Monday, December 30, 2013

Update on 2013 resolutions

At the beginning of the year I had three resolutions:
  1. I am resolved to be more intentional with how I spend my time.
  2. I am resolved to play my guitar in 2013.
  3. I am resolved to read 20 books in 2013.
I am proud to say that all three have been met.  While I have not been perfect with my time allotment, I have spent noticeably less time idly browsing through Youtube,,, and other internet time wasters.  If I watch TV, it is almost always to watch a specific show.  I still play too much Football Manager on my computer, but nobody's perfect.

I did get back to playing my guitar this year, and have built up some good callouses and got my skills pretty much back where they were a few years ago.  Now, for 2014, I need to make the next step to actually learning how to play the Blues.  I keep saying I'm going to do it, but it doesn't happen.  Maybe this is the year to force the issue.

As far as books go, I read 27 books in 2013.  Granted, I was unemployed for 3+ months, which provided me extra time to read that I didn't have before, but I still got a lot of books knocked off the "to read" list this year.  Now if I could just keep from adding books to that list, I might actually start making progress...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thoughts on NHL Center Ice

This NHL season I purchased the Center Ice package, which lets me watch most NHL games live.  As with all of these kinds of packages, I don't get live games being shown on a national network (usually the NBC Sports Network), and I am not supposed to get games from my local team, the St. Louis Blues.  I usually watch the games through the Center Ice app on my Playstation 3, and for the most part it works quite well.  Like with the MLB package, a lousy internet feed will result in choppy or grainy video, but for the most part my internet service from U-verse is sufficient to the task.  Video quality actually appears to be getting better as the season goes, but whether that is something that the NHL is improving, or just random luck, I can not tell.

So, some thoughts.
1.  When the season started, I found myself watching a lot of Montreal games, and I have now moved to watching a lot of Detroit games.  What's up with that?
2.  I really like watching Canadian broadcasts.  Part of this is the fun of seeing Canadian commercials.  Sometimes the NHL feeds cut out commercials and intermission discussions, but more often than not I get to see those.  I have no idea how or why the NHL decides whether to show commercials or not, but for whatever reason I like seeing commercials for businesses that have nothing to do with me.
3.  I would deeply like to have Chris Osgood's hair.
4.  I can watch St. Louis Blues games live!!!  I'm not supposed to, but about 20 games into the season the NHL Center Ice app had a really weird error where it basically dumped all its data and I had to re-initialize it on my Playstation 3.  After doing so, though, I am not blacked out from my local team's games, so I'm not complaining.
5.  $150 is kind of a lot to pay just to watch hockey games, but it's worth it.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Combat Commander: Mediterranean

A little over a year ago I wrote about the game Combat Commander: Europe.  Today I am writing about the first major expansion for the game, Combat Commander: Mediterranean.  Where the original game included counters and cards for Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States of America, the Mediterranean expansion includes France, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Italy.  Actually, each of the three new decks and counters actually cover multiple factions.  For example, the Italian deck is used for all "minor" Axis powers (Hungary, etc.), where the French deck is used for minor allied powers, and the British deck is used for all parts of the alliance, including ANZAC and Canadian forces.  The box comes with new maps and a new playbook, as well, including new scenarios featuring the new forces and an expanded random scenario generator to include the new forces.

The basic gameplay is not changed by this expansion, but because the new forces have their own decks of cards, they play differently.  For example, the British deck has a lot of "Marksman" actions and a lot of Reform orders, to reflect the high accuracy with rifles and the "stiff upper lip" reputation that they had.  And God help you if you get stuck with the Italians, as their deck has a lot of "Command Confusion" in it, and you can only discard one card with a discard action.  One!  Italy, I weep for you.

If you like the Combat Commander system, as I do, then this is a great expansion to have.  If you don't like the system, then this expansion will not change your mind.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

I have a conflicted relationship with The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  This game is part of Fantasy Flight's "Living Card Game" series, which are a combination of a standard card game and a collectible card game.  Instead of buying booster packs with a random assortment of cards to expand your game, every few months the publisher puts out a new set of cards, which are fixed.  So you can expand the game as you want, and you know what you are getting when you pick up a new pack.

With that out of the way, let's cover the mechanics for the game, and hopefully explain my issues with it.  The game provides materials for one or two people to play it (though you can combine sets to allow more people to play).  Each player selects from one to three hero characters, and puts together a deck of cards that they will use for their characters.  Cards include additional ally characters, useful items, or special actions that can be taken.  Cards require resource points to play, and each hero character gets one resource point each turn (which can be kept from turn to turn to allow for more powerful cards to be played).  There is also an encounter deck, and each turn you are drawing at least one encounter card per player.  These encounters can include evil creatures to fight, locations to travel through, or various bad things.

One key aspect of each turn is the concept of "questing."  While you might want to keep all of your characters to fight and kill bad guys, you really need characters to go questing during each turn, because of the "threat" mechanic.  This is one of the ways that you can lose the game.  When you choose your starting hero characters, they all have a threat value.  You total that up at the beginning of the game and that is your "threat value" at the start of the game.  Each turn this goes up by one, and certain encounter cards can make it go up even faster.  If a player ever gets to 50 threat, they are out of the game.  Well, encounter cards also have threat values, and unless you are directly engaged with that specific encounter card, its threat will increase your threat value as a player EVERY TURN.  This can get out of control really fast.  They only way to counter this is to send a hero character "questing," as only the negative difference between your hero's questing value and the opposing threat is used to increase your threat value.  In fact, if you have more quest points than there are threat points on the table, you can progress towards either traveling through your current location are completing the specific quest stage you are on.

This is a fairly complicated game.  Not Advanced Squad Leader style complicated, but there it can take a while to wrap your head around how all of the various game mechanics interact with each other.  And this game is HARD.  Super, super hard.  It takes luck with card draws and a lot of skill in building and playing your deck to win.  The boxed game comes with three scenarios, ranging from hard but doable, to one apparently needing Divine intervention to win.  Each of the expansions also comes with at least one new quest, as well, and there are literally dozens of expansions currently available, so this game has a large amount of replayability.

