Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cable Car

Long time no write!  While I have had a number of ideas for blog posts, to date none of them ever got past the draft stage, as they either ended up not being as interesting as I first thought they would be, or they were related to a current event and I didn't write them in time to matter to the conversation.  The good thing about reviewing board games is that they're always just there, waiting for you to play them.  And that was the situation with Cable Car, it was just waiting for me to actually get it back on the table so I could write about it.  I wasn't able to do that until yesterday, but now that I've done it let's look at this enjoyable tile laying game.

Cable Car is a re-implementation of the game Metro.  There are two differences between the games.  The first is that Metro has the theme of rails in Paris, where Cable Car has the theme of rails in San Francisco.  The second is that Cable Car comes with an expansion called "Cable Car Company" that changes the way the game is played.  I have never played with this expansion, so I will only briefly touch on it at the end.

The game is played on an 8x8 grid, which is entirely open except for a 2x2 section in the middle of the board.  Around the edge of the board are 32 rail houses.  Depending on the number of players (the game handles from 2 to 6 players), each player will have a number of cable cars starting around the board, along with 32 rail terminus stations.  Each turn the players will place a tile on an open space on the board, with each tile representing a variety of rail layouts.  As more and more tiles are laid, cable cars get connected to rail terminii.  When that happens, you look and see how long the route is, and the longer the route, the more points the player scores.  If you happen to connect a route to the power station in the 2x2 section in the middle of the board, you score double the points.  Thus, competition to get to the power station can be fierce.

The real trick to this game is in the way that you have to focus on your own routes as well as the routes of the other players.  To win the game you will have to play tiles in such a way that your routes are lengthened while giving the other players short routes.  This isn't easy, especially when playing with experienced players.  A good game of Cable Car will have a fair amount of griping and sniping around the table, as each player messes up the other players' plans in turn around the table.  Still, even if you get hosed, a game shouldn't take much more than 30 minutes, so you can always give it another shot.

The "Cable Car Company" expansions changes the game such that each player doesn't control just one color, but all colors are used, each representing a different cable car company.  Players then buy stock shares in each company.  You still lay tiles to complete routes on the board, but you are trying to make sure that the companies you have invested in have the best routes.  I haven't played this version of the game, so I can't speak to how much it changes the base game.

I got this game because while I have a number of heavy games in my collection, I don't have a lot of quick, easy to learn games.  Metro fills that role nicely, and is a quick, enjoyable game of strategy with a "screw your neighbor" mechanic.  The only bad thing I can say about the game is that the box it comes in is almost twice as big as it needs to be, so it takes up more shelf space than it should.  If that is a game's only problem, I'll happily take it.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Adventures in Ingredients

I recently made a discovery:  McDonald's french fries contain milk.  You can look it up for yourself if you don't believe me.  As crazy as this is, it got me thinking about what other unexpected ingredients are in the food we eat?  I have food allergies, so this is relevant to me from a health perspective.  Even if you are one of those lucky people who can eat whatever you want without any ill effect, it can be surprisingly interesting to see what ingredients are in things.

For example, let's look at the ingredients listing for White Castle.  Much of this looks pretty standard, though I'm not sure why it takes about half a page to list the ingredients for Buffalo Chicken Rings.  What surprised me the most, though, was that with White Castle, ingredients can change depending on where you are in the country.  For example, with my allergy to milk, I can't eat sausage patties in St. Louis White Castles (I'll leave the question of why I would want to unanswered for now), but I can in Louisville, KY.  And in Minneapolis, MN they have a Spicy Sausage Patty instead.  Why?  I don't know.  Of even more interest to me is the fact that "select regions" sell Sweet Potato Fries.  I love sweet potato fries!  Why don't you sell them in St. Louis, White Castle?  I demand an answer.  In fact, I can promise that if you start selling sweet potato fries in St. Louis, I will double my frequency of eating at White Castle.  Admittedly, I eat at White Castle maybe once every two years, so that isn't a large increase, but it is something.  You want to make your customers happy, right?  Do the right thing White Castle.

It also turns out that White Castle sells Clam Strips in "select regions" as well.  That doesn't sound like a very "White Castle" kind of thing to me.  I wonder where these regions are?  The Northeast?  Strange.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

Historically, whenever I have purchased a new computer, I have always purchased at least a couple new computer games to install on it to push its up-to-date graphics capabilities.  I purchased a new computer a few months ago, but I have yet to purchase any new games.  Recently, I have actually installed The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and have been playing that.  I got this game ~5 years ago and played it to pieces, though I never actually finished it.  During my re-play, I have been reminded of two things:
  1. How beautiful the game is, with expansive environments and wonderfully imaginative detail.
  2. How much fun it is just to walk around the environment and interact with all of the NPCs and explore all of the ruined towers and caves and stuff.
  3. How little fun it is to have to close Oblivion gates.  Seriously, This is like half the game and it is just so tedious and annoying.

So while I will probably never actually finish the game, it sure does run butter-smooth on my new rig.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Battle at Sarlacc's Pit

This time the random game selected for me write about from my collection is a real oddity.  Being almost 30 years old, Battle at Sarlacc's Pit is a board game loosely based on the fight among the sail barges at the end of the first part of the movie Return of the Jedi.  The defining feature of this game is the 3D gameboard, allowing you to dump defeated enemies into the Sarlacc's pit.  I was a child when this game was released, but I remembered seeing it in stores and thinking it looked pretty sweet.  I swore that I would one day own the game.  During  the mid-90s, when I was at University, I found someone selling the game in a Usenet auction and was able to snag it.  I fulfilled my oath and now owned the game.

The game proceeded to sit on a shelf for, oh, fifteen years or so.  Seriously.  This is what it looked like when I pulled it down to finally do something with it.

Yes, you are seeing that right; the box has been wrapped in saran wrap for ~15 years.  I didn't even know if the game was complete or not, though as it turned out I had nothing to worry about on that front as the game had never even been played before.  See, the figures hadn't even been separated from the sprues!

This is the first game I have ever seen that actually makes use of the game box itself.  The box provides the base for everything as you build a cardboard Sarlaac's pit and then mount the cardboard sand skiff on top of it.  The player characters (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca are the options) start on one end, Jabba the Hutt sits on the other, and a bunch of Gamorreans stand between the two.  Players score points by knocking Gamorreans into the pit and advancing towards Jabba.  Boba Fett and some other dude whose name I forget are also in the game, as guards worth an extra victory point.  The game continues until someone defeats Jabba directly using a "Force" card, at which point the game ends and you count up your points for defeated enemies.  Thus, it is possible for one player to defeat Jabba but someone to win.  Since Jabba is worth a lot of points, though, that isn't likely to happen.

At the start of the game each player starts with four "Jedi" cards.  These cards will either contain a number, Jabba, the Force, or some text allowing for a special action.  During a player's turn, he plays a card to take an action.  A number card lets you move your character that many spaces on the board.  A Force card lets you move anywhere from one to six spaces (and lets you beat Jabba at the climax of the game, and move when Jabba is "in your lane").  If you end your turn next to a guard, you draw another card to fight.  If it is a number, you knock the guard into the pit and claim a points card for them.  Otherwise, you are defeated, the guard stays put, and you go back to the start.

