Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Top Ten Lists - Ten Favorite Games I Own

It's the end of the year, so time to make up all sorts of lists of things that no one but me really cares about. I give Tom Vasel a *lot* of crap about his top ten lists, so don't be surprised if I don't actually *have* ten items in each list!

My first list will be the Top Ten Games I Own. These are my faves, not games that were particularly groundbreaking, but instead games that I enjoy playing the most. They are in no particular order, but more based on where they happen to be in my gaming room. You see, this is an extremely appropriate list as this is the first time all of these games have been in the same space.

Ra - Knizia was at his best when the mechanisms were simple and the scoring complex (E&T aside). This push your luck game remains one of my favorites, although I believe it only truly works when you play with three so it doesn't come out much.

Traumfabrik - I have not played the US version (Hollywood ), but I can say that even with German movie titles I really like having actual 30's and 40's actors and directors in the game. I think this game plays well with any number, and the closed economic system takes it from a good game to a great game.

Around the World in 80 Days - Light fun, but with surprising depth. I think it works better with more players, but even with four it's a great time. I love race games, and in this one you get to race the other players *and* the clock.

Carcassone: The Discovery - Choosing when to score points adds both tension and decisions to the best of the Carc series. The City is a close second, but this one wins by a nose.

Ticket to Ride - I still like the original the best of the three (haven't played Suisse yet). I love the 1910 tickets, which is why I give it the edge over the others in the series. Maerklin may have a little *too* much tension for me.

Incan Gold - I helped Jesse in his store over the holidays, and I could have sold 15 of these had they been in stock. And it wasn't because I know the publishers.

Power Grid - When it works, it works. Rewards the long view, if you are willing to adjust to the whims of fate (and what power stations become available). And it scales quite well.

Tichu - I grew up playing Bridge and Pinochle, and this is the only game in my collection that feels like those classics. A sentimental favorite for sure.

Medici - The best six-player designer game. 21!

San Juan - My favorite filler, although this one looks to be eclipsed by Race for the Galaxy at some point.

Well, that's ten designer games. I guess this has just morphed into two lists. Here are the wargames:

Combat Commander - My favorite wargame, if I'm not worried about winning a tournament. The most evolutionary design since We the People. Hands down has the best literary elements of any game on this list.

A Victory Lost - My favorite old-school design, although the chit activation system brings it into the 21st Century quite well.

WW2: Barbarossa to Berlin - A close siblling to Paths of Glory, my favorite element of this game is that the Germans are almost certainly going to lose the war, but it depends on how *badly* they lose the war. A great arc, as well. Even though the Allies just keep getting stronger from 1943 on, the fact that they have to pick and choose where they make their efforts gives it extra life in the endgame, even for the Germans.

Successors - My favorite multiplayer wargame. This one keeps getting new life through new editions, although the second ed had about seven too many rules and a convoluted rulebook. I'm hoping that the 3rd ed cleans up those problems while keeping the overall flair of 2nd ed. The best "do the most with the least" game, where maneuver is as important as combat, and when you attack is as important as where.

Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage - Yet another CDG, but arguably the best of the bunch. Reprinted recently using the slightly stripped down 2nd ed rules that had been online for 10 years, it is a gem of elegance and tension. While tight games can come down to who draws what cards on the final turn, I have to say that the game I played at WBC where my opponent would win on a die roll of 4 through 6 has to have been my favorite. Always a great story, too.

Manifest Destiny - A checkered development history, some astonishingly poor art choices, and some thematic problems don't prevent this game, a descendent of Civ and Age of Renaissance, from making the list. I like it with any number, but it definitely feels different with three as opposed to five. I even like the Breakthroughs, although they are the least effective part of the game.

Britannia - The first and best of an entire family of games. The FFG version breathes new life with a few added rules, but the strengths are very nice components and a clear ruleset. The biggest drawback is that it only really works with four players.

History of the World - The AH version, please. I suppose the original Ragnar Brothers version would do as well. The Hasbro version takes what was a great "hold back until the end" game and made it loopy. Playing against really good players is a joy, even if all of your hard work to draw first in the final round nets you the US. Only works with six, though - too much chance for someone to get away with the Romans followed by a decent (non-Khmer) pick in the fourth round.

Breakout: Normandy - The best of the Impulse Movement games. Monty's Gamble plays faster, but this one just has the right balance of scope and deperation. I love the combat resolution system best of all, it almost defies computation. The biggest plus - you have to plan your impulses carefully and hope you can get everything done in time for nightfall if you are the Allies. My favorite solitaire game of the bunch.

War At Sea - Buckets of dice. Victory in the Pacific and Nine Navies War are both close, but this one wins on more *not* being better. Takes a fairly obscure subject (capital ship combat in the ETO in WWII, something that rarely happened) and makes it into a chess match.

Hammer of the Scots - Gotta have a block game in here. I haven't played Rommel in the Desert or East Front enough for it to make the list, and I really enjoy how the various Scottish nobles choose contingency over valor, switching sides as soon as it starts getting too hot in the kitchen (*their* kitchen, to be specific). Wins over Liberty and Crusader Rex in a heartbeat.

Clearly I favor lighter wargames over the longer and more complex ones, mostly because I've had very little opportunity or space for the latter. But hey, it's my list. Make your own if you don't like it.

There are several games I'm sure people feel should be on here: Euphrates und Tigris is an obvious choice, as is El Grande. I also neglected to put a Martin Wallace game in the list, mostly because they've seen little play in our group. These, however, are the ones that have given me the most joy over the years, the ones I feel I can consistently compete at, and the ones that come to mind when I'm asked what I like to play.