The game is solitaire friendly, and has a really good theme to it, so you would think that I would love this game and play it all the time.  Alas, it leaves me kind of cold.  Why?  I'm not entirely sure, but the stupidly high difficulty of many quests probably plays into it.  As a point of comparison, winning games of Arkham Horror can be really hard, but even when I lose I still really enjoy the way that the game plays and the sense of creeping doom.  In The Lord of the Rings, the doom doesn't creep up on you, it usually starts punching you in the face from turn one.  Solitaire games are supposed to be hard, but they should not be despair inducing.  In addition, while other solitaire games really give you a sense of story/narrative, this game does not.  Instead, you randomly encounter things from the deck, and deal with them.  It doesn't necessarily feel like you are actually traveling through a forest, or hunting a specific enemy, or anything like that, you are just playing cards.  To put it another way, the mechanics get in the way of the theme.

Bottom line, this game doesn't see much play.  Maybe one day this game will "click" for me and it will all make sense, but as it currently sits I only play this sporadically.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Alsace 1945

The next random game from my collection to discuss is Alsace 1945, a relatively small wargame (only one counter sheet, MSRP around $20) from Avalanche Press dealing with the German offensive in Alsace that coincided with the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944 and early 1945.  The game uses standard "hex and counter" mechanics, with counters having combat and movement values on them, and combat involving totaling attack and defense combat strength and then calculating an odds ratio, rolling a die, and looking up the result on a Combat Results Table.  If you have familiarity with this kind of game, the rules are easy to pick up.  This game does have a few interesting mechanics worth mentioning, though.

First, rather than a standard "I go, you go" format, units are organized into commands, and each command has a counter that can be put into an opaque cup (you don't have to put the counter in the cup, if you don't want to activate that command on a specific turn).  You then draw command counters at random to activate a command to move and fight.  The reason for maybe not wanting to activate all of your commands is due to limited supply.  It takes supply points to activate a command Headquarters unit, and especially the German player may run out of them depending on the draw order.  Also, after two commands have activated you start rolling dice to see if you end your activations, so if you put all of your command counters in the cup in a big scenario, you might not get to draw the one that is most important to you.  I kind of like this mechanic, and "chit pull" activation systems are generally friendly to solitaire play.

Second, in three of the five included scenarios, the Allies have to check to see if Eisenhower starts pulling units away to reinforce the Ardennes front.  This is represented by the American player getting few supply points, and perhaps having to retreat from specific objectives.  This is an interesting aspect of the historical situation, where Eisehnower thought about doing this, but DeGaulle talked him out of it.  The mechanic works well enough.

So, this is a pretty standard game with a couple interesting mechanics.  Unfortunately, the game has a fatal flaw; it is boring.  I did not enjoy playing this game, as it just wasn't that interesting to me.  Other games using similar mechanics I have found much more enjoyable than this game.  So, I'm not sure that this will ever see the table again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Castle Ravenloft

My randomizer must have known that Halloween is upon us, as the next random game from my collection to write about is Castle Ravenloft, released in 2010 by Wizards of the Coast, as the first game in their Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System, a series of board games loosely based on the 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons RPG rules.  These games are all cooperative, in that all of the players play as a team against the game.  The basic gist of this game is that the evil vampire, Count Strahd, lives in Castle Ravenloft and does generally bad things in the surrounding countryside.  The players all pick one of five characters that descend into the catacombs beneath Castle Ravenloft to accomplish some goal (determined by the scenario you play).

Each character has a number of abilities, and the player can customize these to some degree.  For example, the Rogue might get two "Daily" powers (i.e., you can use them once per game), but there are three to choose from, so you can pick the ones that you like best, or that you think best mesh with the powers of the characters chosen by the other players.  So even before the game starts, the players should be cooperating with each other to pick the best set of powers.  Or you can just pick something randomly, whatever floats your boat.

Once the characters are ready, you place your character figures on the starting tile and move through the catacombs.  The catacombs are generally randomly placed from the stack of "dungeon tiles" available for the scenario.  when a character is one the edge of an active tile, she can "explore" into the next tile, which means that the player draws the top tile from the stack and places it on the edge his character figure is next to.  Placing a new tile also means that you draw a monster card, and place its figure on the new tile.

Monsters are handled pretty well in this game.  Whoever drew the monster card keeps it in front of them, and on their turn it activates.  The monster card tells you what the monster does, using a brief decision tree format.  For example, if might say "IF a player character is within 1 tile, move next to the closest character and making a SWING attack."  The "SWING" attack would then be described at the bottom of the card.  Thus, no player needs to play as the monsters, as the monster cards instruct each player how to activate them on their turn.

You also will often draw an Encounter card each turn, which usually means some random bad thing will happen.  These can be quite random and nonsensical, but it increases the danger and provides a mechanical reason to not sit back and patiently kill each monster before exploring new tiles.  While new monsters are usually only place when a new tile is placed, you are usually drawing an encounter card each turn (and sometimes encounter cards place new monsters), so even if monsters aren't actively killing you the dungeon itself is trying to do so, so don't waste time.

The mechanic that I like best about this game is the way that healing surges (which let you keep a character from dying) and experience points (gained by killing monsters) are held in a common pool that all players use.  The game is lost by the players if ANY character is at zero hit points and there are no healing surges left, so the players really need to help each other out and kill monsters ASAP to keep people from getting whacked.  If any character is at zero hit points at the start of their turn, they have to use a healing surge to get some hit points back.  If there aren't any healing surges left, everybody loses immediately.  And with experience, you can spend them to "level up" your character using a wonky mechanic that I don't like, or you can spend them to negate an encounter card that you just drew.  You never have enough experience to negate everything, though, so there is good interplay between the players as to whether or not a specific encounter should be negated through the expenditure of experience points, or if they should let it happen.

The game comes with thirteen scenarios, and more are available online.  Add this to the variety of character types and available power cards, and this game has a lot of re-playability.  I really enjoyed my games of Castle Ravenloft so far, and I'm sure it will see more time on the table.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A.D. 30

Published in 2012 by Victory Point Games, A.D. 30 is one of the most unique games that I own.  It is a solitaire game of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, starting from his baptism by St. John the Baptist and ending at his triumphal entry to Jerusalem three years later.  The player nominally takes the role of Jesus Christ, though I can't say that I ever felt like Jesus when I played it.  The player is responsible for gathering as many of the apostles as you can, and making sure that the authorities are ready to kill Jesus when he reaches Jerusalem, but not before.

Every turn, the player draws a card from the deck.  This tells you whether any of the authorities move down their track, how many actions you get, and possibly some other pieces of information.  You can spend actions to move Jesus on the track, recruit apostles or give them assignments, pray, teach, or push the authorities back up the track.  The whole game is built around the player making sure that things are arranged as close to the Biblical record as possible when Jesus reaches Jerusalem.  You don't have to have all 12 disciples in your entourage, or have the authorities right on the line, but you have to be close to that to get a full victory.

