Monday, November 28, 2005

Martin Wallace - God, or Devil?

A last minute cancellation saved me from sitting around all Saturday waiting to get asked questions by the folks shutting off my basement "water feature", so I was able to go to our monthly Saturday session at Mike's. And boy, did I need the break.

First up, the new Wallace title, Byzantium. I'm the first to state that I'm not as big of a Wallace fan as many in my group, especially after I bought Princes of the Renaissance only to learn that a few in the group had pronounced it a dud (my copy, as well as myself, has never seen play). As such, I was happy to get the chance to give the newest title a try before I made a buying decision.

Byzantium shares many of what have become stock Wallace themes: multiple factions not attached to players, special actions, short number of long turns, an economy to limit how much you can do. The game is actually (to my mind, at least) less fussy than many Wallace designs. There are only six special actions that can be taken (in addition to what I can only image are "regular" actions), so there wasn't much need for cheat sheets. What would have been useful was a list of how you score VP, as when we got to the end there were a few surprises for everyone but Mike, who had actually read the rules.

The game models the Arab invasion of Byzantium (with a little help from the Bulgars in the Balkans). Players each control one Byzantine and one Arab army which they have to pay for each turn. The armies can move (so long as the army can "pay" with their logistical arm of their army), but it's limited and fairly expensive. Stealing, er, liberating cities and combat are very straight forward, and that's really the meat of the game (as it's cities that give you money to pay for the armies). What is particularly interesting is that you have to balance your activities with both factions, as having more than double the victory points for one faction than the other at game end effectively subtracts the lesser amount.

Dave, Chuck, and Mike all concentrated their armies in Persia, which has "empty" cities to take early on. While I did a bit of this, I was knocked back to Mecca, and used my Arab army to advance into the Levant later on. My Byzantine forces were centered in Cyprus, while Chuck focused on western Anatolia, Dave in the Levant, and Mike in Eastern Anatolia. By the mid-game, I had gotten quite a few Byzantine points and was able to focus my final turn on the Arabs. One interesting facet is that the Arabs are only allowed to attack a fellow Arab twice in a game turn, the Byzantines can only do this once, so you have to be ready to fight the other faction rather than the other players, and this requires some foresight.

Another interesting element is that the game can end if Constantinople is taken by the Arabs or Bulgars. I had a good lead in points during the second turn, and used the Bulgars to try to take Constantinople for the quick win, missing by one unit. As such, it's important to be aware of how powerful the Bulgars are and how often they can attack in that turn (a max of two).

In the end, it turned out that you also got an extra VP for every city token (there can be up to three in a city) rather than every city, so Chuck ended up taking way too many Byzantine points to negate his Arab points. Mike, on the other hand, had so many Byzantine points that he ended up being the surprise winner. I did come within one unit of taking Damascus, which would have added four points total to my score, enough to tie Mike. Regardless, it was clear that this was a practice game, as so many of the first-time-outs with Wallace titles are.

The game felt more elegant than most Wallace titles, which always have very obtuse actions (Liberte is a very good example). The combat is much faster (but very tense), and there is very little chrome. You can have the mechanisms down in less than one turn of play, although it does require a certain amount of play to understand what actions will win the game. One big knock: The city tokens are about 1/4" thick when they should be closer to 1/16". Stacking three of these up, with a potential fortress, plus one of your cubes, and you've got a board that is particularly susceptible to a catstrike, or even a loose sleeve. The rules show a more practical height of city token, too bad they didn't make it into the game. The only other necessity is a simple cheat sheet like the first page of rules, but incorporating the VP awards as well.

I want to give this one more try, but I felt it worked well with four and played in about 2.5 hours including 'splainin'. While I'd like to play again once more before I buy, this looks to be a winner.

Next up, Dave had brought Beowulf, the non-cooperative variation on his very successful Lord of the Rings game. I love this sort of thing, and in fact I liked Beowulf. Mike and Chuck were less enthused, but this will make my to-buy list for the holidays.

Like LotR, Beowulf follows the epic story of this ancient hero. There is a deck of cards with six suits (one wild) containing one or two symbols per card. The object is to collect laurels through various auctions, actions, and other activities, all represented by spaces along the game track. Like LotR, planning ahead for future auctions is critical tos success. Playing time is billed at 90 minutes, and that's about how long we took.