Next up: the 10 worst games I still own. Sadly, Rocketville went to Goodwill before the move!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Whatever

I'm two days past the Solstice, two days before Christmas, and not quite sure where we are in relation to Hannukkah or Kwanza (and I'm sure I'm missing something else along the way). Regardless, here's wishing you and yours a safe, happy, fun, and drama-free holiday. And, of course, thanks for reading my ramblings and not coming over and burning my house down afterwards.

On second thought, if you're not busy, that might work for me. Just give me time to get the dogs, the games, and the iTunes hard drive out first...


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

WoW:the Boardgame Expansions

I was playing the WoW boardgame before I ever touched the MMORPG, and it's a testament to the latter that having played it improves the experience of the former. Some things in the original game didn't work all that well (independent monsters, some of the boss and war events, too many "right place right time" issues, serious downtime problems on occasion), but in general I love it as a solitaire or two-player game if I have the table space and time.

So it was that I was very excited about the Burning Crusade expansion, which added a bunch of new critters, overlords, quests, an extra board of the Outlands, and an implementation of dungeons/instances. I finally got a chance to set it up and play, using both it and the Shadows of War expansion that mostly doubled the talents and powers for characters, as well as trying to fix a few issues in the original game. While this "review" is based on only a single play, here's a breakdown of how I feel the various elements worked and an overall impression of the gameplay using both expansions. I'll begin with the Shadows elements and go from there.

Blue Quests: The blue independent creatures that populate the board via quests do a good job of simulating the dangers of traveling to your destination in the online game, although in the base system they only slow you down without any of the experience gains you get from combat, not to mention drops. In the online game, some players grind away at these creatures for that very reason - to level up themselves and their gear. SoW added blue quest cards that would give rewards for clobbering a certain number of these creatures, and it works to some extent. The problem is that there are only so many blue quests in play at a time, and the chance of getting that one or two XP to level up can be a crapshoot in some cases. BC adds more cards to cover the new creatures, but it's still a matter of having the right creature in the right place with the right card showing. I give these a C+ for effort, but I've rarely used them.

Destiny Cards: Event cards on steroids, they shift the rules around rather than just add quests or give one-off effects. For example, you might have a boss on the board that causes items in the merchant deck to be more expensive. They also only last for a certain amount of time. While there is no real corollary for the online game (festival periods are the closest events), I'm in favor of using this deck as it adds variety to the game. I find these cards to be more interesting than events in general, although getting the right card at the right time will affect the game outcome in some cases (which I think we can all agree permeates the game, making it a better ride than a game, but I'm cool with that). There are specific cards for the original overlords, too bad they didn't add them for the BC overlords in that set. B+

Expanded powers/talents: Nine classes, now with double the choices for talents and powers, and with BC up to six levels. There are a lot of choices to be made, and while I can see potential for "optimal path" problems it won't really affect me as I'm unlikely to play this game enough to discover them. Probably the best addition to the game, period. A

Horde Paladin/Alliance Shaman: Nice to have these classes added to the game, ending fights over who sits on which side of the board, but a very minor addition. Lets you play the BC races, although race is such a small factor in the game it's hardly worth mentioning. N/A

Outland Board: More stuff to do, more places to go. More table space taken up. I barely fit this beast on my gaming table with one of the two butterfly leaves extended. On the plus side it gives additional space to play, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. Perhaps I'll feel better when my online rogue gnome hits level 59 and I decide to visit the Outlands. Necessary, but same ol' same ol'. B-

New/Improved Critters: A whole lot of new critters, many of whom I haven't run into yet in the Outlands. There are also purple quest creatures that are even tougher than the red ones. My biggest gripe is that they are larger and their bases tend to cover the quest markers on the board. While it's nice to have such big plastics, in the end it only requires more table space. Again, necessary but not a lot of newness here. B-

Dungeons: A completely new mechanism to simulate instances in the online game, this works fairly well. In a brilliant move, FFG made these into a push-your-luck system that offsets the stuck-with-luck element and adds a lot of tension. You draw cards for each stage of the dungeon until you get to the boss. Some cards give you goodies if you beat the boss, some add to the boss's abilities. Once you draw a boss, you can keep drawing cards to try to get more loot. Knowing the decks kinda ruins this for me, but with two bosses in many of the levels you never quite know what you'll face, unlike the online game. All three new overlords require traveling through dungeons in the Outlands to get to the endgame, which means that you tend to be a bit more banged up as there's a forced march element involved (only one action per turn, then on to the next level, so you better rest while you can). XP rewards seem a bit high in the later dungeons.

On the downside, the dungeons added to the original board heavily favor the Horde, as they are almost all a couple of turns away from Alliance flight paths (other than Caer Darrow). The two early instances are very close to Horde flightpaths. My game was Alliance characters (solo), so I only did Lady Vash's dungeon. It helped my 4th level rogue get up to sixth level quickly (the Draenai Shaman was sixth when we went in), but I never felt like pushing my luck. First phase had four henchmen, second had two, third was (of course) just Lady Vash. I'll give this an A- for concept, B- for implementation in my game. Definitely made Vash very tough to beat, but did ramp up my weaker character to take her on.

New Overlords: Only one played so far, but Vash was *tough*. You couldn't reroll or change 1s and 2s, killing a lot of my talents for my rogue, and any 1/2 rolls you got ended up getting removed from the damage box. After two rounds I was *losing* ground on causing damage, and her power left me with no energy to cast spells causing a downward spiral. I suspect these new overlords are a bit too tough, but time will tell. And this with 30% more dice available in each color! B- for my experience with Vash only.