There are many ways to lose the game.  Jesus could lose all of his Piety (basically his spiritual strength, which can leach away in various ways and is renewed by praying), the authorities can move to kill Jesus before he is ready (an authority moves all the way down the track to the end), or you can reach Jerusalem but you don't have enough disciples, or Barabbas isn't sitting around to be freed, etc.  The basic gist of the game is that you are mustering resources (apostles and Piety), while trying to keep the authorities from reaching the end of their track.  I think this game could have been made with a different theme, but the same mechanics, and that kind of ruins the game for me.  It is resource management, and doesn't have much really to do with Jesus Christ and his earthly ministry.  It isn't a bad game, but it isn't as interesting as I wanted it to be.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Battle of the Alma

The next game in my collection that I am writing about is an old one, but one that only recently made its way into my collection:  The Battle of the Alma.  First published in 1978, this game covers the first major battle of the Crimean War, with British and French forces (aided by a couple Ottoman units) facing off against the Russians.  While the British and French generally have better units, the Russians have command of the heights.  The allied attackers have 10 turns to get units to the bottom center of the board.  If they do, then the allied player wins.  Otherwise, the Russian player wins.

This game is very straight forward, and anybody with board wargaming experience should be able to learn the game quickly.  Each counter provides the fire combat ability, melee combat ability, and movement ability of each unit, as well as the morale rating and the division that unit is a part of (for the allies).  Most units have fixed starting locations on the map, so setup is pretty quick.

Combat is also pretty quick.  Fire combat makes use of the attacker's fire factor, and the defender's melee factor, along with the roll of one six-sided die, to determine the results of the fire.  Multiple units can fire on the same target, but a target can only be fired on once per turn (i.e., you can't have unit A fire, check results, then have unit B fire; units A and B have to combine their fire into one attack roll). You might eliminate a target this way, but more often than not the combat result is a number, which you then compare to the target's morale rating.  If the fire result number exceeds the target's morale then it routs, and starts running away.  Melee combat is a little different, and more like standard wargames of the era, with the use of a basic Combat Results Table (CRT) allowing for the attacker or defender to be eliminated, routed, or retreated based on the result of the die roll.

Game play is straight forward.  The allied forces attack the Russian formations to try to break through.  The allies have some options for attack zones here, but both sides are spread out across most of the board length, so it is generally charging at the enemy positions.  The allies can try to take advantage of roads and bridges to try to quickly charge some Russian units, but that runs the risk of ruining the allied divisional formations, and allows the Russians to try to pick off units one or two at a time at the "tip of the spear."  However, the allies only have 10 turns, so you can't just sit back and trade artillery fire to try to soften up your intended attack points.

The game itself is pretty simple, with the rules covering a total of 8 pages, some of which are just explaining game turns.  This game was part of the "Series 120" game line, with the intent of providing a game playable in two hours or less.  I think this game meets that goal, but I have to admit that it leaves me kind of cold.  The fixed setup means that the game lacks replay value, and I just don't find the tactical situation to be that interesting.  I have this game in my collection because it is the only Crimean War game I own, but I don't think I'm ever going to play this again.  There are other games I have that I find more enjoyable and interesting to play than this one.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chart Wars

The next random game from my collection I am writing about is Chart Wars, a completely non-serious wargame.  The green nation and the blue nation are at war, and many dice will be rolled before the dust settles.  This game is called Chart Wars because there are about two dozen random charts that are constantly referenced throughout the game.  At the start of each turn, roll for diplomacy to see who can attack who with what weapons.  Then you roll to see if you get any new units, or perhaps lose units.  Then you move units, which is pretty normal.  Then you roll for combat, with the strangest Combat Results Table ever.  For example, you could have your attacking units decide to become pacifists and leave the war.  Very odd.  You can also fire Scud missiles (the game was published in 1992), which usually hit a random hex on the board, if they even fire at all.

I do not particularly like the game.  While I have no problems with random tables in my game, they should at least make sense.  These tables make no sense.  For example, one of the last phases of the game is to roll on a table to see what impact your army commander had that turn.  ALL of the results have the commander having no effect, as a joke.  It is minorly funny, but that humor wears off really quick.  Player ability has nothing to do with anything in this game, just random dice rolling.  Probably not something I will ever play again, unless I am in a very strange mood.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Zombie Corps(e)

The next random game from my collection I will write about isn't a stand-alone game, but rather the first expansion to the Zombies!!! game, which I wrote about over five years.  Zombie Corps(e) is actually a really great expansion to the original game, and once I acquired it I hardly ever have played the game without using it.

Where the base game takes place in a nameless town, this expansion adds a military base on the edge of town.  The way that this works is that the military base has its own separate stack of board tiles to represent the military base.  Each turn, a player can decide whether to place a town tile, or a base tile.  Zombies are placed like normal, with the exception of the super, military engineered zombies, which appear on a specific tile.  These zombies are only defeated in combat on a five or six on a die roll, and they even glow in the dark.  Awesome.  This expansion also adds new play cards to the deck, including the wonderful bazooka, which lets you actually blow up an entire board tile, removing it from the game.  Good fun.  The military base also has its own helipad, and either that one or the one in town can be used to win the game through a helicopter victory.  This expansion really adds to the rather minimal strategy from the original game, and that is why I rate this expansion higher than the original game.

The only downside I have to reviewing this expansion is the fact that my affection for the original game has waned over time, and I think I have played it only three times over the last five years, as opposed to the first five years that I owned it, when it probably got played a good two dozen times or so.  Still, if you like the base game, this expansion is a no-brainer.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


The next random game from my collection that I am writing about is Manoeuvre.  This game, published by GMT in 2008, is an "abstract" game of maneuver and combat in the Napoleonic era.  The game takes place on an 8 x 8 grid of squares, created by combining four of the 24 4 x 4 square tiles that come with the game.  Each tile will have a variety of terrain on it.  The fact that each battles only uses four of 24 tiles, and they can be rotated as desired while setting up the map, means that you will likely never see exactly the same terrain twice.  There is also good variety in the armies, as the game comes with eight different armies (French, British, Prussian, Turkish, Spanish, Austrian, Russian, and American), only two of which get used in each game.  Each army has eight units that are unique to them (using historical unit names), and a custom deck of 60 cards, which is also unique to the army.