What makes this game is the "risk" factor. On specific spaces and all "around the table" auctions, you have the opportunity to take a Risk. In the Risk spaces, you simply choose if you want to play if you want. If you do, you draw two cards and if either or both match the symbols in that space (usually two) or if the card is wild, you keep it. If you don't draw the symbols, you take a Scratch (three of which earns you a wound). If you see a Risk space coming up before an auction that has similar symbols, you can decide if the risk is worth it to draw extra cards into your hand prior to the auction.

When Risk is part of an auction, you can choose to play before adding to your bid. If you draw the right suit in your two cards, you add them to your bid and can add more cards if you need to meet the existing bid. If you don't, you get the last remaining choice of rewards for that auction and take a scratch. This adds a great Chicken element to the game. At one point, I needed to draw four (!) symbols to stay in a critical auction. I got all four, which was very cool. For me. Mike won the auction, but the tension really turns a ho-hum game into something much more fun.

I'll also note that each space on the board corresponds to an event in the saga of Beowulf, and there are handy expansions of the major events in the rules. Unfortunately, some are a little thin ("Well Met Friends" reads "You Meet Gladly with friends", or "Death of King Doodad" reads "King Doodad Dies" in the rules). Uh-huh. However, the components are very similar in style to the matching components in LotR which I consider a plus. However, the board is really almost unnecessary, and could be replaced with cards quite easily.

There is also an "advanced" version that incorporates a gold economy and adds extra spaces that require bidding with gold instead of cards. I'm not convinced that this adds a lot to the game, although we played with it and it didn't seem like too much extra stuff or time. With kids, this might be a good choice to just play the basic game (the game is rated for 12+).

Like Settlers of the Stone Age, there is ample opportunity in this game to act like a 12-year-old and find funny phallic references for pretty much everything. We took advantage of this in spades.

Mike ended up winning again, this seemed to be his day. I was not far behind, with 25 to his 32.

The big knock against the game is that, like Taj Mahal, you lose your card bids regardless of whether you get anything good or bad, so it's important to decide whether to bluff with few cards, bail early, or keep feeding the bear. We generally bid fairly aggressively, and it would be interesting to play with a more nuanced bidding strategy. Despite Chuck's concern that you can get in trouble early (strangely not a knock against Age of Steam), I felt it was good fun despite a lot of bidding.

The last game up was Carcassone: Discovery. This variant on the Carcassone franchise allows players to choose between placing meeples or removing them to score (even if the area they are scoring is not complete). This simple change adds a tremendous amount of choice to the game, and Discovery is a close second behind The City in this franchise.

Chuck ended up taking the game, while Dave couldn't draw the right tile to save his life. Mike was in second, with me right behind (as usual). Not a good day for Dave, who finished once out of fourth, and that was when Chuck was surprised to have so many points for his Byzantines.

I cannot express how much I needed a day when I wasn't worried about having problem after problem during the week of Thanksgiving. Good games, and good company.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Game Day at Tim and Carrie's Place

Tim and Carrie (I sure hope I've spelled that right) hosted a Saturday all-day session at their place, surprisingly close to my own house. People came and went over the course of the day, so the whole day had a very "open house" feeling to it, which was nice. Surprisingly, timing was just about perfect, as you shall see.

I arrived first, a bit after 1pm. The Mapquest map I had showed several streets entering the neighborhood, but in fact this was badly mislabeled and I spent an extra ten minutes trying to find their street. Since I was the first in, and they were expecting another couple to show up a little after I arrived, this wasn't a huge problem, and I spent the extra few minutes looking at Tim's collection. How people can keep from ripping the shrinkwrap off of a new game immediately is beyond me.

Once Doug and Joy (plus the baby) arrived, we sat down to play Basari while Joy made sure the baby was happy. I really like this game, as it has a great "guess what your opponents will do" feel to it. However, it's important not to let someone get too far ahead, or they can coast through the final round to win. In fact, this is what I was able to do. In the first round, I decided to fight for the yellow and red "high value" gems, and did pretty well, not trying too hard to get the round-the-board bonus. While I think I only managed to get the yellow bonus, and was a bit behind on the score, I was well placed in both blue and red. By the end of the second round, I was able to score both yellow and red and half of the blue bonus, plus a few lucky die-rolls, to have a 10-15 point lead, and from there it was all about getting the game over quickly.