After playing this game, I must admit that it feels very luck dependent.  There is not much strategy to the game, as you just move up to the next enemy and hope that you draw a card that lets you beat them and score points.  You can't improve your odds of winning a combat by hand management or any other skill; it is all luck.  The only redeeming feature of the game is the somewhat impressive 3D gameboard, which really is kind of a kick to play on.  Knocking guards off the skiff and into the pit is entertaining, but I'm not sure that it would continue to be very entertaining after a few plays in a row.  So, in the end this is a gimmicky game that may never actually get played again.  With the right group, though, at the right time, it might see some time on the table.  Probably not, though.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sun and Storms

Greetings from sunny Palm Beach, FL.  I am forced to be here due to training, as the Institute of Internal Auditors forced me to come here for my class.  I am staying at The Breakers, which is the same place the class is being held.  This place is kind of ridiculous, and totally out of my usual socio-economic situation.  Case in point, the bathroom mirror has a TV built into it.  Yes, you read that right.  On the downside, there is a hurrican heading towards Florida (maybe), so later in the week, when I'm trying to drive from Palm Beach to Orlando, things could get potentially interesting.  It's always something.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back in the Mountains

Greetings from Beckley, West Virginia, the home of Tamarack.  No, I've never been there.  Nor am I likely to rectify that oversight on this trip.  I'm here to audit financial controls at my company's Pocahontas mine just a few miles outside of town.  It is cold and rainy here, so I'm thinking that my decision to only pack short-sleeved shirts isn't such a great thing.  Ah, well, such is life.  On the plus side, the local Fox Sports affiliate is in Pittsburgh, and the Cardinals are playing the Pirates currently, so I can watch Cardinals baseball on the TV at the hotel.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts from Gillette

I am sitting in my hotel room in Gillette, WY watching football on TV and trying to figure out what I really think about Gillette and eastern Wyoming.  Here are some thoughts in no order.
  • There are no trees in eastern Wyoming, at least, not naturally.  It is all rolling plains here and there just aren't any natural trees around here.  That is very strange to me.
  • Potentially related to the above, the 50+ mile drive to the mine site every day is pretty boring as there isn't much to look at.  Scrub, more scrub, some grass, more grass, cows, horses, elk, that's pretty much all there is.
  • Elk are pretty cool.  They're a bit thinner then deer are, or at least the ones in St. Louis.
  • There's no farming around here, all ranching.  And coal mining.  There are a lot of coal mines around here.  In the airport at the baggage claim, literally all of the advertisements are for mining equipment and mining software.
  • Speaking of the airport, it is a glorified hallway.  I'm not kidding, it is just one rectangular building with the rental car counter and baggage claim on one end and the gate on the other end.  It is the smallest commercial airport I have ever seen.
  • Gillette, WY is the only place I have seen Bundaberg ginger beer for sale in a gas station.  That is coolsville.
  • Highway 59 heading towards the coal mines has movable gates like railroad crossing guards that they can drop across the highway when they close it because there is too much snow.  I am glad I am here in August.
  • Speaking of August, we have had highs in the upper '70s or lower '80s this week.  That is a nice change of pace from dangerously hot St. Louis.

Monday, August 08, 2011

A Mountaineer is Always Free

Greetings from Charleston, West Virginia!  I am here for a day of training before flying out to Gillette, Wyoming on Tuesday.  I'm staying at the Marriott in downtown Charleston.  Yes, Charleston has a downtown.  They even have a mall and movie theater and everything right downtown, which is more than I can say for St. Louis.  My colleague Tony and I took advantage of the movie theater to see the Captain America movie last night.  It was pretty good, if even more unrealistic than I expected it to be.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Random Sports Thoughts

1.  Bradley out, Klinsmann in for USMNT - This has been coming for a while.  While the team performed relatively well in last year's World Cup, there has always been an underlying concern with Bradley about his development of younger players, and by that I mean his seemingly complete lack of interest in doing so.  And the team kind of stunk up the joint this year, having trouble beating Guadalupe in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  Guadalupe doesn't even have 1 million citizens in the whole country, and we can barely muster the talent in a country of over 350 million to beat them?  Really?  Patheticness.  Juergen Klinsmann is a proven winner who has run soccer camps in California for years, so he is familiar with the US program and the development of young players.  As far as I am concerned, even if things don't pan out with on-the-field wins right away, this is an excellent move.  The timing is odd, but it probably came down to whenever Klinsmann was ready for the job, it was his.  He is now ready, so Bradley got the axe.

2.  Colby Rasmus is now a Blue Jay - A great move by Alex Anthopoulos, the Jays GM.  Once LaRussa decided that Rasmus was more trouble than he was worth, he was all but gone.  According to reports, the Blue Jays have been after him for a while, but they didn't have available what the Cardinals wanted to get in return.  So, the Jays went out and got Edwin Jackson from the White Sox so they could get Rasmus.  While it is completely possible that Rasmus is a head case who will never play to his potential, if he does figure it out and play to his potential in the future this will end up being a great move, because at the end of the day what did the Jays give up for him?  Some good but not excellent relief pitchers, a bunch of random pitchers with smallish contract,s and some random position players.  The downside on this move is not very large, and the upside is bigger, so this is a good gamble.

3.  Mike Danton is back, baby! - You mean you don't remember Mike Danton?  All he did while he was playing for the St. Louis Blues was try to hire a hit man to kill his agent.  Note to all the kids out there: when hiring a hit man, don't hire an undercover police officer who is only posing as a hit man.  That kind of thing doesn't end well for you.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Next up in my random walk through my game collection is Revolution!  I first encountered this game almost two years ago at Archon.  I was playing another game with one of Steve Jackson Game's "MIBs" and once that game was complete he really wanted to show us all Revolution.  It turned out that the game was pretty fun, though different from most other games I have played.  The overall theme is that you and the other players are fomenting a revolution in a country to overthrow the government and put yourself in place as the new leader.  However, the mechanics are generally abstract and the theme just lays on top of the underlying mechanic.

Revolution's primary mechanic is blind bidding.  Every turn each player starts with at least five resources.  You can have gold (pretty easy to get a hold of, but not very strong in bidding), blackmail (always beats gold), and force (beats everything else).  Because force is the best resource, it is pretty scarce and hard to get a hold of.  Each turn, the players bid all of their available resources to gain control over up to five of the town's twelve possible areas of influence.  If you control an area you can put one of your colored wooden blocks in that building (if it has one; not all areas do), which can provide extra victory points at the end of the game.  Each area also provides you at least one specific benefit, whether that be extra money, blackmail, or force tokens for the next round; victory points (which you need to actually win the game); or the ability to move around your own and/or other player's colored blocks.  The game play consists of multiple rounds of resource bids while you try to both earn victory points and gain control of strategic buildings on the board to earn more victory points during the final scoring at the end of the game.  The game continues until all locations on the board are fully controlled.

The game itself plays pretty quick once everyone knows what they are doing.  It can take a while to get going as people figure out what bidding strategy they want to use, but once the game is understood bidding rounds can go quite fast.  Some people don't care for this game because they don't like the bidding aspect of the game, and some people don't like the rather thin theme to the game.  Admittedly, the theme could be ants collecting resources for their queen so they could have the best ant colony and the mechanics could be very similar, but I find the underlying bidding mechanic to be quite fun.  The trick in this game is the ever important "knowing your opponent" concept.  If you can get inside your opponent's heads then you will have a real leg up on them, as they can start second-guessing their bid strategy (the infamous "I know he knows I'll do this, so I'll do that other thing, but what if he knows I know that he knows and he'll guess that other thing, then he'll do that third thing, so I need to do this fourth thing, but what if he knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows..." syndrome).  If you can get your opponent chasing their own tail like that, you've already beaten them.

This is the only game I own that utilizes this kind of bidding mechanic, so I'm sure I will have it for a long time.  Not everyone likes it, but I find it is a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


For my next venture into my game collection, the random selection gives me one of the better games of the last 10 years, Carcassonne.  Carcassonne is a "euro" game originally published in Germany.  I don't own a lot of these games, owning primarily wargames, but Carcassonne is a bit hit in my family.  A couple years ago for Christmas my father even got the "big box" which includes the base game and the first five or six expansions, so that you never have to play the same game twice.  While the game does have over a dozen expansions available for it, this write-up will focus on just the base game as available in the United States.

At its core, Carcassonne is a 'tile laying' game.  On your turn you pick one of the available tiles randomly from a bag or from face down piles and then play it to the playing surface.  The tiles will have on them a combination of parts of fortified towns, roads, and abbeys.  You then have a choice of whether you want to place one of your seven followers (the Carcassonne community refers to the follower pieces as "meeples" for reasons I can't fathom) inside a town (giving you control of that town), on a road (giving you control of that road), in an abbey (giving you control of that abbey), or in the open field (giving you control of all contiguously placed fields).  Followers placed in towns, roads, and abbeys score you points when such places are completed (or, in the case of the abbey, when all surrounding spaces are filled with tiles), and you get your follower back so that you can play them elsewhere.  Followers placed on fields never come off the board until the end of the game during the final scoring phase.  Thus, you have to be thoughtful in how and when you place your followers, as placing too many too early can leave you unable to take advantage of a favorable tile later in the game.

