on your handy data card. In a net, yet money-grubbing, approach, Federation Commander ship cards are all laminated and full color, rather than the black and white pages you photocopied out of a book for SFB. I really like using the dry erase markers to keep track of stuff on the new cards, but they don't give you quite enough for large battles. Too handle this, they will happily sell you "booster packs" containing additional cards. And, to make it necessary to buy these, each one of them comes with at least one brand new ship card not appearing anywhere else. So, if you want all the ships, you have to buy all the booster packs. Sneaky one, guys.

For a game about giant spaceships slugging it out, maneuver plays a surprisingly important role in things. Just charging straight in, guns blazing, only works well if you have a much more powerful ship than your opponent. Instead, the game is one of maneuver, where you use missiles and perhaps other ships (if your side has more than one) to try to put your target into a position where you consistently hit the same shield with multiple weapons. While doing this, you are trying to make sure that your opponent has to spread his shots across multiple shields on your ship(s). One of these days I am going to get good at the maneuver part of the game, but currently I tend to find myself pincered by the people I play against, and then I end up with a ship resembling Swiss cheese. Ah, well.

So, yeah, Federation Commander is great. If you like games of starship combat, you will be hard-pressed to find anything better.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Greetings from Detroit

I successfully made it to Detroit this week. I happened to arrive in the city ahead of schedule, but my luggage did not. Yes, Delta made a hash of getting my luggage onto the right plane in St. Louis it seems. So, I arrived in Detroit ready to go, while my bag was in the Bahamas or something. Wherever it was, the weather was likely better than in Detroit, where it snowed all day. At least I got to be inside. The upside is that my luggage did actually finally get in my hands about 10:40 last evening, so I had clean clothes to wear today. That is always a good thing, something that I am sure my coworkers will appreciate.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Settlers of Catan

Today I am covering one of the most famous boardgames of the last two decades, The Settlers of Catan. This game is considered by many to be single-handedly responsible for the uptick in boardgame play in the U.S. over the last fifteen years or so. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but I do feel that the current popularity of "euro" games would have been muted without the breakway success of Settlers, a German design. Catan is also one of only a handful of games that have successfully broken out of the "hobbyist" market that most board games are sold to, selling millions of copies around the world.

So, how is the game actually played? The basic gist of the game is that you are trying to develop the island, and are competing with the other players to develop the fastest. Every player starts out with two settlements and two road sections. Every round you collect resources and try to build more roads and settlements. You can also upgrade settlements to cities. The last thing you can do is buy special cards that will either give you special abilities or give you victory points.

The basics of play are simple, but there is a lot of strategic depth to the game. First, the playing board is made of a bunch of different hexagonal tiles, which are randomly laid out. Each tile represents a type of terrain, most of which produce resources of some kind or contain a port where you can trade resources with the bank. The non-water tiles will have a number on them (with one exception), and then on every player's turn two dice are rolled to produce a number, and all tiles with that number produce their resources. If a player has a settlement or city next to that tile, then they get to gather those resources. That is pretty simple, but it is a total race to get settlements in place around resource tiles before another player cuts you off, as there are spacing requirements around settlements. You can also use roads to cut off access to parts of the board, as new settlements must be built on your roads, and only one player can have a road in any specific section. Thus, play can get pretty intense, and the initial placement of settlements and roads is usually critical to eventual success or failure.

Settlers is published in the U.S. by Mayfair Games, and they are currently on the 4th printing of the game. I actually have the original Mayfair version of the game, which admittedly is a bit worn, but it still works. The only real problem with the game is that it is for three or four players only. They sell an expansion that allows up to six players to play the game, but I have never played with it. I can't say that I am really good at this game, but I can usually hold my own and be competitive. If you have not played strategy games before, and are looking for a relatively inexpensive game to try out to see if you will like them or not, Settlers is a good game to try.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


A quick turnaround this time. The randomly selected game this time is Helltank, a small game of futuristic armored combat published in 1981 by Metagaming. This game fills the same genre as Ogre and G.E.V., games which I have enjoyed for years. Both games cover armored combat in the 21st century, but there are differences. Helltank, unlike Ogre, doesn't assume that everyone goes to tactical nuclear weapons, and it doesn't include cybernetic units. Helltank also has more unit types, including attack helicopters and "air cruisers," magnetic levitation weapons platforms that fly. Cool beans! Another differences is that where Ogre/G.E.V. just gives you a certain amount of units to play with, with Helltank you have to pick one of seven different time periods, which impacts what units are available, as well as what those units cost.