Play Time: I can usually play the base game (or with SoW) in about two hours, with a good 30 minutes for putting away if I sort the expansion out. BC doubled the play time as well as the pack up time. There were some good elements, but I may play this without the Outlands board elements in the future (there are rules for this, plus one extra overlord). As such, it's hard to recommend BC, nor am I even sure that it will see much playing time in the future, at least the Outlands parts. Great concept, but way too long to little effect. Of course, the same can be said for the game if you leave out the raids and other cool endgame changes, which were not added into this expansion (such as honor).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Secular Humanism Is Not A Religion

The following essay discusses religion and faith in a way that many believers may find objectionable on first read. I would like to state that this is not intended as a personal attack on individuals, but on closed-mindedness. Like most theists, I am desperately searching for truth in a world where little is true. However, to show why Secular Humanism isn't a faith I have to compare it to faith, and along the way I must show why faith, in the traditional sense, is not a part of my worldview. There have been times when I have wished that I could believe in the Christian God, but I have yet to find a single compelling argument on his behalf. And I've been offered many over the years, perhaps hundreds. I'm just not a leap of faith kind of guy. At any rate, please know that I do respect faith and understand the need for it in humanity, and this essay should in no way be taken as a criticism of any specific person or faith other than in a very general sense.

Mitt Romney has once again tried to gain the religious right's stamp of approval, this time by trying to have his cake and eat it too. I'm sure it's lost on the general populace that you can't claim that your religion (Mormonism, or LDS) is compatible with Christianity (a view I've learned doesn't sit well with many Christians), then turn around and claim that we're all in one big war against Secular Humanism.

I'm pretty certain that Secular Humanism is not a faith, at least if it's me they're talking about (and I'm pretty sure it is). If anything, I'm a militant agnostic - I don't know and you don't either. While I lean pretty heavily toward atheism, which *is* a leap of faith and therefore arguably a religion, I simply don't have the evidence to prove that there is no higher power, at least in the traditional sense of a God who created the universe and takes an active role in the lives of people. At this point in history, religion has had a .000 batting average when it comes to conflicts between the two. Of course, science has as many advocates who ignore the tenets of science (proof must be repeatable, observable, and verifiable) to advance their own agenda, but without any way for religion to verify it's claims it simply cannot compete.

I am not saying that faith doesn't provide comfort, nor am I saying that there is no God. I am simply saying that faith has consistently given way to science over the past 1000 years and not the other way around.

This does not make me a religionist. It means I have a world view that doesn't include a personal God that I can appeal to or need to worry about making happy with conflicting and arbitrary rules to get into heaven. It means I don't have to agonize that an obviously evil man like Dick Cheney (and I've defined what I mean by evil before - ends justify the means in all cases) can affect the lives of millions of people to their detriment and wonder why the hell God is letting this happen. I don't have to wonder how we could be *made* and still be so deeply flawed if our creator is omniscient and omnipotent. And yes, I know the argument that Satan had his hand in our development cycle, but someone had to create Satan in that account and that means God.

If this sounds like I'm bashing religion, I'm really not trying to cause offense. I'm simply saying that I reject theological faith as a basis for understanding the universe. While I don't believe that we understand the universe at all well, we can use science to predict an outcome based on current conditions and past experience, and that's considerably more than faith can do. As such, to call Secular Humanism a religion is equivalent to calling science a religion when it is in some senses the antithesis of a religion. In science, faith gets you nowhere other than to point you in a direction of inquiry. In religion, faith gets you into heaven, unless you're wrong. Given that there are over 10,000 different faiths on the planet, I'm guessing that most people are getting it wrong.

And that almost certainly includes me, btw. After all, I don't know. And you don't either.

I do know, however, that Secular Humanism is not a religion. Unitairanism is a religion, and there are "secular humanists" in that church in droves, but it's not religion. Secular humanism is a *rejection* of traditional religion as a means of understanding life and our role in the cosmos. Freedom of religion also means freedom from everyone else's religion. Believe what you want to believe, so long as it does not pick my pocket or break my leg, and so long as you don't stick it in my face or try to control my life in it's name, and I will do the same for you. Put up Christmas trees and ignore the Old Religion roots of that tradition. Don't let your kids play games involving pretend magic, or keep them from dressing up on Halloween. Pull your kids out of public school and teach them at home. Pray for the oppressed, for the wronged, for the sick, for the deserving.

Just don't tell me my non-belief is in fact belief. Not until you've got a little proof on your side, a little scientific method. Something more than "I believe, and so should you." Because I'm not telling you that at all.

New Games

It's been a busy month for new games. From 1960 to Mr. Jack to finally getting to play Downtown to all of the new GMT releases and what I bought in their year-end sale, it's been a busy month. Here's a list of a few things I've gotten but haven't had a chance to try out yet, and some first impressions:

Roads to Leningrad - chit activation game on the German push to Leningrad in 1941 and the Soviet counterattacks that almost certainly prevented it's fall. This game comes out of the Kasserine (GMT) and Barbarossa series (also GMT) by Vance von Borries. There are actually four scenarios covering two battles on two maps, and the counter density looks quite manageable (compared to Great War in Europe, which overwhelms me to look at without tweezers at hand).

The Burning Blue - Definitely interested in this now that I've had a chance to fiddle a bit with Downtown. Battle of Britain from the ground control point of view, with a *lot* of detail and complexity, but mostly in the various subsystems and how they interact. Downtown has been quite manageable using their recommended learning curve, although I still have some sequencing questions (such as - if you move into a space that activates a ground element like AAA, can you still take your free turn after the unit is revealed?)