The above rules summary omits one important thing:  If another player already has a follower in a town or road and you place a tile that builds that thing out, you can't place your own follower in there as well, as the other player controls it.  However, if you place a follower on a tile that isn't part of a town or road already controlled by another player, but the two things end up getting combined through the play of future tiles, then control (and victory points) are determined by who has the most followers.  In the case of a tie, all tied players score equal points when the thing is completed.  Fields work this way, as well.  Thus, a good way to earn victory (and upset the other players) is to play your tiles and your followers in such a way that you "worm your way" into their towns, roads, and fields and score points when they score points.  Other players will try to head you off by putting up their own additions a little bit off the main section and put a follower on there, so that when everything gets combined they will have more followers, but that ties up their followers, so sometimes you can win by just making another player think you are moving in on their turf so that they put too much emphasis on playing defense.  It is a really good design mechanic that keeps the game interesting and means that, barring some ridiculous early luck with tiles, a player is rarely hopelessly out of the game until the last tile is played and final scoring begins.

I have played this game dozens of times since my younger brother first picked up his copy oh so many years ago, and it is always a good time.  Well, except for that time when Mark and I combined didn't equal as many points as my Father had, but that hardly ever happens.

The Blues Are Serious

Today the St. Louis Blues signed both Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to contracts for the 2011-2012 season.  Both deals are for one year, $2.5 million plus bonuses.  With these two signings, the Blues show that they are serious about seriously pushing for a playoff spot this year.  The Blues didn't need both signings to get them to the salary floor for the coming year, so this shows commitment by the organization to take things to the next level and be more competitive.

Jamie Langenbrunner, while the player I am less excited about among the two, is a very interesting signing.  He has only previously ever played for the Devils and the Stars, so his signing in St. Louis means one of two things:  either nobody really wanted him and he was just looking for the best money he could find (a realistic possibility), or he really thinks that St. Louis is ready for a break-out year and he wants in on it.  He is a leaership guy, so it is entirely possible that his money won't be earned with points production on the ice, but in the locker room.  It is possible that Langenbrunner was brought in to help show T.J. Oshie what it means to be a professional and to give your all to the cause.  If that is true, and he can help the young firebrand to get more responsible, then this is likely money well spent.

I am quite excited about the Arnott signing.  Arnott has been a serious stud for years, one of those guys who will never lead your team in scoring but provides tons of leadership and plays very responsible hockey.  He has no trouble mucking it up to make a play and, as long as he isn't over the hill at the age of 37 (which he will turn around the start of the season) he should easily earn his paycheck.  He is another guy who can provide a lot of good leadership to the youngsters on the team.

So while the Blues don't have a realistic shot at making a deep playoff run this season, they appear on paper to have a very solid team to make a serious shot at the playoffs; if David Perron is available to play this season, that makes things look even better.  Dare I be optimistic for this coming season?

Friday, July 01, 2011

I Don't Always Think Things Through

Earlier this week I got a new vacuum cleaner.  I got it by cashing out Marriott Rewards points, as I had roughly 180,000 points in the bank and I wasn't planning any trips soon.  And if I do, I've got about 240,000 Hilton HHonors points I can use.  Marriott sent me a catalog in the mail kindly showing me how I could use my points to buy stuff, so I took them up on the offer and got a $100 B&N gift card and an Oreck Platinum Pilot (which came with a portable vacuum, as well).

So today I decided to test that puppy out.  First thing that I learned is that it is self-propelled.  The second thing that I learned is that this vacuum is way more powerful than my old vacuum, a small Dirt Devil cannister my parents got me way back in 1998 when I moved to Arlington, VA.  Yes, I have been using that sucker straight through for nearly 13 years now.  I learned how powerful my new vacuum is when I happened to get it close to a piece of speaker wire that I have running from my stereo, under the cocktail table, to one of my rear channel speakers in my 5.1 setup.  As I was moving close to the wire my brain began to register that this could possibly end poorly.  Unfortunately, my brain was not as powerful as the vacuum.  Before my brain could register what had happened the vacuum had snatched up the speaker wire, pulled both ends out from the receiver and the speaker, and wrapped it all up around the agitator.  This took maybe half a second, if that.  That wire got pulled so fast the speaker, mounted on a speaker pedestal and not all that sturdy, didn't even move.

With a bit of effort I was able to free the wire from the vacuum and get it re-attached.  It seems to work fine, so no harm done.  Still, it was a nice little warning that my new vacuum is quite powerful/potentially dangerous.  Well, either that or that my old vacuum is a weak piece of junk that I should have gotten rid of six years ago.  Maybe both.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Weekend Plans

I'm sure that most of you out there in the interwebs have big plans for this coming weekend (well, you do if you live in the USA, anyway).  Th 4th of July weekend is a big one for searing cow flesh on the grill, blowing things up, and getting sunburns.  I, however, am planning on spending a fair chunk of the weekend in my basement.

When I moved into my current home in 2004, it was the first time that I lived anywhere with a basement.  I had all of this space in which to store my junk, and at the time it seemed nice a spacious.  After six-and-a-half years of accumulating even more junk than I had when I moved in, I can now say that it doesn't look all that big anymore.  So, it is time to wade into the piles of boxes (some of which I know are simply sitting there empty) and organize it all.  Or, at least, make a serious dent in it.  I want to try to organize the games properly on the shelves so that it is easier to actually find one when I want to play it, as well as getting some better organization with the boxes of books, CDs, and other stuff sitting down there just waiting for a flood to ruin it all.  I need to at least make better use of my shelving and get that stuff elevated.

Maybe once that gets done it will even be time to start thinking about painting down there.  I can't say that those bare concrete walls are enticing, and the time I was stuck down there while the tornado sirens kept wailing was a bit dull, except for when the water starting coming through that crack in the wall.  Maybe I should seal that while I'm at it...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Federation Commander: Distant Kingdoms

About a year-and-a-half ago I wrote about the game Federation CommanderDistant Kingdoms is another expansion for that game, and is the first one to completely "leave the reservation" of the original Star Fleet license.  Where the original game is based on the ships of the original Star Trek series, this expansion uses ships and intergalactic races made up from whole cloth by the game designers.  This expansion introduces the Lyrans, the Hydrans, and the Wyn Star Cluster.

This expansion is important to me solely because it includes the Lyrans.  Back when I played Star Fleet Battles, I quickly settled on the Lyrans as my race to play.  Is it because the weapons and ship systems fit my standard tactics?  Well, no, not really.  Is it because I really liked them in the original TV show?  Well, no, the game designers made them up.  Is it because their unique weapons system is just so gosh darn cool?  Well, no, it's an energy shield that detonates enemy missiles before they hit you, which isn't too exciting.  So why is it?  I love the twin-hull ship designs.
Isn't that just totally sweet looking?  You bet it is.  Lyran ships are the bestest.

Anyway, as far as the game goes, Lyran ships are very similar to Klingon ships.  Phasers and disruptors are the primary weapons, but instead of drones Lyrans have Expanding Sphere Generators (ESG), which create a semi-physical sphere of energy that surrounds a ship.  You can use it to ram another ship (hardly ever done in practice) or as the best drone defense in the game, as when drones hit an ESG, they just explode harmlessly.  This makes Lyrans the best race to use to fight Kzinti, but not so hot against races that don't use drones (like the Romulans or Gorn).

As mentioned above, Distant Kingdoms also includes the Hydrans, which are interesting primarily because they make significant use of small fighter craft.  I don't like playing against Hydran ships because it can be really hard to keep track of all of those pesky little fighters.  They can't take much damage, but they distract you from the mother ship with its hellbore cannons.  Hydran weapons can take down a shield that is facing away from them, which is completely unfair.  Lastly, the Wyn Star Cluster is really just a bunch of ships from the other races that have been mildly customized to have some different weapons.  I can't think of any real reason to play Wyn ships outside of established scenarios that make use of them.