Game play in Helltank is relatively simple, though there are some complexities. Every unit has a movement type, a combat range, a movement allowance, and an evasion movement allowance. When evading, you move faster, and are harder to hit, but you can't fire. Critically, as long as your unit hasn't fired yet this turn, you can put it into Evasion movement as soon as you are fired upon. Units that haven't fired yet this turn can also interrupt an enemy unit's movement to opportunity fire on them outside of the normal turn order.

The combat system itself is different from what I am used to. Most games like this give each unit a combat factor, and then you compare that to a defensive factor on a chart and try to beat the target number on a die roll. This game, however, simply has a large chart where you compare the firing unit to the target unit, and you are given a target number to roll under or equal to. You then apply a lot of die roll modifiers (for terrain, evasion, etc.) to that roll. The end result isn't that different from what I am used to, but it allows for certain units to be really deadly against certain units, but pathetic against other units (like AA units being good against helicopters, but not against tanks).

The game comes with enough different units so that there is a lot of variety in games, even if you play the same scenarios again and again. One thing that I feel is lacking is a regular infantry unit. The game comes with jet-pack infantry, but where are the regular ground-pounders? I can't come up with a good reason for their absence. Additionally, the game comes with only one map. Granted, there is a good variety of terrain there, but after a few games it would get old fast. It looks like you can use maps from other games pretty easily, though, so if your collection is big enough that shouldn't be a huge problem.

In the end, I can't help but compare this game to Ogre/G.E.V., and I find that while the game has some differences, I still like it. In fact, my ratings at boardgamegeek are identical for both games. They play in the same sandbox, but they do different things, and that is OK.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tea Tabulation

In a post yesterday I noted that I was out from work because I was sick. Well, I am definitely getting over it. In fact, today I started feeling pretty normal, but I was still out of work, so I wanted something to do. What I ended up doing was going through all of the tea that I have and listing it out. I had wanted to do this for a while, because I was curious what I had accumulated. Well, let's just say that there was more of it than I had remembered. I am listing the name of the tea, and then the brand is in parenthesis after. If the tea is loose (i.e., not in bags) than that is noted after the name. Any special notes are at the end.

Actual Teas (i.e., not herbal concoctions)
Caramel Vanilla (Republic of Tea)
Coconut Chai (World Market)
Vanilla Mandarin (World Market)
Goji Raspberry Green (Republic of Tea)
Sweet Coconut Tai Chai (Celestial Seasonings) - I have two different coconut chai styles because this one is decaf
Pu-Erh loose (World Market)
Genmaicha loose (SereneTeaz) - a Christmas gift from my brother, Mark, this is green tea mixed with puffed rice. It is pretty odd
Black Currant (Twinings)
Blackberry Sage (Republic of Tea)
Wild Maine Blueberry (Republic of Tea)
Black Currant (Stewart's) - last year I got both of my Black Currant teas from my mother. I haven't even opened this one yet
Pear Luna loose (Teavana)
Island Oolong loose (World Market)
Darjeeling Choice Estate loose (World Market)
Dragon Well loose (World Market)
Peach loose (Kaffee Klatch) - this stuff makes great iced tea in the summer
Orange Sencha loose (Two Leaves and a Bud) - picked this up in a fancy tea shop in California during vacation in 2007; still unopened
Orange Flower Oolong loose (Octavia Tea) - picked up at same tea shop in California in 2007; this stuff is awesome)
Blueberry White loose (Archer Farms) - purchased at Target, of all places
Green Jasmine loose (Archer Farms)
Sencha loose (Teavana)
Ceylon Kenilworth loose (Teavana) - the Kenilworth plantation produces the best Ceylon tea, in my opinion
English Breakfast loose (Teavana)

Herbal Teas
Dream by the Fire Cinnamon & Vanilla (Republic of Tea)
Spiced Apple Cider (Republic of Tea) - not as good as it should have been
Orange Spice loose (Hartley's Herbs) - whoa, I forgot I had this. This stuff is a good eight years old at least, and probably not worth consuming anymore. Still smells good, though. The oddest herbal tea ever, it looks like a bunch of moss with sticks and stuff in it
Tangerine Orange Zinger (Celestial Seasonings)
Chamomile (Full Circle)
Tension Tamer (Celestial Seasonings) - this stuff has catnip in it, for real
Organic Mint Melange (Trader Joe's)
Chocolate Roasted Mate (World Market)
Plantation Lemonade (Eastern Shore Tea Company) - this was supposed to taste like pink lemonade, according to the container; they lied to me
Herbal Unwind (Twinings)
Chimayo Sunset (New Mexico Pinon Coffee) - another thing I forgot I had that is probably too old to use anymore; includes actual dried New Mexico pinon bush

