Stone of Remembrance

April 29, 2008

Jim Sandefur Interview

Filed under: Commentary, Games — admin @ 13:38

I read Boardgame News regularly, and am a long time customer of Boulder Games. Ray Smith over at BN has recently interviewed Jim about Boulder, the game industry, and Jim’s most recent cause celebre, the fixing of discounts on prices among online retailers.

It’s a great interview and well worth reading. As for Boulder Games, it’s well worth your business.

Scholarship and Kudos

Filed under: Commentary, Writing — admin @ 13:07

There is an amazing amount of scholarship about an astounding number of things. When I was in college working on a thesis, I was almost overwhelmed by the number of books and journals on every conceivable subject. The net has made it worse. Or better, in a way.

For example consider the following:

It may come as no surprise to you that I don’t have any real knowledge of medieval textiles and clothing. As it turns out, however, my long time and dear friend Lisa Evans does. And her first piece of published scholarship on the subject is right here, published by Boydell & Brewer. It’s one of their Featured and Forthcoming books, appearing on their front page.

Lisa’s piece is entitled “The Same Counterpoincte Beinge Olde and Worene”: The Mystery of Henry VIII’s Green Quilt I don’t know what the mystery is, but I know Lisa reads the blog, and I’m sure she’ll be glad to tell you (and me.)

Seven years ago I received my first published work from Tor. This week Lisa received a copy of this volume in the mail, and is feeling the same thing. Maybe those senior to me in the writing business are no longer thrilled by that emotion – but for me, it has never gotten old.

Congratulations, Lisa. I’m sure this is the first of many. I raise a cup of tranya to your success. (Inside joke.)

April 23, 2008

Steampunk Laptop

Filed under: Commentary — admin @ 08:20

Thanks to Mei for bringing this to my attention. My wife has just bought a laptop she calls Nimitz, because it’s freaking huge, but who wouldn’t want a machine like this one?

The designer offers the following description:

This may look like a Victorian music box, but inside this intricately hand-crafted wooden case lives a Hewlett-Packard ZT1000 laptop that runs both Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. It features an elaborate display of clockworks under glass, engraved brass accents, claw feet, an antiqued copper keyboard and mouse, leather wrist pads, and customized wireless network card. The machine turns on with an antique clock-winding key by way of a custom-built ratcheting switch made from old clock parts.

The site that contains this amazing machine is called Datamancer.net. This is the masthead graphic:

Superfluous pleonasm. Bet I could use that expression somewhere . . .

April 16, 2008

Gathering of Friends 2008

Filed under: Commentary, Games, Travel — admin @ 23:05

Logistical problems with my web host have postponed this report a few days – I had planned to make some comments on what I played and enjoyed at this year’s Gathering while I was there – but better late than never.


New Games

This was not the most exciting year for new games at the Gathering. Two of the three most popular games were ones I am either completely a fan of (Race for the Galaxy) or have played and have on order (Agricola). The third, the so-called Game X, still qualifies as a prototype; there has been a little written about it, and I’ll make a few comments below – but past those three, the most excitement was for a game that, for me, just wasn’t that exciting.

I played several prototypes, including the new Race expansion (which was very, very cool), and saw several others being played. The new business game from Friedemann Friese was my favorite one, but I don’t know when it might turn up. We also got in a play of New England Rails, the game I’ve had on the back burner with my friend Greg P. for more than twenty years . . . this could be the year.

I also got to play the China map for Power Grid, which was really interesting; and saw – but didn’t play – the Korea one (two different resource markets). There’s also a Baden-Württemburg special edition, which I’ll be trying to pick up.

The year has been hectic enough that I didn’t even bring my usual checklist of games to try (my favorite activity at the Gathering.) So my new plays were down. Still, here are the highlights.

Agricola

Quite the phenomenon. A game about farming. My only play was at UG XIV, where there were two experts talking metagame strategy the whole time. To my pleasant surprise, with fellow newbies in smaller groups (two or three), the game was quite enjoyable. I’ve ordered a copy from Z-Man, and look forward to seeing it on the table soon.

Airships

Also called Giganten der Luft. Another game I wanted to like. You acquire cards for your display by rolling colored dice. The white ones (1,1,2,2,3,3) are the lowest numbers, then the red ones (2,3,3,4,4,5) and then the black ones (4,4,6,6,8,8). Some cards are zeppelins, worth VPs; the others are guys, or machine parts, or technology or whatever. You get a benefit by acquiring a card, each of which has a target number and a dice combination to get it. Sometimes the benefit is other dice; sometimes VPs; sometimes a plus on dice rolls.