While the Distant Kingdoms expansion isn't in any way important for a casual Federation Commander player, it has my favorite race so I had to get it.  While the new races make for some different games (as you get to figure out how best to use the new ships and weapons systems), I can't say that it significantly changes the game at all.  Since the base game is so fun, though, just minor tweaks are all that is needed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This time up in my random walk through my game collection we come to a game that I have not played since probably 1993, Steve Jackson's Battlesuit.  This game is set in the overall 'universe' as the game Ogre, but instead of focusing on giant cybernetic tanks, Battlesuit focuses solely on infantry.  Granted, in the game it is 2085 and infantry wear powered armor that lets them fly through the air and shoot tactical nuclear weapons at each other, so it is nothing like modern infantry combat.  Or, at least, on the surface it's nothing like modern combat.  But how does it hold up as a game?

Battlesuit was sold in a plastic "clamshell" box, which Steve Jackson Games used a lot in the 1980s for their games.  Within that box is a one-sided paper map with some generic-looking hills and forests.  The only real thing of interest on the map is whereas Ogre used an industry-standard hex map, Battlesuit's map consists of hundreds of evenly spaced dots.  While these are set up in a hexagonal pattern, the use of dots allows for more careful plotting of line-of-sight than a hex grid would.  In addition to the map, you get ~250 card stock counters that you had to cut out yourself with scissors, and a rulebook.

The basic conceit of the game is that you will have a group of infantry, and will try to kill the other player's infantry.  There are a variety of scenarios in the rulebook, so sometimes you are just trying to get guys off the other end of the map, or you know you're gonna die but you win by holding off your opponent for a certain number of turns.  In the end, though, the game generally comes down to killing the other guy's units.  Each infantry unit has an attack rating, an Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) rating, and a movement rating.  To make an attack, you take your attack rating, subtract the target's ECM rating, and add and subtract other modifiers to arrive at a final attack rating.  You then roll two dice and look up your roll on the combat results table to see what happens.  You can kill a target outright, do varying degrees of damage, or just 'shock' the unit, which limits target's ability to act on their turn while not actually damaging them.

The game is more involved than that, though.  While you move your own units, they can be shot at by your opponent's units, so just running pell mell across the landscape is going to get your guys good and dead in a hurry.  You have to use terrain to your advantage to keep your guys from getting picked of as they move into position.  You can also use one of your units to "target" another unit.  Whereas most units can attack twice on their turn if they don't move, a unit that "targets" another unit only gets one attack, but gives a bonus to every other one of your units that attacks the targeted unit.  Some scenarios also give you robot drones that you can use in various ways; some are scouts, some have guns, and some are just big bombs.  There is really a lot of tactical variety to the game and it can get quite tense.

While this is actually a pretty good game, if I want a tactical infantry game I'm probably going to play another game in my collection, like Combat Commander.  Something about Battlesuit makes it slip to the back of my mind and not get played.  I'm still keeping it in the collection, though, because it is the only sci-fi infantry combat game I have.  And you never know when you are gonna need one of those.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Technology is a Funny Thing

I have had two situations this weekend that led me to ponder the vagaries of modern technology.  First, as some of you may be aware, back in April the PlayStation Network got hacked, and Sony took the whole thing down while they scrambled to figure out exactly what happened and how to keep it from happening again.  The network was down for weeks.  While I hardly play any games on my PS3, and therefore wasn't missing the inability to blow up random strangers in war games online, taking the network down did mean that Netflix was unavailable through my PS3, which was a bit of a bother.  A few weeks ago Sony finally started bringing the network back up, and they promised some freebies as a "mea culpa" for their inability to keep people's account information from getting stolen.

Well, they finally got around to releasing the free games on Friday.  You could download two free PS3 games, as well as two free PSP games if you had a PlayStation Portable to play them on.  I happily grabbed four games and have putzed around with two of them so far.  I can't say they are anything that I would pay full price for (though I have heard good things about inFAMOUS, which I haven't tried yet), but, hey, they're free, so I'm not complaining.  I have put the most time into Wipeout: Fury, which is a futuristic racing game with gravitic sleds instead of cars.  While not as much fun as Demolition Racer is, you can pick up weapons with which to blow up the other grav sleds, so it does scratch the same itch to a degree.  So, in the end, a major technical problem for Sony turned into a minor annoyance for me and four free video games.  So, yeah, I win.

The other technical vagary I dealt with was my new printer.  I got a new computer back a couple weeks ago, and with it I purchased a new printer, with wireless connectivity.  When I first set everything up it worked fine, but when I came back from Florida last week I couldn't connect the computer to it because it couldn't see it on the network.  No matter what I tried (power cycling the printer and the computer, uninstalling and reinstalling the device, downloading driver updates) the stupid thing wouldn't connect.  The printer was on my wireless network with a valid IP address, but my computer refused to notice it was there.  I ended up solving the problem by dropping ~$30 at Best Buy for a USB cable, and now I'm back to printing the old-fashioned, cabled way.  At least it works now.  Ain't technology something.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Freedom in the Galaxy

I don't own a lot of what are known as "epic games."  These are games like The Third World War, which took 8 hours to play maybe three turns; Rise and Decline of the  Third Reich, which just intimidates me to no end; and Barbarossa to Berlin.  The only game that I own that rises to the level of complexity and time commitment of games such as these is Freedom in the Galaxy.  Originally published by SPI, the version that I have was published by Avalon Hill Games in the early '80s.  I you have ever seen the original Star Wars trilogy, then you know what this game is about.  The game is for two players, with one starting with an entire galactic empire of 51 key planets, lots of ground and space forces, Imperial Knights to lead said ground forces, planetary defense bases, and on and on.  The other player starts with 14 rebel characters, four spaceships, and smattering of other potentially useful items, and then spends the entire game trying to take down the empire through the flames of rebellion.  This game is just epic, and scratches all the right itches for me: sci-fi, character-driven adventures, and it feels a lot like Star Wars.

There are two downsides to the game, though.  First, the game is very complex.  There are actually three "levels" of rules that you can play with.  The first restricts you to a single solar system of three planets, and is really only good for learning the basic rules.  The second expands the game to an entire sector.  Again, this is really just to teach you the rules.  The third level is what you really want, where you play with the entire game universe of five sectors and 51 planets, planet secrets, etc.  But there is a A LOT to keep track of when playing the full game, and it can get quite tedious.  The second downside is the fact that the game can be very, very long.  The Rebel player gets victory by putting enough planets into rebellion to score 26 points by end of turn 20.  sector capitals and the Imperial throne world are worth bonus points, so you don't have to get 26 planets into rebellion, but you will need close to half the game board.  And good luck making that happen quickly.  The rulebook suggests that you will need 20 hours to play the full game all the way through to the end of the 20th turn, and my experience has been that this isn't far from the truth, even if both players know the rules well and don't have to spend a lot of time looking things up.

Another downside, though not as significant as the others mentioned above, is that the game can get tedious.  You will spend a lot of time running missions with your characters, which consists of drawing a series of cards from the Action card deck.  You then look to see if your mission code is on the card, indicating a successful mission.  Events on the cards can interrupt the mission, though, from getting attacked by creatures or security droids to inadvertently causing a civil war.  It just takes a while to work through all of the missions every turn.  I do have a computer program that helps a lot with this by automating the action cards, but it can still be a chore to run through a bunch of missions each turn.

That said, the true genius of this game is in the stories that emerge from gameplay.  Because both players have specific characters to lead their armies and go on missions, it isn't just random cardboard counters doing things, it is Imperial general Barca leading his elite forces against his rebel foes, or Adam Starlight and Zina Adora stealing secret information from an Imperial army base, or Ly Mantok and Boccanegra sabotaging an Imperial army brigade, or Imperial Knight Els Taroff assassinating a pesky rebel diplomat.  You can get really attached to your characters, and it can hurt when they die or, even worse, get captured and interrogated.  Of course, if someone has been captured you can attempt to free them with your other characters, which is only genre appropriate.