A big part of the game is about the trading, and forcing your opponent to give up a lot if they want to win the action. Bluffing is not out of the question, and in fact I got away with one bluff in the second round that helped me lock up those big points. In the third round, I was forcing Carrie to bid up to get the jewels she wanted specifically because she couldn't use the gems I had up for offer. There is really quite a bit to this game, and while I think my win was in large part a product of the ill-gotten gains of my second-round bluff (Doug is not hard-core), it was still a somewhat satisfying win.

The second win for me was not so satisfying. We played the Out Of The Box edition of Tutankhamen with all five of us. However, the basic idea that you wanted to be the first to get rid of your coins seemed to get lost in the mix. I went for two of the three 8-point sets, and that focus won me the game. However, when people realized that by me making large jumps at game-end gave me the win by forcing the closure of the sets, it was clear that this was not something they'd considered. That's a shame, as a game won because of a basic misconception is no win at all in my book, and the game felt a bit soured as a result. Still, Tut is a game that has been much maligned in our group (it was the "Game Dave Refused To Play" when we first organized), and I think quite unfairly. The mechanics are very simple, and I do think that there are times when a player will have, through no fault of their own, find themselves too far into the game with too many competitors for the sets they've started, but at the same time it's very clever. Perhaps it's best with four. BTW, Tut did make my cut, and it isn't one of the games I'm selling.

As we were remembering how Tut fits back in the surprisingly small box, Chris, Ken, and their sons showed up in a display of excellent timing. Chris had brought Caylus and Railroad Tycoon, and so we set both games up and played. Chris, his nine-year-old son Matthew, Carrie, and myself played Caylus, as it has gotten such great reviews by the rest of my group, while the other six played Railroad Tycoon (which is freakin' huge. Huge).

Caylus takes a bit of time to explain, so I'll point you to the 'Geek for more complete descriptions. In a very small nutshell, the game requires you to pay to choose actions that will allow you to gain goods to build structures to gain points. As the game goes on, your range of choices increases as more structures are built that allow you to gain more goods. In the meantime, you want to also be sure to have enough extra goods to build onto the big castle, and in doing so gain points as well as (hopefully) gaining bonuses for doing this better than the other players. Sometimes games like this are pedantic (Vanished Planet is a good example), and sometimes they work quite well. Caylus falls into the latter category, and I think this will be a favorite in the group, at least until Dave figures out the perfect strategy.

In our game, I spent the first few turns figuring out the basics of the system and the importance of going first in the early rounds. Money was supposed to be tight in this game, and although both Carrie and Chris got low at points, I never felt like it was a problem for me. Matthew, being nine, saw money as being of great value, and he managed get up over $15 in reserves for much of the game. I did get down to three or so at one point, but was right back up in the $5-10 range that I was in for much of the game.

One thing I did not spend a lot of time analyzing was the different buildings and what they offer. In retrospect, I think this was not a horrible idea for the first game, as there is a lot to parse. We certainly weren't going after residences until quite late in the game (only two were built), and no blue buildings were erected at all. Instead, we seemed to be very anxious to build parts of the castle, and every portion was build at least a couple of turns before the balliwick (big white piece) got to the respective space on the road. What a great mechanism that road is: you have a timer, the opportunity for shutting down people who push their luck with the obliviator (the little white guy, I can't remember these names), and a place to expand the possibilities of actions. Perhaps the most elegant system I've seen, given the possibilities for strategy.

In the end, Chris and Matthew made a huge run on the castle at the end, building seven (!) elements combined in the final turn and shutting Carrie out. I tried to build as many structures as I could to boost my points, but we ended up with Chris in first, Matthew behind him by a few points, me about ten points out of the lead, and Carrie behind me. I had so much fun that I could have cared less who won, and that is perhaps the highest praise I can give a game. This will be on my to-buy list for sure. As a bonus, Caylus strikes me as a game that would be good fun to play solitaire, as there are so many strategies that you could simply assign one to each virtual "player" and see how they interact. Solitaire-ability is rare in Euros, so this is a real selling point for me.

While I didn't get much chance to see Railroad Tycoon in action, and I've sold/given away/am selling pretty much every Eagle game I own, it seeemed to get a good response. If it's solitaire-ready, it may be one I pick up, as Age of Steam has the lock on this general style of game in our group and I can't see this one getting much group play unless it's family day.