Deluxe Alex The Great (Great Battles of History series) - A replacement for my 3rd ed copy, which was one of the last games I laminated maps for. I really wanted the paper maps back in their original state, so I figured I might as well get the whole package. I'll play this mostly with the Simple rules. I was surprised that the counters were virtually indistinguishable from the originals, although I've been updating mine from C3i for years so I guess the old ones were fine. I will give my old copy (complete with laminated maps) away to the first member of Rip City Gamers who asks.

Saratoga, 2nd ed - Another replacement, this one mostly because I got it relatively cheap. Really nothing wrong with the old copy, the map isn't even laminated! It has the same offer as Deluxe Alex, and has had all of it's counters updated as well.

Combat Commander, Med and Paratrooper scenario pack - I'm a bit surprised I haven't played this yet, seeing as it's the best game I've bought in the last year, definitely the best wargame. I was hoping to get at least one game in last Saturday when I held an open gaming day, but it wasn't that kind of crowd. (Same goes for Starcraft, although it really will work best with three or maybe four). So many scenarios, so little time.

Race For The Galaxy - San Juan with balls. Some of the phases are a bit hard to parse, and it won't have the same sort of rapid play that makes San Juan such a fantastic filler, but it's definitely good enough and different enough to merit purchase - that means much more than it used to.

Zooloreto, Mission: Red Planet, Colosseum, Mr. Jack - All games that came highly recommended. I usually need to play a game to buy it these days, at least with Euros, but when my wife is out of town I get really really bored. Especially out here in the wilds of Wilsonville. Amazingly, I managed to keep myself from buying the two Battlelore expansions I didn't yet have. I really can't say why I buy expansions for that game when Command and Colors: Ancients fills the niche so well (and there will likely be two more expansions on my shelf around the New Year!)

Vortex - Dial up the way-back machine! This was a huge game in our group some years ago. I still like it quite a bit, and need to find ways to get games in. FFG held a sale where they had a sixteen-pack of boosters for about $33 (incl shipping), so I grabbed it. About a quarter of the flats were dupes, but only one of the rare flats, so that's 45 rare tiles. I will need a new storage solution for these, I think I've maxed out the various baggies all of the factions are in. A fantastic game, one of the few collectable titles I've enjoyed thoroughly (which I can't quite say about WoW:CCG yet).

Asia Engulfed - PTO version of Europe Engulfed, a grand strategic block game. Only one map, what looks to be fewer blocks (I haven't needed to remove the bulky insert to fit everything back after punching and placing labels). I do like the large format map of EE, but it does take more space than I like to use and doesn't lend itself to easy storage (because it won't fit in a poster frame, and thus in my Giant Stacking Trays). AE takes care of the problem nicely. I'm looking forward to giving this a try, and may tear down my nascent GWiE game until the corrected counters are out for that title (who wants to swap counters in an ongoing game?)

Conquest of Paradise - Being married to a Filipina who grew up in Hawaii, I have a passing interest in Polynesian culture (yes, I'm aware that Filipinos aren't Polynesian, they are a blend of South Asian, Indonesian, Chinese, and Spanish). Plus, I'm a sucker for exploration games and have been wanting to give this game a try since I saw a prototype back at WBC a few years ago. This is one of GMTs attempts at a Euro-style game, although it's clearly intended to be a bit meatier. Here's hoping that the added length doesn't kill the game, as it did with Winds of Plunder with more than three.

SCS Games - I came late to the party with these Gamers/MMP titles, but have done pretty well in collecting what I could. When MMP cobbled together copies of Yom Kippur War and Stalingrad Pocket, I grabbed them. The only games I haven't gotten yet, although SCS titles are a well-known quantity. This puts me at seven titles out of eleven total, with a twelfth on the way on MMPs prepub list. Missing are Gazala, Crusader, Ardennes, and Drive on Paris. I'm hoping these, like Fallshirmjaeger, pop up at some point, although I was lucky to find a copy of that game in Aurora, CO while on a trip there. What I really need to do is visit one of the big game stores in NYC or another large city, or better yet visit Australia again. I visited three different large stores in Sydney in 1996 and saw tons of games that were out of print on the shelves, but didn't have enough luggage space for more than a handful.

Quite a list.

Thomas Frey, Weasel

After putting me on the line for two months, our home inspectors finally had the balls to tell me they wouldn't compensate me for my ductwork, as detailed in an earlier entry. The excuse this time? That they recommended I have a thorough inspection of the HVAC system by a trained professional.

Silly me, I thought that was who I hired.

When I told him that my next call to him would be through my lawyer, suddenly he was willing to refund his fee. Too late, weasel. Our next step is to look into legal options and to let everyone we can think of in the real estate market know that he and his crew have no intention of standing behind their work unless legal action is threatened. I've already given them a Poor rating on Angie's List and am outing them on this blog as well.

For the record, the inspector's name is Thomas Frey, and his company is Thomas Frey and Associates. Hire them at your peril.

The strangest part of the entire exchange with Tom was at the very end, when he finally pleaded poverty, telling me that he didn't *have* $3000 to pay me for the ductwork. How can you run a company without reserves set aside for this very thing? Or, at the very least, insurance? He claims to be bonded and insured on his website, not that this has a thing to do with the matter at hand.

If you live in the Portland, OR metro area and are buying a home or know someone who is, or even if you are involved in the industry, do yourself a favor and avoid these guys. Weasels, every one - Brian, Scott, and especially Tom.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nixon Wins in '60!