So this is not a good game for casual play.  I would need to find a friend willing to give up an entire weekend, at least, to get this thing on the table, and even then it can be a chore to get through all of it.  But the stories that come from the game just might make it all worth it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Philosophy Referee Signals

Link provided for future conversations with family members and friends that start to go off the rails.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Good evening from Price, UT.  This is my first time in Utah, and I have to admit that it kind of looks like northern New Mexico.  Tomorrow my colleagues and I get to drive to Dugout Canyon mine, which requires us to drive SE from Price to Wellington, UT and then get on some dirt road of some kind and drive up the mountain.  Excitement.  I should get my first journey down into the mine at some point this week, which should be quite an interesting experience.  I don't promise any pictures, because I'm not sure how well my phone would like all of the coal dust.  Further bulletins as events warrant.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The State of the Blues

As the St. Louis Blues face another post-season of enjoying their golf game while others try to win a championship, let's look not to the past, but to the future.  A future filled with more golf in April, for a few different reasons.  Seriously, this team won't be contending next year.  How do I know this?  One word: 'budget.'  The team is up for sale.  This means that unless a new owner shows up within the next couple months with big bags of money, there will be little action by the Blues in the free agent market, keeping the Blues near the bottom of the league salary-wise.  And do you know what happens to teams in the bottom of the salary tables?  They don't make the playoffs.  Let's check the math.

Using NHLNumbers, the bottom ten teams in salary in the NHL are as follows (in millions):
  • New York Islanders - $45.54
  • Colorado Avalanche - $46.59
  • Atlanta Thrashers - $46.60
  • St. Louis Blues - $48.14
  • Florida Panthers - $48.51
  • Edmonton Oilers - $49.66
  • Carolina Hurricanes - $51.2
  • Dallas Stars - $52.15
  • Nashville Predators - $52.21
  • Columbus Blue Jackets - $53.29

Of those ten teams, only Nashville is in the playoffs.  It isn't that you can simply buy a championship.  If that was true, New Jersey would be in the playoffs and not dusting off their putters.  But of the six division winners, only Detroit isn't in the top 10 teams rated by salaries.  That's because it takes solid veteran players to win in the playoffs, and that takes money.  Money that the Blues don't have.  Ah, well, maybe next decade things will improve.

Panzer Leader

The next game randomly selected from my collection is Panzer Leader.  This game is as old as I am, being first published in 1974.  The game is considered to have been pretty revolutionary in its time, bringing a lot of new players into the wargame hobby through its generally simple rules for a wargame of its time.  While my copy of the game may actually date to 1974 (it has that "old paper" smell to it), I picked up my copy in the 1990s though a usenet auction.

The game covers ground combat during World War II in the western European theater, so the game features German units vs. Allied (American, British, Canadian, etc.) units.  The scale is 150 meters per hex and each unit representing a platoon of men, vehicles, or artillery.  The game comes with four playing boards, all of them being tall and narrow.  Each "situation" (i.e., each specific scenario) has the players set up the boards in different ways to provide the terrain being fought over. 

Each counter contains all the information you need to know about it:  Its attack value, defensive value, movement value, firing range, type, name, and unique counter identifier.  Combat is straight-forward enough:  You total up the attack values of all attacking units and compare that to the target's defensive value to get a ratio of 3:1, or 1:2, or whatever.  You then roll a six-sided die and look up the result on the Combat Results Table (CRT).  You can either eliminate the unit from the game, disrupt it, or do nothing to it.  A dispersed unit loses all ability to move or fire for a turn, representing the unit being pinned down and scattered.  Thus combat is pretty simple, and this same combat system has been seen in many games since, including simple little games like Ogre.  Of course, they couldn't just leave things like that.  Instead, fire combat becomes more complicated (and, admittedly, more realistic) through the application of a separate chart that you have to consult to determine any impact from different types of units attacking each other.  For example, an "I" unit (for infantry) firing against an "A" unit (for armored vehicle) only attacks at half strength, as rifle bullets don't really do much against tanks.  This chart also introduces special cases, such as the fact that infantry sitting in a town hex are considered armored for all purposes, so infantry firing on infantry in a town halve their attack value even though firing at infantry.  It can get a bit confusing.

It is also quite hard to eliminate an enemy unit unless it is stupid enough to get stuck out in the open and surrounded.  For example, the first situation involves US paratroopers on D-Day trying to take one of three objectives (which is secretly selected before the German player even sets up his units, so he doesn't know quite where you are attacking).  The US infantry have an attack value of "2" but a defensive value of "6."  The main German infantry units have an attack value of "3" and a defensive value of "8."  Thus it would take four US units attacking a single German infantry unit just to match attack to defense and get a combat ration of 1:1.  And unless you have some special thing going to lower the die roll (lower rolls are better when attacking), at 1:1 odds you can't even kill the target, just disperse it.  Thus, it takes a LOT of firepower (tanks and very large-caliber artillery help quite a bit) to take anything out.

Another special case is the use of indirect artillery.  To have an artillery unit use indirect fire you go through a whole separate thing from direct fire (i.e., I see it, so I shoot it).  With indirect fire, you have to have a unit from the same side that is "spotting" the enemy target (and there are rules about that).  Then the target has to be in range (silly me has messed that up before).  Then you write down the fire order on a piece of paper, and the actual attack happens next turn.  Yes, you read that right.  You plot indirect fire one turn in advance.  So, you get to guess where your opponent will have his units one turn down the road.  Even if you guess right, there is still a good chance that your shots won't be that accurate, as there is only a 1-in-3 chance that you hit the target hex, a 1-in-2 chance that you hit one of the six surrounding hexes, and a 1-in-6 chance that your artillery scatters so badly that you attack nothing.  It's a bit of a bother.

While the game is a decent design, it's not my favorite game of this nature.  This is probably due to the fact that there have been ~37 years since this game was designed, and improvements in game design have occurred since then.  Still, there is good variety to the included "situations," and when I bought my copy the seller also included an expansion set that adds 10 new situations representing the German invasion of France in 1940 and about 150 new counters to play those scenarios.  So while it doesn't see hardly any play these days, it's still a keeper.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


This entry in my journey through my game collection is a game I have conflicted feelings about, Diskwars.  I first encountered this game at the Origins convention in 1999, where I got to play a demo game.  Essentially, the game is a fantasy wargame that takes a lot of cues from miniatures gaming.  However, instead of having hundreds of miniature soldiers that you move around the table, you have a number of disks printed on heavy cardstock.  Each disk represents a different unit or individual.  Each disk has ratings for Attack, Defense, Toughness, and Movement.  Some disks have special abilities, like the ability to take multiple wounds, or the ability to fly, or the ability to fire missile weapons, etc.  Game play is in a "back and forth" style where each side activates and moves three disks, then the other side activates and moves three disks, and so forth until both sides are done.  Then missile fire happens, then melee combat, and then you reset to the next turn.

Overall the rules are quite simple and generally work well.  Movement is handled by "flipping" the disk end over end a number of times equal to its Movement rating.  This can be a little deceptive and take some getting used to, as larger disks (like, for example, an Ent) might have a lower Movement number, but because the disk is twice the size of a unit of skeletons, it moves farther than the skeletons.  To make an attack, you move one of your disks until it overlaps the disk you want to attack.  During the Melee phase, you compare the Attack rating of the attacking disk to the Toughness of the defending disk, and if the Attack is equal or greater to the target's Toughness, then the target takes one wound, which will kill most units.  Simultaneously, you compare the defender's Defense rating to the attacker's Toughness, and if the defender's Defense is equal to or greater than the attacker's Toughness, then the attacker takes a wound.  Thus, it is entirely possible to have a mutual destruction combat where both sides eliminate each other.  You have to pay attention to the ratings of enemy units to ensure that you are entering fights you can win, though sometimes an enemy unit has a special ability so annoying that it is worth sacrificing a unit to get rid of it.

Melee can get a lot more complex that that, though, multiple disks are all piling into the scrum.  In such situations, you start at the "top" of the stack and work down.  Thus, a unit that you were counting on to kill a unit underneath it can itself be killed if enemy units move on top of it.  Because of this, timing of when you activate a unit is very important, and figuring that out seems to me to be a key aspect of the game system.  You can also have one unit attacking multiple defenders at the same time, or multiple attackers all attacking the same defending unit.  So while the basic combat system is simple, it can get complex with multiple layers of attacks.