To continue the streak of good timing, both tables finished within minutes of each other, Doug and Joy took off with the Littlest Drooler, and we went through the standard pizza-ordering metagame, followed by a playing of Wits and Wagers. It is entirely possible that I've gotten this title wrong, but I will say that it has been released under Eagle Games' party imprint of Northstar. The game works best with seven players (I'm not sure how well this would work with teams), each having a dry-erase card, dry-erase marker, chips, and player markers for showing who's bets are whose. Play consists of a series of seven questions, each of which can be answered with a positive whole number (I suppose they accept exponential notation, which is not as far-fetched as it sounds), that get progressively more difficult as the turns progress.

One player reads the question, then the 30-second timer is turned over. Each player writes a number that they think is the right one (trying not to go over the answer) before time runs out. Next, all seven cards are placed on the game board in order from lowest to highest. The board has seven slots for the cards, each slot corresponding to an odds payout. The center answer pays 1-1, with each slot out in either direction at one rate higher (2-1, 3-1, 4-1). There is also an additional eighth slot below the smallest answer in case everyone overshot (which happened once in our game) that pays 5-1.

The timer is turned over, and everyone has the opportunity to bet twice, at one chip per bet, on what they think the right answer is, again without exceeding the actual answer. You can bet both chips on a single answer, or split them up, and your bets are marked with the wooden cubes of your color (matching your dry-erase card). You may shift your bets as often as you like during the 30 seconds, and I think that this is supposed to be the "wacky" part of the game, although we rarely shifted our bets once they were made. Perhaps if alcohol is involved. Once the bets are in and the timer runs out, the winning entry is awarded two chips, and the people who put their bets on that number get the payout listed for that slot. All other bets are lost. For the final round, which usually has a much harder number to guess, you can bet as many chips as you wish, although you are still limited to two separate bets at most.

Given that we groupthunk'ed out what I can only imagine was supposed to be the "fun" part of the game, the title still was good fun in trying to see how well we could guess the right number, both individually and out of a group of numbers. Chris amazed everyone (including himself) by nailing the height of the Empire State Building in feet (silly me, I guessed stories and didn't realize my error until the timer ran out) on the very first question. I had the upper hand when it came to knowing the lowest temperature recorded in Hawaii (12 degrees Farenheit, they have a couple of very high volcanos on the Big Island; it is good to be married to a local!). In the end, Tim won by having a bet on every correct answer in the game.

I liked the game, but not well enough I think to purchase. I have enough party games based on trivia knowledge, and if we want to wager, there is always Royal Turf. I'm happy to see someone trying to put out party games that will appeal to eurogamers, but only time will tell if Northstar succeeds. For our group, they managed to be successful and miss their mark all at the same time.

To complete the trifecta of timing, the pizza guy pulled up as the lid went on the box. I ate and ran, although everyone else stayed and (I'm sure) had more fun. Thanks to Tim and Carrie for a very pleasant afternoon of gaming, and may their good dogs get all of the treats they deserve.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Playing Catch-Up (Ketchup?)

It's been a while since my last post, for a variety of reasons. Partly travel, partly other things going on, no one good reason. Rather than post several entries that people are less likely to look at, and since most of my recent gaming sessions have involved a single "serious" game, I'll just cover them.

First up was the Central Tuesday session before Halloween, which was a pretty small turnout at Matt's. KC, Matt, and myself first tried out 3-player Meuterer (by the same folks who brought you Verraeter), which proved to not work as well as with four. I can't really put my finger on why this game didn't work well, perhaps because it was so obvious who was going to mutiny. Next, we tried out Australia at Matt's request, which had a bit of the same problem. While the (large) lead changed hands a few times, Matt got one really good opportunity to score, and that 22 point pad served him well at game's end. I like the game, but I think it needs four to work effectively.

The next session was with my wife and two friends at my family's vacation home in Central Oregon. The friends like games, although because they spent most of their time running to visit other friends, we didn't see them so much. We also discovered that the DVD of Amadeus we watched was the director's cut, clocking in at over three hours! However, we did get in one game of Barbarossa, the clay modelling game that has been taunting wargamers for years. The idea is to get other players to guess your model somewhere in the mid-game rather than early or late, so the trick is to make is not too hard, not too easy, but just right. Laura, the chiropractor, modelled a femur and a lung (!), her SO Carole modelled a birdbath and a gun (that looked a lot more like bacon than a firearm), my wife made a kernel of popcorn and Rapunzel, and I did a hot water heater and a plunger.