Play proceeds in turns, with most events being dictated by play of the cards.  Each turn a player can discard whatever cards they want from their hand, then draw up to 5.  They then HAVE to move a unit.  Even if you don't want to move a unit, you have to, which admittedly strikes me as a bit odd, but I guess the name of the game is "manoeuvre" for a reason.  You can then attack if you want to and you have the right card(s) in your hand, and lastly you can try to restore any damaged units and establish defensive redoubts if you have an appropriate card.  That is the game.  You move units, attack with units, and try to control the battlefield.  There are two ways to win.  First, if you eliminate five of your opponent's eight units, you automatically win.  If that doesn't happen, at the end of the turn after the second player as gone through their deck, the game automatically ends and victory is determined by who controls more squares on their opponent's half of the board.  There are tie breakers listed in case squares controlled results in a tie (I've seen it happen), so you should be able to establish an ultimate winner.

Overall the game isn't bad.  It has some nice chrome to it, and I like the variety in the game and the fact that it plays fairly quickly and isn't very complicated, but still has some good strategic depth.  However, it just doesn't "grab" me.  I think it is probably just too abstract for me.  While historical armies and unit names are used, none of the games mimic historic battles, and in fact you can have ahistoric games, such as Spain fighting against Turkey or Austria fighting the United States of America.  So, this one is very much a "game," and not a "historical simulation."  And that, in the end, keeps me from coming back to this title.  This game will likely get traded away for something else at the first opportunity.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #1: Greece & Eastern Kingdoms

Over five years ago I wrote about the game Commands and Colors: Ancients.  The next game on my random walk through my collection is the first expansion pack, Greece and Eastern Kingdoms.  This game doesn't come with any new rules (just some clarifications on the original rulebook), or any new terrain tiles, or command cards.  What it does come with is two new armies (Greeks and "Eastern" forces, which usually means 'Persians')., and 21 new scenarios.  The new scenarios are the real meat of this expansion pack, as the base game only had 10 scenarios.  Thus, buying just this one expansion pack more than triples the published scenarios for your game.  As you can probably guess from the title, the battles in this set involve either Greeks or "Eastern" forces, and usually both.  Some of the scenarios do make use of blocks from the base game, but you can really use whatever block sets you want, as long as you have enough blocks of each unit type.  Everything that I wrote about the base game still applies to this expansion, you just have a lot more scenarios to try with this expansion pack.  If you like the game, it is really worth it to get the expansion for the extra scenarios.

Critical IF

As you may or may not be aware, I used to curate a website dealing with gamebooks, those books that were all the rage for a few years in the 1980s, where the reader helped direct the flow of the story by making choices for the protagonist.  Things were dark on that front for a 16 years or so but recently more and more of those books are making comebacks, often in digital editions (iPad apps, eBook files, etc.).  Some of the old guard of gamebooks are also getting back into the swing of things, re-releasing a number of their old titles for a new age.  Dave Morris, of Golden Dragon and Virtual Reality fame, has started a venture called Critical IF that is reprinting many of these old books.  He was nice enough to send me a PDF version of the book Heart of Ice, so don't be surprised if I write a review of it in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mr. Madison's War

Long time no write.  That is primarily due to how long it took me to actually play the next random game from my collection, Mr. Madison's War.  This is a Card Drive Game (CDG) published in 2012 by GMT Games, which purports to cover the War of 1812.  Back in 2012 I had the opportunity to play a couple games of Amateurs to Arms, a different CDG of the War of 1812, and it was very interesting to me to see the differences in the games.  I will be comparing the two a bit at the end of this writeup.

If you have experience with gaming other wars, the War of 1812 is quite strange.  There are a few reasons for this, but for game purposes there are two primary reasons.  First, the entire front of the war in Canada IS the British supply lines.  If the US forces capture any Canadian territory, usually everything further West has their supply cut off.  Second, the US declares war before it is even ready to fight, which is quite bizarre (and funny/sad to read about how it happened in real life).  The strangeness of the start of the war is handled nicely through the way that the deck of cards is set up.  First, each year of the war has its own deck of cards, to keep historical events happening at least within a few months of when they actually did.  For the year 1812, the Declaration of War card is randomly shuffled into the top part of the deck, so that it will show up during the first turn, but nobody knows when.  Individual cards are dealt to the players in turn order, and they can either use them to move forces around (but not attack) or hold them, until war is declared.  At that point the rest of the cards for the turn are dealt and play proceeds as normal.

There is no dallying in this game, as there are a total of nine game turns, three of which are "winter" turns where almost nothing happens (players can hold a maximum of two "winter event" cards at the end of the autumn turn every year).  Thus, you only really have six turns to move forces and engage in combat to take enemy terrain and score victory points.  Unfortunately, since this is a CDG, you are limited in how many forces you can use each turn.  Thus, the players have to have specific strategies and use their cards properly to execute their strategies successfully.  The fact that there are only nine turns, and three of those are brief, means that this game can be played relatively quickly.  The designer says that it can be played within four hours, and if both players are experienced with the rules I believe it.

The games does have a good historical feel.  All units, whether land units or naval ships, are all named based on the historical Order of Battle.  Real historical events, like the British burning of the District of Columbia, are handled through Event cards, many of which directly score victory points.  This provides some historical flavor, while not bogging down game play too much.

So how does this game compare to Amateurs to Arms (ATA)?  Mr. Madison's War (MMW) is focused strictly on the Canadian front, while  in ATA there is also the Eastern sea board and British attacks thereupon, as well as battles against Indian forces in the Southern US as well as west and south of Detroit.  Basically, ATA tries to cover the entire geographic scope of the war, where MMW focuses on Canada and the bordering US areas.  ATA is also a more involved game, with more turns and more going on.  This makes it a deeper strategic game, but also one that takes longer (I've played ATA for over 8 hours at a sitting and not finished it).  On the whole, I think I prefer MMW from the sole standpoint of it being a simpler game that is shorter to play.  I like ATA, and will happily play someone else's copy if I have the time, but I don't think I need it as long as I have MMW, which nicely fills the "War of 1812" slot in my collection.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Mid-year update on new year's resolutions

At the beginning of the year I wanted to read 20 books in the coming year, get back to playing my guitar, and be more intentional with how I spend my free time to help meet the above goals.  So how am I doing?

1.  I am happy to say that I have finished 11 books so far this year, putting me basically right on pace to complete 20 by the end of the year.
2.  I have been playing my guitar more, and have got most of my skill back.  As of this writing it has been over a week since I played, but I had an emergency operation seven days ago, so I'm totally giving myself an out with that.
3.  Not so great on the use of free time.  Some days I am pretty good with getting done what should get done, and other days I play Football Manager on my computer most of the day and get hardly anything else done.  That game is so addicting it is ridiculous.