The other method of combat is missile combat, where units armed with bows, or magicians with fireball or lightning spells, can attack an enemy disk within range.  This is handled by taking the appropriate number of missile counters and putting them on an unused disk.  You then hold that disk 12 inches over the target disk, and you then drop the missile counters.  Wherever they land, that is what unit gets hit.  In my experience, this can get kind of crazy, with you killing off your own units accidentally, or hitting enemy units that you weren't even targeting, as the missile counters can bounce and roll once you drop them.  I have never liked this aspect of the rules, as it just seems both too random and too dependent on manual dexterity in a game that otherwise features neither of those things.

In fact, the main thing that annoys me about this game is that there are no dice to roll.  While this makes the game simpler than other wargames, everytime I play it I feel like adding in some dice rolls would really spice things up.  Or, at least, I want to roll dice for missile fire rather than dropping counters from the sky.  So, while there are things about this game that I like, there are some that I don't, as well.  It seems like every year I think about trading or selling all of my disks, but I never seem to actually do it, because the game is just good enough to keep around, even though I never really play it anymore.

Diskwars was first published in army sets that cost $10 per set.  There were eight different armies in the game, and I ended up buying at least one starter set of each army.  Each set came with eight heavy card sheets that contained unit disks.  These sheets were semi-randomized, such that you always got a few of the same basic units and the rest were random, including units from other armies all together.  Thus, the game had a collectible aspect to it like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon.  Later the publisher came out with "Legions" starter sets which provided you two pre-built armies to get started with.  There were also a number of different expansions that provided randomized sheets of disks to expand your armies with new units.  The game has been out of print for years, but you can still find people selling their old disks on eBay or other auction sites.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Google Chrome

For whatever reason, the version of Internet Explorer that comes standard with my work computer is a giant pile of poo.  I will open up, say, MSNBC and the browser will completely choke on all of the embedded video and the sharing buttons and only God knows what else from the site code.  After many different crashes and forced closings of the browser window, I got fed up and downloaded Google's Chrome browser.  It has taken a little getting used to, as the way that you handle bookmarking favorite links is different from IE and Firefox (what I use at home), but at least it doesn't choke to death on a web page.  It also has a nice, clean browser window which I guess I should have expected from a Google product.

The Annoyance of New Technology

A little over two months ago I got a new cell phone.  My previous phone (a Blackberry) had been paid for by my previous employer.  Since I was now "on my own" I could get whatever phone I wanted.  After some research and testing out different handsets I landed on a Samsung Continuum.  The phone itself has been fine.  I even can make phone calls with no signal bars showing, though I have no idea how much of that is the Verizon network and how much is the phone's antenna.  One part of the phone was really annoying, though - the Android operating system.

It isn't that I had a problem with Android itself, per se, but I had no real way of learning to use it other than trying stuff and waiting to see if it broke.  Just last week I was convinced that the phone was piece of junk because it had gotten stuck on some processing routine that was sucking battery life at a ridiculously fast rate.  It wouldn't eve make it an entire day without running out of juice.  If I was on the phone all the time that would make some sense, but I was hardly even looking at it and the battery would be half drained after less than five hours.  One day, I got frustrated and just turned it off, not restarting it until the next morning.

That magically seems to have done the trick, as it is now quite stable and can go multiple days without needing a recharge.  So what had I originally done wrong?  I have no idea.  Why did turning it off and back on again fix the problem?  I have no idea.  Is there anything I can do to keep that problem from occurring again?  I have no idea.  I don't like being ignorant like this, and it would be nice if Samsung or Verizon would provide me with an Android user guide, since being able to use it properly seems to be vital to properly using and enjoying the phone.  Alas, such is not to be.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Blues are Losers

Wow, what a giant pile of poo they left on the ice today.  Whatever their talent level on paper, the Blues are playing like the worst team in the league.  Are they under secret orders to get as high a draft pick as possible?  Do the players just laugh all the way to the bank as they cash their checks for playing like garbage?  What do I have to do in order to get Barret Jackman off this team?  Why is he still here?  Is it because nobody else wanted him at the trade deadline?  Does he have secret dirt on someone in management?  I'm beginning to think the hot start to the season was all scripted to get suckers to buy game tickets, and now they're showing their true colors.  The colors of LOSERS!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thoughts on Spielbox

Last weekend I picked up the November, 2010 issue of the magazine Spielbox.  As you may be able to guess from its name, it is a German magazine about games.  As the tagline says, "All about Games in a Box," which means it covers boardgames, cardgames, dexterity games, and pretty much all games that aren't either athletic games (like soccer or hockey) or electronic games (like Final Fantasy or Doom).  They have been publishing an English version of the magazine for about a year, now, and I noticed that the November issue came with a Carcassonne expansion, so I figured this was a good issue to pick up and see what I think about it.

The magazine itself is full-color, and printed in the European standard A4 paper size.  I can't say whether all issues are the same, but this one is 64 pages.  Some of those are advertisements, though I didn't find there to be too many ads in the magazine, and therefore it is mostly content.  Again, I don't know if this is standard or not, but a little over half of the magazine appeared to be review of various games, which I liked.  Because this is simply an edition of the magazine printed in English, and not a separate magazine with the same name targeted at the US market, the reviews mostly cover games available in the German and greater European market.  The ads also appeared to be heavily German-focused, with a few exceptions for US internet retailers.  Outside of the reviews there were two interview-style articles, one with a game designer couple and the other with an artist who does a lot of boardgame art and has started getting involved with game designs.  There also was an article looking at the evolution in design principles used by Martin Wallace in a series of games, a survey of a number of recent Carcassonne expansions, the rules for the mini-Carcassonne expansion that comes with the magazine (very smartly placed in the middle, so the rules are easily removed without overly mangling the rest of the magazine), an article about a German publisher in the '70s and the games they produced, an article about the evolution of word games (Scrabble, Boggle, some German games I'd never heard of before, etc.), an article about design in economic trading games, and a one page writeup of the 2010 Wizard world championships.

In case you missed it earlier, this is a German magazine.  Even though it is in English, you occasionally find "Germanisms" sneaking in.  For example, the designers for one game reviewed are referred to as "Aron West, Ryan Amos, und Marc Kelsey."  It is easy to figure out what they mean, but it is still noticeable.  Even more noticeable is the Carcassonne article where they list out every single expansion ever published for the game, and every name is in German.  Thus, to know what they are mentioning, a little bit of German is needed.  I can work some of it out, like "Der Fluss" is "The River" and "Wirstshäuser und Kathedralen" is "Inns and Cathedrals."  "König & Späher" might be "King and Bandit," but I'm not sure.  You have to be able to deal with stuff like that to get the most out of the magazine.

The downside of the magazine is that it sells for $15, at least at Game Nite, which is where I purchased it.  While I enjoyed the magazine, I can't see myself spending that much money on a regular basis for it (I believe it publishes bi-monthly).  I very well may pick up another issue that comes with an expansion for a game I play, but I generally don't own and play enough 'euro' games to make this a valuable magazine for me.

Sound System Solution

A couple months ago I wrote about my swap of a PS3 for my old DVD player, and how everything about it was great except for the sound.  Well, yesterday while reading the instruction manual for Soul Calibur IV I found a section where it gave me step-by-step instructions for getting my awesome sound back.  I just needed to get a digital optical cable and properly modify the settings to take advantage of it.  The hardest part of the process was moving the entertainment center around so I could access the rear panel of the PS3 and the receiver.  I now have my crisp and loud 5.1 signal back, which I am going to enjoy very much.  Yes, it is probably true that a proper reading of the system manual up front would have identified that solution, but why dwell on the past?  Forward to the future!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Blues Moves

This weekend was quite busy for the St. Louis Blues, as they traded away three players in two different deals.  First Eric Brewer, the team's captain and senior Defenseman, was sent to Tampa Bay for a burger and fries... I mean, for a third round draft pick (the burger) and a prospect I had never heard of before (the fries).  That being said, I can understand this deal.  Barring a major miracle, the Blues won't make the playoffs.  This is going to cost the team money, as management was so convinced the team would make the playoffs that they sold a bunch of season tickets for 50% up front, 50% when the team clinches the playoffs.  Oops!  So trading Brewer for an unsigned prospect and a pick will save ~$1.5 million, which will help off-set the lost ticket revenue.  And Brewer was a free agent at the end of the season, and the Blues probably weren't going to sign him.  And Brewer had a no-trade clause, so any trade had to be with a team that he pre-approved, which limits choices.  All told, a depressing but probably fair trade.