While there were several times that my wife stated that I was most certainly doomed (she would ask if she would use the hot water heater in the bathroom, and of course the answer is yes even though it "lives" in the garage), it was agreed that this was a very good game, and I look forward to playing it again. Perhaps the best four-player party game I own.

We also played a popular music trivia game called "Rock and Roll Odyssey" that my wife loves, but that I can't play because I tend to crush my opponents (playing in bands since 1975 does that). We played with me against the three women, and they didn't have to answer questions from the 50's or 60's. They won somewhat handily, although had I gotten the "name every Elton John single up to 1980" things would have gone much much differently.

The next session was last week's West Side Thursday, held at Mike's. I normally don't attend these, but I'd missed Tuesday's South session at Chris', so Thursday proved handy. Mike, Tim, and myself played Ted Racier's new Phalanx title, The First World War. Despite Racier's pedigree as a wargame designer (and the title), this is hardly a wargame, more like Schotten-Totten with some chrome. Each player takes one faction (Germans, Western Allies, Eastern Allies, or the poorly named German Allies), and tries to take ground on one of several "fronts". There are six game turns, each consisting of four plays for each faction, sixteen per turn in total. During your turn you can move forces from one front to adjacent fronts, move one or two units anywhere on the board, or fight on one front. Fighting consists of figuring your combat strength (lead unit, +1 for larger force in terms of units, +/- combat chits, + a die roll), and the smaller total side loses their lead unit and the winner takes the next city on that front's linear track. If you roll of of two "S's" on the die, you add zero, but get to draw a combat chit, some of which are less than helpful. If you've taken all of the cities, the losing faction adds one to their surrender total for that turn. If, at turn end, a faction rolls their surrender total or less (S's now are not zero), that side immediately loses and the game is over. Otherwise, you add up replacements and reinforcements and do it all again.

Mike showed us all his incredible prowess at skewing probability curves by rolling what I will conservatively estimate was 80% S's. As such, he lost battles constantly, and the Western Allies had a lot of units in the dead pile as the game went on. However, because of the addition of new units as the game goes on for the Allies, he did better and better, finally doing so well that he was poised to win the game against Tim's Germans and my Losers (urm, German Allies) on the final turn. However, I had one last chance to force an extra surrender point on the Western Allies in Italy, and Mike rolled a 1 on the last turn to lose the game. However, since Tim had four more VP than I (three is the cutoff), he was the Big Winner and I came in a close second.

I really want to like this game. It played pretty quickly, there weren't too many rules questions (although the rules are the usual Phalanx gibberish in spots, there is a very basic rules question I've had on Revolution for months that they refuse to answer for me), and while clearly being a euro rather than a wargame, it still kept the general flavor of this world altering conflict. Mike was particularly unhappy that the game came down to a single die roll at game end, although I like to term that sort of thing as "tension", and it is possible to try to try to prevent surrender rolls by simply not allowing the opposition to win battles that involve your base (or give them their own surrender points). It was very clear that we were all playing with sub-optimal strategies, as I don't think the Germans ever went after the Russians at all, and we weren't going after the city spaces that generate replacements as much as we might have. I definitely think that the Germans shouldn't have done the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in turn four, but waited another turn to keep the heat on in the east, but then again the German Allies were starting to suck wind.

In the final analysis, the general verdict was "Hmm." At two hours (including describing the rules), it's perhaps just a bit long. I'll have to try it with two or four players to see if there is a game here.

We also played a few hands of Take 6, which I haven't played for a long time. I like the game, but it gets old after a few hands when you realize that the game is playing you more than you playing it.

Whew! Only one more session report left!

This past Tuesday saw eleven (!!!!!) people show up at my place for Central Tuesday, including Lost Boy Mark whom we haven't seen in years. Michael and his son Alex also came, and I haven't seen either at a regular session in some time. We split up into two groups, with Matt, Mike, Chuck, Alex, Laurent, and myself retiring to the Temple of Conspicuous Consumerism (the family room with the big TV), while KC, Mark, Michael, Jim, and God help me someone who I simply can't remember (it was a lot of people) played Australia and then KC's Havoc game. We, on the other hand, played the Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun Card Game, Medici, and finally For Sale.