Hot Spot

The next random game from my collection is another MicroGame from Metagaming, Hot Spot.  This game is a sci-fi wargame with the unique feature that the game map represents molten lava, and the only way to safely move your soldiers, tanks, and hovercraft around is to keep them on "crustals" (for the defender) or "attack platforms" (for the attacker).  These can safely move around the map, kind of.  At the beginning of the game the defender gets 18 hexes worth of crustals (they come in different sizes, and you can pick what you want), along with some infantry and hovercraft to put on them, along with the central crustal on the map that never moves.  The attackers get infantry, tanks, and engineers, and five attack platforms to put them on.

The crustals have restricted movement rules, and they and the attack platforms are not invincible.  In fact, if crustals and/or attack platforms move next to each other they have a 1-in-6 chance of taking damage.  If a crustal or attack platform takes too much damage, it breaks up and sinks into the lava, along with all units on it.  However, to attack the enemy you have to move next to whatever they are on, so there is lot of banging going on.  Another interesting feature is the fact that all crustals are under the defender's control until an attacking engineer unit takes control.  This means that even if the attackers destroy all defending units on a crustal, the crustal could totally be moving all over the place and they have no control over it until their engineer takes it over, which is a 1-in-3 chance per engineer.

The combat system is mostly standard, with the usual Combat Results Table used in games during the '70s and '80s, however it is impossible for the attacker to ever take damage, even when outnumbered.  So, you should always attack, no matter what, because you always have a minor chance of doing damage to the other side's infantry.

This game is more enjoyable than some of the Metagaming games I have played over the years, but it really has to rely on its one unique rules feature for its enjoyment.  Once players have played the game a few times, they will likely run out of interest in this little title.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Product Announcement

June 27, 2013
St. Louis, MO, USA

Subject: Product announcement - new version of Aaron W. Thorne product now available

Today, Thorne Industries is happy to announce the release of version 39 of our popular product, Aaron W. Thorne.  First released in 1974, the early model had a lot of promise and potential, but also some bugs and glitches that have been resolved over the years through various updates, patches, and behavioral modifications.  With the release of version 39, Thorne Industries is proud to declare that the product is now technically complete from an engineering standpoint, and we do not anticipate the need for further new versions in the future.  The world never stops moving, of course, and neither do we, so we do plan to  develop and release periodic bug fixes for the product, most likely on an annual basis for ease of scheduling.  Thus, in roughly a year's time we anticipate the release of version 39.0.1 of Aaron W. Thorne.  We at Thorne Industries trust that our valued customers will join us in celebration of this new version release and we look forward, as always, to working with you to solve the problems of tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Battle for Moscow

The next random game from my collection is Battle for Moscow.  This game has had a couple editions, being first published in 1986 by GDW and republished in 2009 by Victory Point Games.  In fact, the version that I have is an alternate printing of the 2009 version that was a free insert in issue 25 of C3I magazine in 2011.  The game is a pretty traditional "hex and counter" game, where the counters indicate the combat and movement capability of the unit, as well as its type (armor vs. infantry).  Combat is handled in the time honored fashion of totaling combat power of the attackers, comparing it to combat power of the defending unit, turning that into a numerical ratio, rolling a six-sided die, and then cross referencing the number rolled to the ratio on the Combat Results Table to determine what the outcome is.  I have literally dozens of games that use mechanics like this, so this game took almost no time for me to learn, nor will it take hardly any time at all for anyone with wargaming experience.

The game itself is more interesting than I thought it would be.  It depicts the German drive on Moscow in late 1941.  The German player must sieze Moscow to win.  Of course, it starts on the opposite side of the board at the beginning of the game, so the Germans have to get across the board and sieze it within seven turns, which is how long the game plays.  The Germans start with their army at full strength, while the Russian forces are all at reduced strength.  However, the Russians build up their forces rapidly, so the Germans need to do as much damage as fast as possible, and cover ground quickly.  Turns 3 and 4 are "mud" turns, signifying the bad weather that occurred in real history, and German capability is greatly reduced during those turns, making things quite tight.

My favorite thing about this game is that the two sides play very differently.  The German side has better units, and they all start at full strength.  German panzers can also move twice in one turn, which is very nice, though not easy to take full advantage of.  The Russian side starts with lousy units, but you can lose a whole bunch of units and you still win as long as you eventually strengthen your lines and keep the Germans from taking Moscow.  This is greatly aided by the fact that the Russians can move by rail, which is the only way to move quickly during the "mud" turns.    You don't have to destroy the Germans, you just have to slow them down.

Because of the small size of the game (roughly 40 counters in total, and the map fits on an 11 x 17 sheet of paper), and the fact that it has only four pages of rules, this is a nice game to quickly teach to others.  It also plays pretty fast.  Because of this, even though it isn't a really innovative game these days, it still has a place in my collection.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Warhammer Quest on iPad

Warhammer Quest is one of my favorite board games of all time.  It is set in the world of the Warhammer talbetop miniatures game, and is essentially a combination of board game and roleplaying game, though leaning more towards the board game end of the spectrum.  Up to four players take on the role of a character, and go into a subterranean tunnel complex to complete quests and kill monsters.  The game is quite random, with many things being determined through the drawing of cards, and some things being handled through dice rolls.  The game can be frustrating when the random fates decide it is not your day, but I have always really enjoyed it.

Recently an iPad version of the game was released.  I have been playing it quite a bit over the last couple weeks, and for the most part I like it.  It matches pretty closely to the original game, but there are some fairly obvious differences.  Primarily, the iPad game is too easy.  I am not sure why this is, but when you play the boardgame your characters die.  All the time.  In the iPad game you have to be pretty stupid to have a character die.  In the board game, you could either make melee or missile attacks, but not both.  In the iPad game, you can wade in the middle of five orcs, stab two of them, and then fire arrows across the board at other orcs.  It makes the characters really overpowered.  Also, the original game has all sorts of horrible random peril happen to you while you wander the countryside between adventures.  In the iPad game hardly anything ever happens to you.  It is just too kind.  Yet more evidence that America is becoming a country of wusses, I guess.