Laurent and I got a chance to try out 1960:The Making of the President on Saturday. Here's a very brief rundown of how the game went and an early review.

The early game saw a lot of competition for the Issues, as we thought that having Momentum would be a very useful thing, used as it is to trigger your opponent's events. In fact, I think this is not a bad strategy in some ways, at least as long as you are remembering that in the end all that matters is how the votes come out. I neglected to remember that Momentum evaporates a bit every turn, so there were multiple times where I ended up losing a momentum I perhaps did not need to.

I did well in the debates as Nixon, largely because I managed to play a card that crippled Laurent's CP plays but forgot that I lost all three single CP tokens before the debate. As it was, because we did not understand the debate process as well as we might have the cards that went into the Campaign Strategy pile were often suboptimal. This gave me a seven-to-two edge in State Support, which I suspect helped me win.

The rules are very vague in spots. For example, it isn't clear that everything you put cubes on the board for requires you to first remove opponent's cubes. It's clear in some spots, but not others (such as issues - we couldn't figure out why it said to remove *an* issue cube from each issue, although we did play it correctly by removing one of each color when we just left cubes on the issues - it comes out the same mathematically.

There needs to be a tally board to keep track of who is winning on points. We had no idea until we did the final tally! I can imagine that it would be easy to screw it up, which tells me that this would be an excellent computer game. We also used the state tiles face down so that we could see the electoral number easily (the board's numbers are very small).

All in all, I'm looking forward to giving it another shot. The "all points scored at the end" doesn't bother me too much, although it's clear that the various support draws at the end can have a huge effect, and it's important to work to get support cubes into the bag on the last turn. A lot to think about in this game, and I'm sure that with such a short playing time (we took three hours with many rules lookups) it will see time on the table.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Whole Lot O' Gaming

It's been a while, but I've finally started gaming regularly again. With three sessions under my belt just in the last week, and even more to come with the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, it appears that gaming has gotten back to normal. Except for WoW, strangely, which is hard to really get into with people coming over to the house every day to replace some essential element of my new home. This week it's been the electrical panel, the insulation in the ceilings and the RoD, the drywall in the RoD, several light fixtures (with only three to go! I hate light fixtures!) and a new quieter (and functional, something the old 3" version was not) exhaust fan for the master bath.

Last Friday, Laurent, Mike, George, son Sean, Randy, and son Byron all came over to inaugurate my new game room. I was a bit nervous as Sean is six, but he did an amazing job of staying with us for the two hours he was here. First up was Incan Gold, the Sunriver Games reprint of Diamant. This is a fantastic large group game that is easy to teach, fun to play (even when you've left the Temple of Doom), and has that great "what will the other guy do" element that I like so much. The winner? Sean, who was the only person whose plans we couldn't guess. I came in a close second, beating out Mike by a point.

Next up was Royal Turf, with George and Sean playing the part of the sixth player together. This, like IG, was a learning game for Randy and Byron, who are just discovering the world of Euros and really digging it. The usual fun was had, egging on horses that you'd bet the "0" tile on, groaning when your horse was moved one space and cheering when you rolled just the right symbol to put your 2 bet horse in the lead. Mike won this, if memory serves, with me in second.

By now it was a bit after 9pm, so George took Sean home while the five of us pulled out Manila. Interestingly, Randy's wife (and Byron's mom) is Filipina, as is mine, so they were interested in the theme. Unfortunately, the game puts Filipinos in a bit of a bad light, with all of the skullduggery, insider trading, and corruption of business in that country shown in a rather blatant light. My experience is that Filipinos are, overall, extremely hardworking, loyal, friendly, fun to be around, and will grab any advantage or swag they can even if it's something they clearly have no use for. But they might. Someday. A gross generalization, but I am surprised by how well this simple game captures that eagerness to have an inside track over the other guy.

The game went smoothly enough, although I got dealt two jade in the beginning and never really did get it going like I wanted to. Instead, it was one of the two commodities that stalled on the 20 space, and despite having a very good cash flow for the entire game I managed to come in second to Mike. Again. I like this game more every time I play it, and despite the fact that we were bidding in the teens to the low twenties for the Harbor Master position for the entire game, only Byron really found himself to be short of money and even then never leveraged any of his shares.

My next session was on Monday, Veteran's Day. Since Mike, Chuck, and Eric all had the day off, they invited me to come over to play wargames at Mike's. Eric and I played A Victory Lost, while Mike and Chuck finished their Civil War Brigade game, which I think involved one of the Manassas battles (but I'm not sure). They had a very large map with very few counters and a *lot* of paper for writing orders. Last I looked Chuck was doing pretty well.

In my game with Eric, we managed to get to turn 7 in about six hours, not too bad for Eric's first game. I had most of the rules internalized by now, even the river stuff, and we had very few lookups over the course of the game. Eric played the Russians quite well for his first game, with me taking the Germans for the first time. I have yet to figure out how to get an effective breakout for the Russians that will imitate the historical gains (the Russians pretty much sweep the board in the first half), and indeed, while Eric did quite well in the middle and south he got bogged down with all of his units in the far north against my Hungarians, and put most of his efforts and reinforcements there. I had gotten 1st Panzer safely across the Don, although Eric's three activations of 2nd Guard in a row in the early game had left me a bit weak in that area. Eric was just crossing the Donets at it's Easternmost bend, and was doing some serious damage to my Hungarians in the north, and I had lost too many units to mount an effective counter-attack, but with three turns and 14 points down it didn't look good for Eric and we hung it up halfway into the seventh turn. An excellent game, and one I've got set up for solo play in my gameroom as we speak so that I can start working up a good Soviet opening.