Some tactical decisions appear to be able to lead you toward more capability, while others defeat your ability to do other things. For instance, the only way to get a black die is to acquire a card that gives you one – but it may replace a card that gave you more red dice. There’s the urge to do something on your turn with little long-term planning (the appearance of things on the board helps encourage urgency). As a result, I think the game can become a long and painful stalemate. It’s a game I wanted to like but just didn’t. Pass.


Airships. Didn’t work for me.

Brass

A Martin Wallace game, Brass is an economic development game set in the north of England. Brass is money; there are cotton mills and coal mines, steel mills and ports; canals and railroads. Making these things pay off earn you spots on the income track, plus victory points. As is usual with a Wallace game, income is related to, but not exactly the same as, the amount of money you actually get at the end of the turn.

My impression is that this isn’t quite the level of Age of Steam. Still, five intense players could probably make this quite a vicious game. It just won’t last as long as the other, so if you’re screwed you don’t have to suffer for quite as many turns. I liked playing it; we’ll get it at our club, but I don’t expect to buy a copy for our game collection.


Brass. Could be vicious.

Game X

I can’t say too much about it – but while I found it interesting I didn’t quite find it compelling. I just don’t know; you’ll have to judge for yourself.

Jamaica

A light, entertaining race game with a few interesting twists. You’re going around the island of Jamaica, but instead of rolling dice to move or acquire, one person rolls and places two dice on the “left” and “right” spots on the center display. Each player has a set of cards with two benefits, one at each end, and three to choose from each turn. The left side benefit goes with the left die, the right side with the right. Players with ships in the same space get to fight, winner taking stuff from the loser. The benefits include food (needed when landing on certain spaces), gold (same), cannons (for fighting opponents). There are random treasures. Not extremely strategic, but quick and fun.


Race for the . . . island.

Lascaux

A sort of blind bidding game related to Geschenkt. Cards are dealt out showing symbols in two different colors and a cave painting of a particular animal. Each player secretly chooses a color, then bids Geschenkt-style, placing out a counter or dropping out and taking them all. Each withdrawing player’s token is placed, still face down, in a stack until only one player remains, who displays the color and takes all cards showing that color. The next one (second-to-last out) reveals and takes cards (if any), and so forth. It’s possible to come in second and get nothing, or go out first and get cards. At the end of the game, each animal is evaluated, and the player with the most of that animal gets one point per card. Everyone gets one point per six stones.

A clever, potentially vicious game with skill and luck elements. It makes your head hurt. I don’t know if I’d buy it or not, but it was at least something different.


Cave Animals. Collect the Whole Set.

League of Six

A little game from the Czech guys that brought us Through the Ages (which I finally got a chance to play and very much enjoyed). The other one, Jantaris, I didn’t get to play – but was advised to skip. In the first half of each turn players represent merchants, picking one of six cities to do business – but they can be bought off so they go somewhere else, where they can buy off the guy who’s sitting there, and so forth, until everyone has someplace. Then each city has a hexagonal marker with two to five arrows that can be positioned to point to various resources which are then doled out. Two of the resources – guards, used to buy off other players, and horses, used to determine turn order – don’t have any further purpose, but the others are colored cubes that then get placed on a second board, where they score victory points. Rinse and repeat.

The comment that most qualified as “damning with faint praise” was that the game should be titled “League of One, Played Six Times.” That’s at least close to the truth. It’s probably two initial turns that are somewhat different, followed by four turns that are more of the same. I wanted to like this one better but I just don’t. Pass.


League of One, Six Times.

Risk: Black Ops

The promotional, hype-in-a-black-box version of Risk. The intention was to show that times are changing and Hasbro is changing with them. No one wants to spend all night playing Risk anymore; of course, anyone who spent all night playing Risk soon realized that it doesn’t take all night, just enough of the night for someone to do what we used to call at college “the world tour”.

In my mind Risk is Risk, and History of the World is History of the World, and Civilization is Civilization (except, of course, when it’s Advanced Civilization). Risk is about conquering the world, damn it, and constraining it to specific objectives so that the game doesn’t take all damn night doesn’t make the game better. It just makes it shorter, and something I care even less about. Pass.


Risk is Risk, even in black.

Stone Age

Everyone’s favorite, seemingly. What is it? A pawn placement resource management game. It was most often compared to Pillars of the Earth, which it somewhat resembles – each turn you place your meeples on the board and make stuff, then you fulfill things that give you points.

To make resources requires dice rolllng, but you can acquire tools (stone axes) to give you plusses on the rolls; you can increase the efficiency with which you make food (freeing up meeples for other tasks); and you can use meeples to make more meeples. And so forth.

The biggest supporters of the game proclaimed their desire to replace Pillars on their shelf. Not me. It was not unpleasant. Played it once, did all right in it. But I wouldn’t make shelf space for it and I still like Pillars. Pass.