So, I like the iPad game, but it isn't mean enough.  Games should be challenging, at least, and this one is just a walk in the park.  I do like the themed quests, though.  Those are a nice touch.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Zombie in my Pocket

Zombie in my Pocket is actually two different games.  First, there was this game, a free "print-n-play" title distributed over the internet.  This version of the game was a solitaire game, where one player plays against the system.  It was called 'Zombie in my Pocket' because the idea was that the components would be small and you could literally place all of the game components in your pocket, a small tin, etc.  I have never played that game.  The game that I have is this one, published by Cambridge Games Factory.  It is supposed to be basically the same thing, but the rules have been modified to allow up to 8 people to play the game at the same time.  That is interesting, because while everyone is on the same team, playing against the board, it is entirely possible for some of the players to lose, while others win.

The setup is that all of the players are stuck at a house somewhere, and the zombies are coming.  it is 9PM, and if it gets to midnight without them having found the evil idol and purged it with the right ritual then the world is overcome with evil zombies and everyone loses.  On each player's turn, they become the "leader" of the pack, and moves around the house.  Everyone is always in the same place, but the decision on where to go next rotates around the board.  On your turn you can either stay where you are and gain health (but you burn a card from the deck), you move to an adjacent tile and then draw an event card (which usually, but not always, means zombies show up), or you can do the special action of the room you are in (if there is one to perform).

The game board is made up of a series of tiles.  At the beginning there is just one tile, and you have to explore to find other tiles.  This is important because you have to find the evil idol, get outside, and then find the graveyard to win the game.  When you do explore, you turn over an event card.  This is important because the event deck (which isn't very big) is the game timer.  Once you go through it three times you lose.  Moving around the board uses cards, but so does staying where you are, so it is a race and every turn the player in charge has to decide what is best to do.

Fighting zombies is actually pretty clever.  Everyone has two decisions card that say FIGHT or FLEE.  When zombies show up, each player decides on their own whether to fight or flee.  If everyone in the group decides to flee, then everyone loses a health point and you have to vacate the room.  If anyone fights, all of the players who fled gain a health point.  Those who fight total up their combat scores against the number of zombies (which increases the more players you have), and if the players equal or beat the zombie total they win, otherwise the difference has to be taken as health point loss by the fighters.  It is even possible that all of the fighters die, but as long as somebody fled the game continues.  This is how you can end up with some losers in the game, even though everyone is supposedly on the same team.

And that is the real meat of the game, the decisions.  Do we move to a new tile, or stay where we are?  Do we fight, or do we flee?  Maybe one person is really injured and they can flee while the others fight, but don't trust your friends too much, or you might find you are facing a horde of zombies by yourself while your friends laugh at you.  Trust me, this is the voice of bitter experience, your friends will stab you in the back just to laugh at you in this game.  Or, at least, my friends will.

So why do I have this game in my collection?  I picked it up last year on a lark when I saw it in my local game store.  I don't care for a lot of the art, and I don't find it to be that good of a solitaire game, but it can be fun with the right crowd, and I don't have many games that play fast and work with up to eight players, so it has its uses.

Monday, June 10, 2013


Rivets is the next random game from my collection.  It is an old game, from 1977, that purports to show warfare between two "armies" of robot war machines.  See, the people have all died in all the wars over the last few decades, but nobody bothered to tell the machines, who just keep slugging it out forever, I guess.

The game rules are actually pretty similar to the game Ogre, with each combat unit being rated for combat strength and movement.  The differentiating factor in Rivets is that most of the combat units are stupid.  In fact, for most of them, you have to program them at the beginning of the scenario to only attack one type of enemy unit.  Then, during the game, they can only attack that type of enemy unit.  If they kill all of those types of units, and you want them to attack something else, you have to bring them all back to your 'factory base' and reprogram them to attack another type of unit.  Does that sound annoying to you?  That would be because it IS annoying.  I think it is supposed to be funny that you have these units rolling around the play map trying to get to the units they are supposed to attack, but it just feels stupid to me.  Not a game I plan to ever play again.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Ogre Scenario Book

Back in 2009 I wrote about one of my favorite boardgames, Ogre.  The next selection from my game collection is an expansion for that game, the Ogre Scenario Book.  (I know it says "book 1" on the cover, but there was never a book 2.)  This book was published back in 2001 and provides seven new scenarios for Ogre and its companion game, G.E.V.  The scenarios are pretty good, and provide a range of situations, from reversing the standard Ogre scenario (such that the command post "defenders" are ambushing the Ogre), having two groups of units on each side of a pass with a rogue Ogre in the middle that doesn't want to let either group through to attack the other.  If you like to play Ogre, then this is a nice book to have.  It cost me $6, so it didn't set me back much when I got it, and it adds some good variety to the Ogre game, so it is worth having.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The next random game from my collection is a relatively new one, Infidel.  This is the second game in the "Men of Iron" series, though as opposed to the first game in the series, this one focuses on cavalry tactics instead of infantry tactics.  And, as you can probably guess from the name, all of the six scenarios are taken from historical battles in Anatolia and the Middle East during the Crusader era.  I already wrote about how the system works when I discussed volume 1, so here I will discuss the differences.

As I mentioned above, these scenarios focus on cavalry tactics.  Interestingly enough, the two armies (Crusader and 'Moslem') have very different tactics.  The Crusader armies emphasize heavily armored knights and heavy cavalry, while the Moslem armies emphasize light and quick mounted archers.  Thus, while the Cruasders try to close to charging distance and then crush their opponents through superior shock power, the Moslem forces usually don't close to melee range and instead dart in for missile fire and then dart out again.  So, playing one side is very different from playing the other. 

The scenarios provided with the game have a lot of variety, from relatively straight battles upon open ground to odd tactical situations.  One of my favorites is Montgisard, where the Crusaders are outnumbered by more than five to one, but they catch their foes off guard, so at the beginning of the scenario all of the Moslem forces are disorganized, and have to try to get organized and fight back while heavily armored knights are plowing through their formation, doing as much damage as they can in as short of a time as they can.

This game, due to its focus on cavalry, has a much different feel than the original Men of Iron game.  However, the system is still fairly simple but with fun tactical complexity, so this one is a keeper.  I think this is also the only game I have that features battles of the Crusades, so another reason to have it in my collection.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Thoughts on

This is my first year with a package.  10 games into the season, I wanted to record some initial thoughts on it.  Bottom line, it is a fantastic value if you like baseball.  The ability to watch almost any game that I want is great, and I especially like the ability to jump from game to game depending on what is going on.  MLB has gotten the little things right, as well.  You can usually choose a home or away television feed, as well as being able to choose between a TV and radio audio feed.