... now that is a long list. Maybe I should stop buying new tea until I get this stuff drunk.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

City State Warfare

For the next game in my collection, we come to City State Warfare. I believe I got this game in the early '90s when I was living in Springfield and attending Missouri State University (not that it was called that at the time, of course). The game is a pretty generic tactical combat system for medieval style fighting. I say that because the average units in the game are footmen, bowmen, and mounted knights. All your standard medieval fare. The game also includes fantasy units, such as goblins and elves, but that is more for flavor and to expand the appeal of the game, as those units are treated the same by the game rules as the regular historical human units.

The game system itself is pretty generic, and doesn't hold up well to modern designs. Each counter represents living things, so a footman unit represents 20 men, while a mounted units represents 10 riders and 10 horses. Each hex on the map (two of which are included with the game) represents 60 feet. On your turn, you can move your units around the map up to their Movement Factor. You want to get your units next to enemy units so they can fight, but only when you outnumber them, so the odds are in your favor. The way to do this is by stacking your units as tight as possible in a few hexes, up to the stacking limit (3 mounted units, or 6 foot units, or combinations thereof). This allows you to attack with more punch, as you total up the Melee Factors of all attacking units when making an attack roll.

Attack rolls are made by rolling a six-sided die and referencing the Combat Results Table. First you find the Defense Class of the unit, and you find the row for your die roll. Then you slide over to the right to find your total Factors Attacking rating, and then you see how many enemy units you eliminated (none, one, two, or three). It is pretty basic, but it gets the job done. Maneuver actually becomes pretty important with this system, which I like, as just charging head-on is a good way to get dead unless your units are way better quality than their targets.

The game comes with 10 historical scenarios for you to fight it out with your friends. There are all right, and seem relatively balanced (usually through each side having different victory conditions). However, the meat of the game is in something else. See, the game was published by Judges Guild, which made a lot of adventures and supplements for fantasy role-playing games. In fact, this game says right up front on the first page of the rules that it was designed to allow RPG players to play out any battles that might occur during a RPG campaign. Hence the fantasy units, but hence some other aspects of the game.

First, each side will have one or more leaders. In historical scenarios these represent actual military commanders, but in a fantasy game they can represent player characters, thus allowing players to have their individual characters affect the battle directly. There are also detailed rules for how you can go about building up your own army through hiring mercenaries or even forming a goon squad to force the local peasants into your armed forces (just don't expect high morale in those units if you do that!), as well as how to design your own game units to reflect whatever oddball collection of troops you come up with.

As befits a game with campaign play in mind, there are also tables to determine how many of your people actually died in each unit lost, as realistically people don't fight to the last man in all situations, and having a unit "eliminated" could just mean that a few people got stabbed and the rest freaked and ran away, only to slink back to camp a week later. In the same way, eliminated leaders almost never actually die, but they can get maimed, or captured and ransomed back, or captured and then escape while stealing enemy treasure, etc. Lots of different things can happen. There is even a random mission generation table if you just want to come up with a random reason for a battle, though I don't think it works very well, and was most likely a late addition to fill up page count.

Overall, this game could use some work to bring some of its game mechanics into line with modern design principles, but the underlying system works decently enough. That said, it doesn't need a lot of work, and designing your own units is fun. Heck, I once wrote an entire campaign system just to let me fight out a bunch of battles with this game, and have had a lot of fun with it over the years. Definitely a keeper.

Greetings From Not Detroit

I was supposed to fly to Detroit yesterday, in order to start a new project. Didn't happen, due to my 102 degree fever and flu-like symptoms. Yes, I have come down with something for the third time this season. No idea what that is about, I thought I was being pretty healthy. Oh, well. The last time I had the flu it took a good three days to take care of, so I will probably be back to full function by Thursday. I don't think I'm making it to Detroit this week, though.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The End of the Decade Makes People Reflect...

...on anime. At least, if you write for the website Anime Dream, you reflect on anime. Not that 2010 is really the start of a new decade, but let's not get into the math right now. As a staff writer for Anime Dream, I was asked to do a brief write-up of my favorite shows from the aughts. You can find them here. If you are interested in what the other staff writers thought, you can find links to all of the entries here.