Ticket to Ride Card Game

I forgot to include this in the original posting. I did get in one play of the card game based on the board game that’s driven by cards; it’s described as “portable Ticket to Ride” – no board, no plastic trains. That’s all true, but it’s also true that this is a different game that only superficially resembles the award-winning Franchise o’Alan.


A different game . . . but oddly familiar.

The game has tickets and train cards, just like the board game. You’re dealt tickets and have to keep some, and during the game you can take more. Each (see picture above) has one or more colored dots – to fulfill the ticket you’ll need train cards of that type. So you play cards to your “railyard” (piles in front of you) – either one of each of three different colors, or as many as desired of one color. Prior to taking a turn action, you may remove one of each pile to the face-down stack you’ll use to fulfill your tickets.

The competitive aspect is that you can’t lay down any cards in your railyard unless the count of a given stack exceeds the currently-displayed count of the same color in front of anyone else. Thus, if someone has two green trains out, you’ll need to display three (and they have to discard their two, and frown menacingly.) The other major change is that cards in the face-down stack can’t be examined. Only when the deck is exhausted once (for midgame scoring) and the second time (for final scoring) do you turn up the face-down cards and try to match them with the tickets you have. A bit of a memory game there.

Your turn consists of the usual TTR activities – take displayed cards, take tickets (you can keep 0 tickets if you want) – and laying down train cards in the railyard. It plays fast, gives bonuses at the end for connecting to big cities, and requires keeping track (at least minimally) of what you’ve played into the stack. But my impression was that there was some validity to simply playing whatever you could, whenever you could, and feeding as much as possible into the face-down stack (regardless of color, though obviously you try the best you can if your tickets run more in a certain color.) There’s otherwise too much going on. When I played, I kept a mental count of the number of actual cards I’d need to fulfill my tickets (counted up the spots on the tickets), tried to stash locomotives whenever possible, and kept an eye out for the two or three colors I needed most. I won by about 30, but your (and my) mileage will vary. Liked it. We’ll buy it, though it’s even lighter than the very light original game.

Tribun

Probably my favorite game of the Gathering, at least of the published games. I played it three times, once with the expansion, still in development. My second play was with the designer, Karl-Heinz Schmiel, whose English was limited – so I spoke a lot of German with him, more reassurance that I can still do that.

This is a game of placement as well, set in Republican Rome. Players represent a noble family; the figures are placed at various locations on the board to acquire cards from one of seven factions (Patricians, Plebieans, Gladiators, etc.), or to take over one of those factions by displaying a set of two or more cards in that suit. All card acquisition is resolved, then takeovers, then each faction grants bonuses to the player who currently controls it. There are several different combinations of victory conditions, making for longer or shorter games.

There doesn’t appear to be any particular imbalance in the game. No one can “run away” with a victory, though obviously a lot depends on the way the cards fall; everyone knows what categories need to be fulfilled (faction markers, legions, money, laurels, the “tribune” marker, the “blessing of the gods” – two flavors: temporary and eternal). Get too greedy and delenda est; show your weakness and Et tu, brute. You get the idea. I’ll buy this one: it’s very good.


Et tu, Brute, as needed.


Other Stuff

The Gathering features things like the Photo Safari, the Puzzle Hunt, the Game Show, the Expedition to Play Basketball (someone always gets hurt: we’re not getting younger), and lots and lots of Tichu – a psycho version of Whist. (Stephen and David can tell you all about it. Once was enough for me.)

I usually wind up just playing more games so as to avoid all of these things. This year’s avoidance gave me a chance to play Frank Branham’s wonderful space battle game, which was great fun; to organize an 8-player, 2-board Epic Commands & Colors: Ancients game; and to attend the Sunday night dinner at Hunan House, where I got to sit with (and drink with) Friedemann Friese. Until you share a flaming volcano with the Green-Haired Mad Genius, you haven’t lived.


SchadenFriede. The man sure can drink.

Here are a few other pictures.


Zama. Tyler Putnam, Roman General, signals victory.


Curt Carpenter (left), Eric Brosius (right) and I going Through the Ages.


Billabong, a kangaroo race game. Ted Alspach’s true face.

I’ve already signed up for next year, so I’m looking forward to a more exciting game lineup. It’s a few weeks after my guest appearance at DortCon so I may even bring some of the new stuff with me.

April 1, 2008

First Look: A Song In Stone

Filed under: A Song In Stone, Commentary, Freemasonry, Writing — admin @ 15:35

This is the first look at the cover for A Song In Stone, available in November 2008 in hardcover. It’s already available for preorder online, and I’ll have a link to it shortly.

It’s really happening. I have ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) in my hands; this image (not final) was scanned from the cover.

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