It is not perfect, of course.  I live in St. Louis, so I don't get to watch any live Cardinals games through, as certain live games are blacked out based on whether a local cable channel has paid for television rights for your local team.  I can watch all Cardinals games in replay, as well as having access to highlight clips when uploaded by MLB, so it isn't a total blackout.  Honestly, I can't find anything unreasonable about this.  Local cable sports networks pay a LOT of money for the rights to broadcast games for certain teams in certain regions, so it would be stupid in the long-term to undercut that revenue stream.

The thing that IS annoying is the fact that when they say that they blackout games due to your "location," that is actually a lie.  If a game has been picked up by FOX for broadcast anywhere, it is blacked out for the entire world.  Case in point, as I am typing this, the Washington Nationals are playing against the Atlanta Braves, a game I want to see, and that game is NOT being shown on FOX in St. Louis.  However, it is being shown on FOX in other parts of the country, so it is blacked out for me, even though I don't have the option of watching it on my local FOX affiliate.  I really want to watch that game, too, but the brilliant minds at FOX have decided that I get to watch the stupid, loser-face Cubs, instead.

So, that is an annoyance, but in total this is looking like it will be a bargain, even if there are a few games that I have to watch on replay after the game is over.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Resolution Progress

I had two resolutions this year:  to read 20 books, and to do a better job of being intentional with my time.  Now that the year is 1/4 done, I wanted to check and see how I was doing.

On the time front, I am not as diligent as I should be.  I still waste time, but it isn't as bad as it had gotten late last year.  Perhaps last year was just very stressful (which it was) and my brain's way of dealing with it was to veg out on random internet stuff.  Whatever the reason, I am improved this year.  Still have improvements to make, but I am more on top of things than not, so that's positive.  To sum up, progress made, but more work remains.

On the reading front, I need to keep a pace of five books per quarter to get to 20 for the year.  As of the end of March I had finished six books in 2013.  Granted, one of those was mostly read in 2012, but even if you don't count that book I read five start to finish in the year, so I am keeping pace.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Empires in America

The next random game from my collection is Empires in America, part of the States of Siege series of solitaire games by Victory Point Games.  Back in 2010 I wrote about another game in the series, Zulus on the Ramparts, also by designer Joseph Miranda, as fate would have it.  Empires in America deals with the French and Indian War, and puts the player in charge of the French forces.    Like all "States of Siege" games, the player is defending a central location (Montreal, in this case) while the opposing forces (British) are moving in along different tracks.  There are some differences, though, as is the case for all games in the series.  Where "Zulus" had the player randomly drawing counters from a cup to determine which attacking force gets closer, "Empires" has each army with a leader advance every turn.  This can turn ugly in a hurry.  To counter this, the player can use his French leaders to attack British armies and, if successful, force them back.  Of course, the player can't have it all his way, so you are limited in what you can do each turn by only have a few action points.  Want to launch an attack?  That takes an action point.  Want to play a card from your hand?  That takes an action point?  Want to build a fort (which helps slow down British armies)?  That takes TWO action points.  And on, and on.  You usually don't have enough actions.

The pace of the game is determined by drawing "historique cards."  Three per turn until the Seven Years War kicks off in Europe, and then four cards per turn.  The expansion set (which I have!) adds more cards, so if using that you draw four / six cards, instead.  Cards can provide new leaders to the French and British, militia or indian allies to either side, or world events, which change events some how.  There is serious randomness to the cards, and I have lost games because I drew a bunch of British leaders and not enough French leaders (the games rules mitigate this somewhat by not allowing any side to have two or more leaders than the other side, but some of those British leaders are nasty).  Thus, I have had British just march up the map and lose the game in five turns flat.  Granted, I've also had a game where I just stomped the British into dust every time they poked their heads out of their home bases, so that's how it goes in a card-driven game.

Even with the inherent randomness of the cards, I really like this game.  It captures the hard time that the French had in the war once the British really committed, and I like that feeling of needing to do five different things, but only being able to do two or three.  Solitaire games live and die by the decisions the player has to make, and this game provides good tension and decision making.  Also, how many games of the French and Indian War are out there?  Not many.  This game has earned its place in my collection.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Star Explorer

This time on the random walk through my game collection we come to one only recently acquired, Star Explorer.  There are two editions of this game.  The original, published in 1982 by Fantasy Games Unlimited; and the current version, published by Goblinoid Games as either a "download to play" digital copy, or as a print on demand title from The Game Crafter.  I have a print on demand copy, more on which below.

The basic game is essentially a Star Trek: original series adventure game.  Each player has a heavy cruiser that they use to visit planets on the galactic map, where they send down away teams to have adventures.  You have ten different types of crew, from navigators and fire control teams, to botany and geologic experts, to those poor saps in the military teams that die in droves (yep, you've got redshirts!).  Of course, it isn't actually a Star Trek game, because Paramount pictures won't just give that license away for free.  Because Fantasy Flight Games never got the license, they changed just enough things to give them plausible deniability if the lawyers ever came calling.  For example, the Klingon analogue is the "Zangids."  They are obviously Klingons, of course, right down to the artwork on the counters.  So you can easily just overlay Star Trek stuff onto the game if you prefer.

From a mechanical standpoint, this is a resource management game.  You start the game with a heavy cruiser with a basic equipment layout, as well as a complement of 25 crew teams.  You have some customization options with the specific crew you have, but you must have at least seven military teams and no less than one of the other nine types of crew teams.  You then get five "points" to spend to customize your ship, which can be extra crew, extra fuel (highly recommended), extra armor, extra weapons, extra transporters, etc.

Once your ship is equipped you fly it to one of the four planets on the map to have adventures.  One of the planets (randomly placed based on die rolls) has your primary mission on it, which you know about before the game begins.  All of the other encounters are randomly determined once you arrive at the planet.  Of course, sometimes getting to your destination is an adventure on its own.  To reflect this, each hex a player's ship moves on the map requires a roll of a six-sided die.  On a "6" you roll on the space encounter table to see what happens.  Sometimes it is a navigational hazard, sometimes it is a pirate or Zangid warship, and sometimes it is just news of something important that changes the game.  For example, in my first game, ON THE FIRST MOVE, I got a special event of increased Zangid activity, which meant that if I rolled a "1" while travling in a hex I had a 50% chance of encountering a Zangid warship that turn.  I ran into a lot of Zangid that game.