The third session (yikes) was the usual RCG Tuesday nighter, this time at Chris's. He is now 15 minutes away, or would be if the road between Wilsonville and Sherwood was not closed for construction for the next year. As it was, even with discovering that I couldn't get where I needed to go via the route my GPS system in the car was suggesting, it only took 30 minutes to get there, more like 20 or less with the back roads out of North Wilsonville.

Present were Chris, Ian, Mike, Carey, Matt Riley, new guy Jeff, and myself. Jeff, Matt, Carey, and I all played together for the evening, starting with Darjeeling (a pretty cool game that borrows a bit from, of all things, Fossil), which I managed to take second in to Jeff. I am always the bridesmaid, I guess. The components are a bit over-produced (I hate switchback scoring boards, which take up about half of the game space), and it seems to be trying just a *bit* too hard to be a Big Game for what it is, but my initial reaction is still Thumbs Up. Of course, there were the usual jokes about teabagging, and our now-classic Tim-ism ("You know what I've heard about this game? It's better when played briskly!") is particularly apt. Unless you've never heard Lipton Tea's motto, of course. Jeff won handily after stumbling across the notion that you could do well even with moderate scoring if you did it often and kept others from doing the same.

For our final game of the evening, we played a wacky Ameritrash title called Red Dragon Inn, or something along those lines. This is a hilarious four-player game where you play a cartoonish fantasy role-play character who is trying to drink the other cartoonish fantasy role-playing characters under the table. Or make them run out of money, whatever works for you. I was the rogue, doing my darnedest to win at gambling and surprise people with sneaky actions. Unfortunately, I ran into a run of really powerful drinks about halfway in and ended up being the first player eliminated. Carey was right behind me (despite having hung on by his fingernails for a good chunk of the game), and I'm not terribly sure who won between Matt and Jeff. All I know is that it was the first game I didn't come in second in (not counting AVL, which to be fair could have gone either way had we finished) the whole week. Amazing!

Thanks to all for playing and hosting and all that stuff. It was sure great to get out and feel normal again, and now that Mel is working on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays it seems that I'll have many more chances to get out on Tuesdays. About time.

Oh, one last thing. Our inspector, the one who had the knee surgery, called me yesterday to let me know that he couldn't read very well yet (the drugs were making his vision fuzzy). Please. As if someone couldn't read a contract to you. I pointed out yet again that were I to start spreading his name around to various real estate agents that this true story would cause considerably more damage to his business than just making me happy. He is going to call me back, but I suspect that come next Monday I will simply call, say that I'd like to have an answer in 24 hours, and then go from there.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

This House... Is Clean

Got the results for the mold tests, and they are much improved. There was a single stachybotrys spore left in the Room of Death, down from over 400 originally. That's not quite perfect, but given that there was one last jet engine running in that room for nearly three days after the fact, I'll take it. Moisture readings were down to 15%, which is what I'd expect given a lack of insulation in the room. We'll keep an eye on these things with a regular check up next year, but at least now we can start getting the roofers in to ensure we don't have any leaks, plus get the flooring and electrical work done. Once we have that it's time for insulation and drywall, and then we'll have a place for our computer equipment. Total cost, borne entirely by us: $5000 for testing and remediation. I'm estimating finishing the room to be another $2000, although some of that has already been spent as we'd paid to have the wallpaper removed and the room painted.

The upstairs bookcase system will take a little longer, six weeks. I was hoping to get the books put away before Thanksgiving, but I'll take anything at this point. I also need to get a couple of folding tables and lamps for the game room. Quite a bit is out of the room, which is excellent news, although the extra bedroom is unusable for now and my sister-in-law will need the room long before we get the bookcases. What a puzzle.

I did get the new Starcraft boardgame up and run through one turn. For a Risk-type game, it looks very promising, although a bit of a brain burner (mostly because of the quasi-FILO-stack type execution of orders - each planet has orders that are executed in *reverse* order that they were placed in, although each player gets to determine which of his exposed orders will be executed). There are a lot of rules, especially for special cases, but I sense that the game play will be fluid and interesting, although there is the usual rich-get-richer problem that seems to be the bane of Risk/A&A. The quasi-3D modular board also looks very interesting, with some pretty good ideas to make it easier to parse. Definitely one I'm looking forward to trying out, even though I'm thinking the box is *way* too big for a game with this component set. Get this - no Plano, as every faction will get it's own quart-sized Ziplock with all of their pieces.

That's it for today, I'll post again once I have some more from the Bad Inspectors.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

House Update

Well, things seem to finally be heading in the right direction. We have gone an entire day without anyone coming to fix something in the house. This is not to say that there isn't still much to do, just that I am starting to feel like I live in a home instead of a vocational arts project. Some things that have improved in the past couple of days:

1) My health. I only needed the Ambien for a few nights to get my brain out of overdrive, now I seem to be sleeping pretty well (other than a nagging neck ache from sleeping in the wrong position last Saturday - not sure how I did that, but it makes everything else more difficult). Saw my doctor yesterday and had a variety of BP readings, from 136 up to 152 for the systolic reading, and 70 up to 88 for the diastolic. 152 isn't great, but it's a lot better than 168, which is approaching head popping range. I'm now on beta blockers to try to control my blood pressure and reduce stress, which I've only used before to deal with rare performance anxiety. No, not *that* kind of performance, I mean singing technically difficult Bach arias in performance. So far today I can't even tell that I'm on something different. I am seeing a cardiologist to look into some basic heart issues, but so far all signs point to my chest pains being something more like a hiatal hernia.