Paranoia is a role-playing game that has survived from the mid-80's to the present day, largely because the premise is funnier than hell. You are a Troubleshooter living in an underground shelter run by an insane computer that tolerates no threats to it's authority. Which means pretty much everything. The thing that made this RPG fun, at least in small doses, was that the GM (the Computer) actively killed players at will, spurred on by the other players who were hoping it wouldn't be them left as a smoking grease spot. Since you had five extra clones for each character, this wasn't as bad as it seemed. However, for those desiring long-term campaigns, the odds of advancing characters much past Orange clearance was pretty slim. And it made the game less fun when people lived.

Mongoose Publishing has dusted off this RPG, and has trotted out a companion card game, which I will refer to simply as Paranoia for the remainder of the report. In the card game, each player is a Troubleshooter with five extra clones, and your team (the other players) are all assigned missions. The missions usually involve everyone trying to inflict "wounds" or "treason" markers on the mission, although the person who inflicts the final wound usually gets to advance in clearance level. Since you don't want to set someone else up to get the advancement, which also determines the winner after several missions, players generally don't want to wound or accuse the mission, although once you've gotten any advancement you generally want at least one hit to keep from getting demoted.

At the same time, players are playing cards on each other to generate enough treason tokens on someone to make them a traitor, at which time you can safely shoot at them to kill off their clones. Players who are traitors at mission's end are executed, so even if you don't get them the computer will. There are also cards that you can play to defend yourself or create problems for others. When someone runs out of cards (you generally don't redraw during the mission), the mission is a success, or a number of other things happen, the mission is over.

This is a very wacky game, and it requires a certain amount of "buying into" the premise, just like an RPG. I thought it was hilarious, as did several other players, although at least one player would have preferred root canal. Six people may have been one or two too many, although there is no denying that the game's wackiness factor goes up with more people. As a midnight game at our gaming retreats, this may be good fun, although certainly not for more than an hour. Considering that the cards are fairly generic other than the title, graphic, and flavor text (which is often pretty unrelated), it relies upon the players to give it the sense of gleeful backstabbing and mayhem that made the RPG a survivor for more than 20 years.

After three missions, we decided to put Mike out of his misery and play Medici, the quintessential six-player game in our group. Alex was the only person who hadn't played, and (sadly) the only person smart enough to correct our pronunciation. Did I mention he turns 17 in a month? Smartass kids...

In a strange first round, few people got more than two advancements in a given commodity. Usually, people are pretty good at pulling in at least three of one good, but not in this game. Early draws of three different commodities forced this on us, and we finished the first round with a pretty close game. The second round saw Laurent doing well in Spice, the only person to hit the bonus point territory in that round, also unusual for us. There was a considerable amount of table talk, with Chuck leading the way (and some great smack talk between him and Mike concerning said amount of talk). It's a good thing we all like each other!

The final round saw Alex going for points more than commodities, and he did well enough to garner third with close to 100 points. Laurent rode his Spice Rack to 30 points and a win with about 107 points, while I was the only other 20 bonus point earner, but came in fifth at 93 when I couldn't pull two cloth at the end of the round. Chuck came in last with something a bit less than 90. This is always a great game, and even the dreadful Mayfair graphics can't sink it (ha!).

Chuck and Matt had to leave, so the rest of us played a quick game of For Sale, the Stephan Dorra game that plays in 15 minutes. In our game, most of the players made the classic rookie mistake of overbidding early, so I was able to score three of the top four cards for nearly nothing. Still, in the end I won by a fairly close margin at 70 points, with two other players in the sixties. This is a great game for the time spent on it, and the less spent the better in my opinion. With very brisk play, it is a gem. With a lot of deliberation in the early bidding, it becomes pedantic. Light, but very good short filler, and there are very few games that fit that need.

My fingers are tired now, so I will thank all for playing, and I will have more frequent and timely reports in the future. Coming up: a Saturday session at Tim and Carrie's, Mike's Thanksgiving Weekend Saturday session, a 2-player game weekend the following week, and a holiday session or three at year's end, in addition to the regular reports. Better start lifting weights with my pinkies!