Combat is actually pretty fun and strikes a nice balance between simplicity and having to make strategic choices.  Before a battle starts you can choose to fight, parley/bribe, or attempt to run away.  If you successfully parley, you get full victory points without even having to fight your enemy, which is pretty awesome.  Of course, if you fail, they attack you at shorter range.  Running away loses you victory points, but sometimes you will die horribly if you don't.  Fighting uses beams and missiles to try to destroy the other ship's armor (though when you get it down to 25% they automatically run away).  Beams have a longer range but do less damage, while missiles are the inverse.  Every turn you choose how many shields to use and how many weapons to fire.  You can do critical damage that knocks out a ship component, and you can injure or kill crew, as well.  Whatever you use, it costs fuel, so you can't always just go in guns blazing.  I liked the decision making each turn to try to maximize your effectiveness while saving fuel.

On each planet you randomly roll a terrain type, and then you have up to three encounters (always a chance for three, but sometimes you will get a disaster instead, which is just something bad that happens).  You assign away teams to conduct each mission, and then you roll on the mission-specific tables from the rulebook to see what happens.  Success or failure, you are most likely going to lose some red shirts, which is thematically appropriate.  Good thing you have a lot of them!  I found this to be the most drab part of the game.  You can quickly figure out the optimal choices to make with your teams, and then it is just down to whether you get your die rolls or not to succeed.

You have to complete all encounters on all planets (or take a victory point hit for abandoning them) and then return to home base in 20 turns.  Completing things early gets you bonus points, while returning late costs you a points penalty.  While this game has counters for up to four players, I think it probably works best as a solitaire game.  Each player is really doing their own thing, as there is little interplay between the characters.  The only impact that having multiple players brings is that any special events rolled during space travel impact all players equally, and that if player one completes an encounter on a planet nobody else can complete it.  So there is a race going on for victory points, but if a player pulls ahead other players can't really do anything about it other than hope for a change in lucky die rolls.

Lastly, let me comment on the game components of the print on demand game.  Overall, I am not impressed.  The 20 page rulebook is 10 pages of double-sided laser-printed paper, with no binding at all.  The counter sheet is thick card laser printed, so you have to cut the counters out with a pair of scissors.  I personally find the counters too thin, and if I play this game in the future I plan to raid my Federation Commander game for counters.  the map board is also just laser printed card, and honestly does not look like it will hold up to a lot of play.  At least the dice are decent.

Overall, this game is okay.  It is fun, but the planetary missions get dry with the endless die rolling and looking up results on tables.  "Role-playing" it by coming up with personalities to be on each team would likely help in that regard, but at the cost of making the game take longer.  I do like the simple but effective space combat system, and blasting stupid pirates is fun, especially when you have shields and they don't.  Still, I'm not sure how much play this game will be seeing in the future.  It will probably only hit the table if I'm in a real Star Trek mood, which doesn't happen very often.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Blood & Thunder

The wargame Blood & Thunder was published 20 years ago (as of this writing) by Game Designers' Workshop.  Its theme and focus is warfare on the Eastern front during World War II.  The game includes close to two dozen scenarios, rules to design your own scenarios, and many different maps that can be combined in different ways, so there is a LOT of game in the box.  In fact, when I started reading the rules and looking at how the game was designed, I could not help but think that the whole project came from someone thinking that they liked the game Panzer Blitz, but felt that they could do more with it.  I was surprised at how similar some of the rules were, but where Panzer Blitz goes for simplicity, Blood & Thunder adds complexity on top.  Not a lot of complexity (the "rules" part of the rulebook doesn't exceed 16 pages), but enough to make me long for the simple yet effective mechanics of Panzer Blitz.  I also feel that this game suffers from a common problem with wargames of its era, where maps that aren't very large get filled by dozens of stacks of counters, such that you have to break out your tweezers to carefully lift counters off of stacks to see what is all in the stacks.  I quickly soured on games like this back in the day, and did not enjoy having to relive the situation.  Admittedly, you shouldn't have more than five counters in any particular hex on the map, but it still drove me to distraction.  Maybe I am just less patient about things as I advance in years.

Bottom line, I did not enjoy this game.  That may have as much to do with me as with the game, but there it is.  I am sure there are others who would enjoy this game, but it is not for me.  I have never cared much about gaming the Eastern front in WWII, and this game does not change that fact.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Updates on things

In no particular order:
  • For anyone who reads this blog for the board game reviews, you will likely be waiting a while for the next one.  The next random game selected from my collection just hasn't grabbed my attention, and I keep finding other things to do instead of playing the game and writing about it.  I will eventually get to it, but I don't want to force play of the game when I'm not into it, as I will almost assuredly not give it a fair shake if I do that.
  • I have made some good progress on my goal of reading 20 books in 2013.  Two finished this year, with a third book 3/4 read and a fourth book almost half read.  Looking good!
  • I have also made good progress with getting back to playing the guitar.  I have been playing roughly three times per week so far this year, and I was very surprised at how quickly everything has come back to me.  It has been great to get playing again, with the exception of the annoyance of having to build callouses back up again on my left fingers.  Ah, well, "no pain, no gain," right?

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Spirit of the Sword

Today I finished watching the last episode of the Chinese TV show The Spirit of the Sword.  It was surprisingly good.  This show proves that I don't dislike soap operas, I just like them to have lots of sword fighting and martial arts mayhem, which of course American TV networks will not provide.  Oh, well.  If you like martial arts films I recommend giving it a try.  Also, you can get unintentional humor from the horribly bad English subtitles on the discs.  If you like what they show in the opening sequence, you should really enjoy the show.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


I have never been big on the concept of "new years' resolutions."  I have always said that if you identify something that you want to change, just change it at the time you recognize the need for a change.  Don't wait for an arbitrary point of time in the future.  This probably represents me missing the point of taking the turn of the year as an opportunity to stop and think about what is working and not working in ones life, so I have actually taken some time over the last few days to think about what I want to accomplish in 2013.  I have come up with the following.

  1. Play the guitar again - I haven't really played any of my guitars in probably five years, and I miss it.  There is a certain satisfaction in learning to play a new song or mastering a new chord structure that I only find in the guitar, so it is time to get at it again.  That being said, spending the first six months of 2013 building up finger callouses again will not be fun.
  2. Read more books - I have always enjoyed reading, but often get pretty nonchalant about it, taking a few months to finish off one book, and I usually don't read more than a dozen books in a year.  I want to do better in 2013, which I can probably accomplish by playing less Football Manager on the computer.
  3. Partly related to the above, I want to be more intentional about how I spend my time.  I often find myself puttering about the internet without purpose, wasting time that could be more profitably used elsewhere.  Even if I am playing a game or watching TV, I want to do so because that game is one I really want to play or that show is one I really want to watch, rather than it just being something I am doing without active thought.