2) We've fixed several things in the house as of this morning, including getting up towel bars in the master suite, putting up the rest of the light fixtures in the master bath and closet, and getting that one last hanging bar for the closet, which takes the last of the wardrobe boxes out of the dining room. I got all of my games out of boxes, even the Euros, and to my surprise they all fit in my bookcases. It's an impressive collection with everything more or less in one room, and now I just need to get the other boxes in that room either emptied or removed, which will be much easier once the Room of Death has been refloored, drywalled, insulated, and returned to service. We have also ordered 3' tall bookcases for the 14' of hall in the Skybridge that is going to no good use, with a very good chance we'll order another 11' worth for the other side. This will get rid of the 12-15 boxes of books that we have nowhere to put right now. I also installed a new thermostat once I realized our old one was 17 years old. Strangely, the house seems a lot warmer, especially this morning, probably because I set on/off times and temps that were logical for us instead of a 90 year old. They had their thermostat down to 62 at night, that's just asking for frostbite.

3) We seem to have finally found a good balance for work/relaxation. We'd gotten down to just a couple hours of disk space free (for HD material, which takes up about 8x the space as standard def), but we've been aggressively going through the various programs. It may be very difficult to get through five or six hours of Dexter, an excellent Showtime series about a "good" serial killer, but I think that we're just a few nights away from having the TV shows back under control. Of course, I expect quite a few to be cancelled before that time, but for now I'm enjoying most of them. We did drop Bionic Woman, despite the relatively glowing reviews, and I'm pretty close to dropping Grey's Anatomy with Private Practice right on the edge. Damages ended with a bang (as you might expect), and I strongly recommend you watch it on FX's web site or pick up the DVD set when it becomes available - it is perhaps the most compelling television I've ever seen, and these 13 episode seasons eliminate the whole "what do we do for an entire 26 episode season?" problem that most network material falls into (24 is an excellent example - a show that would have been twice as good had it been "12").

4) Our Bad Inspector called me yesterday as I was leaving the doctor's office, saying that his boss is still under various meds for pain, muscle spasms, etc, and isn't in any shape to make a decision. I've given them a little more time, until next week Wednesday, but then I'm going to have to start insisting that someone make a decision. I get the sense that there is a little shining on happening, but the simple fact is that I have them by the short hairs and they are fully aware of it. If it takes them a little time to figure out how to proceed, that's just fine - I've documented everything I need to document, and know I will win a court case. I can't imagine any of them want to go to court over the holidays...

5) Finally, while I'm not expecting to get out and do a whole lot of gaming between now and next week, I fully intend to spend a good chunk of Saturday playing *something*, probably solitaire. That will be the moment when I start to feel normal again, I think.

We have a few more projects that need doing between now and the end of the year, including reinsulating the ceilings, replacing the plumbing between the valves and the faucets, getting the electrical system looked at and the circuit breaker replaced, and maybe replacing the crap fridge we have if there's any money left over after all of that. Unlikely! The big project for next year will be replacing the back deck and putting in a normal roofline where the upstairs deck/water leakage source is now. That will be a chunk of change, and we'll have to put off the kitchen and bathrooms for now, although I'm already thinking that we may need to redo the master bath sooner rather than later.

Like I say, there's a lot to do. Today, at least, I feel like we're moving in the right direction. Hopefully my next post will be about gaming again. Remember when I thought that was getting to be a boring topic? :-0

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Looking Up, A Bit

It's been nearly a week since I blogged, and a busy week it has been. The mold remediators are on their last day here, the room is tested tomorrow (although to be honest there's nothing there but studs), and they remove the two jet engine air scrubbers that have created a permanent notch in my hearing, at least the ones outside of the Room of Death. Mold testing happens tomorrow.

On the Bad Inspector Front, I last heard from them about a week ago when I was told that the owner was still not cogent enough from his double knee surgery to make decisions. I had given them until this coming Friday, but I have this bad feeling that they are using the time to get their legal ducks in order. If I find that is the case I will start telling the full story everywhere I possibly can, and then will consider legal action. I am still hopeful that they will do the right thing, but am preparing for the worst.

As far as unpacking goes, we are proceeding. Yesterday I finally took on the new game room, despite a very stiff neck after a weekend of choir concerts (it was a very busy week). All of the wargames are in the closet, as are the comic books and my vinyl records. I have four bookcases to hold my Euros, and I think I can fit them all. The problem will be all of the things that were in the bookcases before, mostly knick-knacky stuff. That and the books that were in our dining room. Once the Euros are unpacked it will be a while until I can get the extra boxes out, but at least I'll have a table and the games available. I'm just not sure when I would find *time* to actually play...

Speaking of which, I'm still on hiatus from Rip City Gamers. I'm hoping that next week I can start attending again, but much depends upon when my wife will be working, and her shift in schedule happens once their new receptionist is up to speed, which is taking a long time. My mother had a rough weekend, which we're convinced is because her GP is overwhelmed and not giving a good look at reducing her meds load, so we're looking into a new GP with more focus on older patients. Still, I'm very concerned about her falling (she did at least three times over the past week, once right in front of me), and the meds she's on make her confused. As such, I am much more comfortable being in the immediate vicinity, or at least having my wife here. Tuesdays are just too busy for now, though. It will be nice to get back into the groove.