Erik Johnson and Jay McClement getting traded, though, that one came pretty much out of nowhere.  Granted, Erik's name had started to get batted around in trade rumors because it was becoming increasingly obvious that he wasn't progressing as well as you would expect an overall #1 pick to develop.  While he will probably turn into a super stud in Colorado and make team management look like a bunch of morons, getting Chris Stewart in return is actually quite a nice swap.  Stewart is a very energetic power forward who has tons of potential, and the Blues had absolutely no offensive depth before the trade, while they have defensive depth, so I can kind of see it.  Still, this is the kind of trade that in three years will make Doug Armstrong look like either a genius or a flaming moron, depending on how well each player continues to develop.  I don't really know much about Kevin Shottenkirk, the other player the Blues acquired, but he was a 1st round pick a few years back and is an offensive Defenseman, which the Blues don't have a lot of in the system.  The kids over at The Hockey News are panning this one pretty heavily, but it really does look like a value for value trade, at least at this point.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Downside of Netflix

I have been using Netflix for over two years now, and it is pretty great.  Most of the time.  In general, their service is great value and I really enjoy using the website to find new films, as their suggestion system works quite well once you've rated over 100 films.  Recently, though, I've hit a quandary.  See, I've current got the 3rd disc from the 2nd season of Avatar: The Last Airbender sitting at home.  It's been sitting here for over 3 weeks.  I just don't really feel like watching it.  I watched one of the five episodes on the disc about a week ago, and... it just sits here.  At some point I'll feel like watching the rest of it, but how much money will I spend on monthly charges until that happens?  I don't want to send it back, though, because that would feel like failure.  So instead I pay a monthly fee to let this disc sit here and mock me with its presence.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

World at War: Eisenbach Gap

This time through the random game from my collection is World at War: Eisenbach Gap.  This game is a fairly recent wargame design from small publisher Lock 'N Load Publishing.  It is an "alternate history" game purporting a Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany in May 1985.  World at War is actually a series of games, each with expansion packs, but Eisenbach Gap is the first game in the series.  The series is platoon level, with each counter representing either a platoon of infantry or a platoon of Armored Fighting Vehicles (whether tanks, or armored personnel carriers, or some other vehicle, whether thin-skinned or armored).  This game comes with six scenarios, and I recently played through the first two of them to remind myself how the game plays

Each scenario grants each side, either Americans or Soviets, with a set number of forces, from one or more units.  The units are either placed on the board per scenario setup rules, or they are brought in from a board edge on the first turn.  The board itself does not represent any actual location in Germany, but is intended to be a generic representation of West German terrain.  This is important because the same board is used in every scenario, but the variety comes from the fact that you usually are not using the entire game board.  Most scenarios restrict game play to specific sections of the board.  For example, in the play picture below, the rulebook has been placed over the section that is not in use for the scenario, meaning roughly half of the board was not used.  This helps provide some variety in terrain from scenario to scenario, but it also means that once you have played a few of the scenarios the board starts to get quite familiar.  A modular board setup would have been nice, and there is an expansion for the series that provides that, but in this game we've got only the one board.

This is the situation at the end of the first turn in the second scenario.  The Soviets have moved their forces near the hill by the largest town on the map, but they have already taken some losses from American TOW missiles (hence the "wreck" market in the lower right).  The white cards are artillery cards I printed from a file uploaded to the games page at boardgamegeek.

On each turn, initiative is determined through drawing counters from a cup.  At the beginning of each game, you place the activation counters from each unit involved in the scenario, plus the "end turn" markers in a cup.  Then one of the players draws a counter to see which unit activates next.  If a unit's counter is drawn, all of the platoons in that unit get to activate if so desired.  If an "end turn" marker is drawn it is placed to the side until all such markers are drawn from the cup, at which point the turn ends.  This provides randomness to the initiative, such that you never know who is going to go next.  There is even a chance that one side, or even both sides, won't activate at all in a turn, though the odds of nobody activating is low, and the rules don't allow a unit to miss two turns in a row.  I really like this turn mechanic, and it provides a nice differentiating factor between the American and Soviet forces.  The Americans pretty much are always outnumbered, but they have better C3I capabilities so they get two activation counters per unit, while the Soviets only get one.  Thus, it is possible in a turn for the Americans to activate twice.  Thus, while they have fewer units, they can do more with them.  Well, if the right counters are drawn from the cup, that is!

Combat is pretty simple.  Ranged combat has each unit rolling a certain number of dice, trying to roll a certain number or higher.  For example, a Soviet T-65 tank firing an armor piercing round rolls three dice and hits on a four or higher.  Armored targets, and soft targets in cover, roll one or more dice to try to "save" each hit from enemy fire.  Thus, both sides get to roll dice, which is always fun.  If you have ever played any of the Warhammer miniatures games you know exactly how the save mechanic works.  While it is a bit "gamey," it does lead to lots of tense dice rolling, and it is always fun when the enemy scores a bunch of hits on one of your units but you roll really well and make all your saves and don't actually take any damage.  There are three damage states for a unit.  The first hit makes a unit "disrupted," which limits their ability to take offensive actions but can be removed with a successful morale check.  A disrupted unit that takes a hit is "reduced," which means you flip the counter to its other side, which has weaker guns (reflecting that a few vehicles or men in the platoon have been eliminated).  A third hit eliminates a unit from the game.  While disruption effects can be removed, once a unit is reduced it stays that way the rest of the game (unless it is eliminated, of course).

There are a few more aspects to the game, but that is the core of the rules.  The game plays fairly quickly, and I enjoy playing it.  The scenarios in this game usually consist of hordes of Soviets attacking badly outnumbered American forces, but the makeup of the scenarios usually ensures a tightly-fought contest with the victor not being decided until the scenario is near or in its final turn.  Once you learn how to read the counters (which admittedly have a lot of numbers on them) the game moves well and shouldn't take more than two hours to play through.  This is a game I plan on keeping in my collection for a long time to come.

Dragon Age

Right before Christmas I purchased a PS3.  One of the big reasons for doing so was that I really wanted a device that would allow me to stream films from Netflix right to my TV, which the PS3 does.  In addition, the PS3 is also a Blu-Ray player, and that would be useful, as well.  Granted, it is a video game system at heart, so I couldn't get no games for it.  I picked up three games for it within a week of getting the console, but roughly six weeks later I have still only played one of them, Dragon Age: Origins.

I think this might be the best electronic role-playing game I have ever played.  One sign of how much I like it is that I have over 50 hours logged in my first play through (still not done with it yet), and I already want to play it again with a different character to see what changes that results in.  See, the game allows the player a lot of freedom to make different decisions, such as where to go, what to do, who to allow in your group,etc.  Yes, you will always be working on the overall quest that the game revolves around (in that way it is different from the Elder Scrolls series, where you can happily ignore the underlying plot and just do your own thing) but the results of your conversations with various people and decisions you make can have a noticeable impact on how the story evolves.

And, you know, you get to stab monsters, which is pretty fun.  Let's not forget about that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

So Jeff Cooper has shut down AC St. Louis.  Just about everything this guy did in 2010 made MLS look really smart for rejecting his application for a team.  He folded St. Louis Athletica in the middle of the season and now folded AC St. Louis after only one season.  So, basically, the guy that wanted to build that new park in Illinois costing hundreds of millions of dollars can't even collect funding to keep a 2nd-tier pro team running?  The guy that organized the group that almost killed the top USL division can't even keep his own team going.  I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hero: Immortal King: The Lair of the Lich

I picked up the card game Hero: Immortal King: The Lair of the Lich during a sale at my local comic book store for $5, a significant discount from its $22 list price.  The basic concept will be familiar to anyone who has played any version of RPG:  there is a bad guy hiding in an underground dungeon, so you collect your band of heroes and proceed to kill everything in said underground dungeon between them and the bad guy.  There are three games in this series, but in this particular game the big bad guy is a lich, which is an undead magic user.  Not that it really matters, because all of that is just window dressing for what is primarily a resource management game.

