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.