There are two ways to play this game, either two-player or solitaire.  During a two player game, one player controls the heroes, while the other controls the bad guy and all of its minions.  During this version, the bad guy player primarily manages his Fear Tokens, little discs of black plastic that are accumulated as the heroes screw up and roll poorly.  These are spent to make bad things happen to the heroes.  I've never played the game with two players, because it sounds like it would be really boring to play the bad guy.  Instead I've played the game a few times solitaire.  It took me a while to get the hang of it, but I can now slam out a game in 15 minutes.

While playing solitaire, you play the heroes.  There are a small number of heroes that you can choose from at the start of the game.  To build your hero team you select a total of five cards, including characters and equipment cards.  All of the characters have a special ability they can activate, and the equipment cards provide certain bonuses to combat rolls or other events during the game.  Building a workable combination of characters and equipment is critical to success, and choosing a bad mix can lose the game before it even starts.

Once you are ready to venture into the enemy's lair, you build the dungeon by sorting the 48 dungeon cards into three different decks of 16 cards, face down (though one of the characters lets you build four decks of 12 cards each).  Each turn you choose which of these three 'paths' you want to venture down, and then you flip over the top card to see what you encountered.  Some encounters are relatively easy, while some are totally impossible to defeat without using special abilities.  According to the rulebook the other games in the series include traps as well as monsters, but this game only comes with monsters.  To fight a monster you roll a six-sided die and compare the number rolled to the monster's Strength.  If you equal or exceed that number, you win and take the card.  Otherwise it smacks your team around and they retreat, causing you to lose one of your Courage tokens.  If you ever run out of Courage tokens, the hero player loses the game.

So, the game consists of trying to find the path of least resistance to reach the lich while being as miserly as possible with your resources of courage tokens, mana tokens (used to activate some character abilities), collected monster cards (used to activate some equipment cards and some character abilities), your equipment, and the number of Fear tokens the bad guy is accumulating.  Proper management of these resources will lead you to victory, while squandering resources (or really bad die rolls) will lead to defeat.

Really, this is a pretty simple game, but one that is mildly entertaining if I'm in the mood to play a short game but don't want to think too much about it.  It was worth the $5 I paid for it, but if I had spent the $22 list price I would have felt cheated.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

All Things Zombie: The Boardgame

It's been quite a while, but it is time for another dip into my game collection.  This time up is All Things Zombie: The Boardgame.  Normally boardgames don't have to announce what they are right in their name, but this game does that because it is based on the miniatures game All Things Zombie.  The boardgame shares many of the rules, but instead of requiring you purchase and paint up a bunch of zombie and human survivor miniatures and then build a miniature town to fight in it provides you cardboard counters and playing maps to use instead.

The basic premise of the game is that a group of human survivors have fled Las Vegas, and are trying to survive in the surrounding areas.  The game comes with six different scenarios, which loosely link together to tell a story of a group of survivors.  Whether they die or not is up to you as the player.  Well, it should be, but sometimes the rules don't work in your favor.  This is a solitaire game, designed to played by one person, but you could play with multiple people as long as you are playing a scenario that provides enough survivors for each player to control one.  I've never played it with multiple people, so I can't speak to how well it plays that way, but I don't think it would all that fun.  See, many of the survivors, and all of the zombies, don't have full freedom of action.  Instead, whenever you want to do something that might be dangerous (or when danger is thrust upon them), they have to take what the game calls a "reaction test" to see what they do.  For example, if a zombie charges into a survivor's hex, the survivor throws two dice, compares the results to their "reputation" score (a number, higher being better, that says how good they are at everything they do), and determines how many successes they got.  Then you look at a chart to see what the reaction is.  In the example given, two successes allows the survivor to fire a weapon before entering melee, one success doesn't allow weapons fire before entering melee, and no successes sends them running off in a random direction while screaming their head off.  Certain survivors, known as "stars," don't usually have to roll and they can just do what they think is best.

One mechanic that is kind of nice is that zombies are attracted to loud noises.  Like the kind caused by firearms.  Thus, you can't just run around the map shooting everything that moves.  Or, I should say, you can, but you might not like the result.  With every shot you take there is a 50% chance that new zombies will show up on the map, attracted by the sound.  In addition, exploring buildings is usually a source of new zombies as well, as the first time a character enters a building on the map they will find from zero to six zombies, determined by drawing a card from the zombie deck.  The benefit of searching buildings is that once a building has been cleared of zombies it can be searched.  To accomplish this, you pull a card from the building deck to search deck.  Many of these show an empty building, but you could find new weapons, or medical kits, or other useful items to help you in killing zombies.

Each of the provided six scenarios has you playing with different survivor characters and having different things you need to accomplish in order to win the scenario.  For example, the first scenario involves two survivors looking for new weapons.  To win, both survivors must keep from getting killed, must each find a weapon while searching buildings (or must search every building to prove there aren't extra weapons to be found), and must safely exit the map board.  Many, many zombies will oppose you.  Other scenarios involve finding more survivors and other kinds of activities.

The problem I have with this game is that it is kind of boring.  The zombies all move automatically at full speed to the closest survivor (which makes logical sense), and while you control the survivors, you don't control their reactions to things.  When I play the game, I seem to be rolling dice all of the time: to fight zombies, to shoot at zombies, to see what characters do when they get charged by zombies, when characters want to charge zombies, to see if more zombies show up in response to weapons fire, it just goes on and on.  It just doesn't really feel like I am playing the game as much as I am a neutral observer sitting in a helicopter watching these automatons running around doing whatever the dice tell them to do.  It doesn't feel like I have a lot of interesting tactical or strategic decisions to weigh.  I haven't owned this game all that long, but it is going in the trade pile, as I don't see myself playing it much, if at all, in the future.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Audio-Visual Arrangements

Right before Christmas I purchased a Playstation 3.  Partly it was to play games, but the primary motivation for this purchase was two-fold:  it provided a Blu-ray disc player, and it came with a Netflix app that allowed me to stream shows and movies from Netflix right to my TV.  I am proud to say that the Netflix app works exactly as advertised and is a joy to use.  It is fast and looks great.  The Blu-ray function also works great, and the player seems to play DVDs just fine with no degredation in visual quality.

I have experienced a degredation in audio quality, however.  Admittedly, this isn't really due to the audio components within the Playstation 3 unit itself, but due to limitations on cable jacks.  My previous setup, which I had used since November 2004, included a DVD player that was connected to the TV through an S-video cable and to my stereo receiver with a digital coaxial audio cable.  Thus, the audio was fed directly to the receiver such that no sound was passed to the TV at all.  My PS3 is connected to the TV using one of those five-prong HD cables whose name I can't be bothered ot look up, and I then have a stereo audio cable running from the TV to the stereo receiver.  Thus, I don't have to use my receiver for sound in games or movies or TV shows watched through the PS3, though I can when I want to.  There is a noticeable difference, though, between the standard stereo cable and the digital coaxial cable.  Enough so that I am wondering if I should setup my DVD player again just so I can watch DVDs with improved sound quality.  If the PS3 had a dedicated audio out port that allowed the use of a digital coax cable that would solve my problem, but alas, it does not.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Epic Win

It should not come as a significant surprise to any of you that I like playing games.  This includes RPGs, those games where you start with a character who is a putz and then have adventures to develop skills and experience.  It also should not come as a surprise to people that doing various chores and house work is not my favorite thing in the world.  Sometimes, you just need some motivation, which the prospect of clean windows do not provide directly.  At times like these, I need a little more.

A couple weeks ago, while listening to an episode of All Games Considered, the hosts of the show mentioned an iPhone app called Epic Win.  This app is essentially a "to do" list, where you can input all of the stuff you need/want to do.  However, it is done up like it was a RPG.  You create a character (I have a little skeleton), and as you complete tasks your character gains experience, going up in levels, finding interesting items on his quest, and so on.  It is a lovely way to motivate me to do things like vacuum the house, because if I put vacuuming on the to do list, then my character gains experience whenever I do it.

Back in the Saddle

After thinking about it for a while and talking with a few folks, I have decided to keep this blog going.  Posting will be less frequent than before, as general "what is Aaron doing" updates will now be on facebook, and those kinds of updates aren't as important since when I start my new job in 9 days I won't be traveling as much, but there will be times that I will want a more "long-form" outlet for my thoughts.  So, look for new posts shortly.  Like, in five minutes.