My health is doing better. I saw a doctor last Wednesday, and my BP was 168/92. I see my regular GP tomorrow, conveniently at the same place we're going to try to get my Mom into (Fanno Creek Clinic), and I'm sure my BP will still be over 150 for the systolic number. I'm back on my diuretic BP medication, so hopefully it will be closer to an acceptable level. I also am fairly sure that I have a hiatic hernia (a hole in the diaphragm that allows part of your stomach to bunch up and cause discomfort). I had a bad moment during the Saturday night concert when I was fairly sure this was angina or an impending heart attack, but the symptoms really point to the hernia. I have a funny feeling I will have an extremely good sense of the current state of the health industry in America within two months, both for myself and for my mother.

Some other good news on the house... we have finished the kitchen, at least the unpacking part, and the living room is about 80% of the way there. I put up a towel bar in our bathroom last night, those are kinda tricky to get just right but I did it on the first try. I also replaced the old shower head, a 20 lb Speakman fixed head that was pretty much rusted out with our newer and much lighter Speakman removable head. I'll be trying it out shortly before I take my mother shopping for a coat and pants. My sister came out and picked up all of the packing paper (we estimate about $100 worth) that we'd saved, she's going to take our boxes, worth another $500 or so, in the next month. We have a lot of boxes, but they don't seem quite so numerous when they're collapsed. So far very little damage to our goods - of the games only the Days of Decision III box took a ding, although I've got a lot of boxes to open still. Amazing considering how fast the movers worked.

I'm not sure if I'll ever play Warcraft again at this point. I haven't touched it in weeks, and may not for a couple more. If I was ever complaining about being bored, that is no longer the case.

I am so looking forward to having the jet engines removed...

I'll post more in a couple of days once the Bad Inspectors have decided if they're going to go on the side of the angels or not.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Moving In

I feel like I've been through one of the most stressful times of my life over the past month, on a par with losing my singing voice for six months in 2003 (and the psychic costs associated with it) and the implosion of my career change to academia in 1996. Who would have thought that a simple move 15 minutes down the road could cause so much grief?

The main problem, at least in terms of me handling stress, has been the lack of sleep. Where I can survive on six to eight hours so long as it's mostly uninterrupted and I can get into delta sleep for a bit, I do OK. However, lately I've been lucky to get six hours, and rarely do I sleep for more than an hour or two before waking up. In the new house, it's really been a problem, mostly because I've lost confidence in *anything* in the house to work correctly, and so every noise, every smell, every everything wakes me and I go looking to see what the problem is.

An excellent example is the HVAC system, outlined in the last post. Even once the new system was in, I found myself freezing at night as if there was no heat at all. After one night spent mostly trying to figure out why I was so cold, I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of several elements: poor circulation, even with the furnace fan running all the time, my own sudden sensitivity to cold, and a weird phenomenon in my sinuses where I'm both extremely sensitive to smells as well as feel like my chest and sinuses have menthol on them and so things *smell* cold.

Unfortunately, even with an extra comforter on the bed, suddenly I wake up drenched in sweat to have to adjust the covers, only to wake up again in 30 minutes freezing. No wonder I'm not sleeping. I've gotten a prescription for a mild sedative, we'll see if that helps.

It appears that the smell issue, which started in earnest when the ductwork was replaced, has gotten better, although I now believe that much of the problem is with musty wood in the cabinets and the 30 year old parquet entry. The entry we can replace fairly soon, but the cabinets will have to wait for their respective remodel efforts. We've just spent too much too soon to start thinking about these elements for at least a year, and the moldy Room Of Death dictates that we make some basic architectural changes in order to prevent future water leaks and possible mold. In other words, the deck above the room of death is going to be replaced by a regular roof in pretty short order, like next summer. Once I pass the HOA inspection process, of course.

Speaking of the Room of Death (RoD), the remediators are now at work on it. On Tuesday, they brought over the zipper door to install inside so that they could get into the room to open the sliding door, and also installed a HEPA filter of the Gods to achieve negative pressure in the room. Imagine my surprise when, "awakening" from an attempted nap, that the new door, the only thing between me and a mold that I was told would produce organ failure if I was exposed to it for 20 minutes in the concentrations found in that very room, was coming loose at the top.

I calmed down about an hour later. They came back and stapled the damned thing to the wall, something I could have done (and they should have done) were I able to find my staple gun. Today, they removed pretty much every piece of drywall, ceiling, floor, and mold in the place. We're down to the studs now, which is good because today it rained and tomorrow we should be able to see where the leak is coming from. At least we'll have one year of worrying if there's another leak, but after replacing that roof we should (should, I say) be relatively safe.

I really can't do this again. Last night, I was ready to get in the car with Mel and the dogs and drive into the ocean. Today, I got a sedative from my doctor, as well as chest x-rays and a blood test to see if I've absorbed anything that will kill me quicker than usual. One fun fact- my BP is 168/92. Pop goes the weasel.

We've gotten a lot of unpacking downstairs done, with Mel doing the lion's share of the work - I've been off helping my mother and getting drugs and prepping for a choir concert I really should have dropped out of three weeks ago and now feel obligated to finish. I figure we've gotten through about a third of the process, which will next move on to the garage and, eventually, the new game room. At this rate, I expect to have it set up around Thanksgiving.

Of the 20 other things going wrong, we have plumbing that used lots of compression nuts and bendable metal tubes, a "time bomb" in the words of one mold inspector, an electrical system that I don't trust for a minute, a leak in the roof that I sure hope they fixed today, a shower upstairs whose faucet leaks when you use it, venting from three different rooms in the main floor that were sent to the soffet instead of an actual vent, a toilet in the master bath that hiccups ever fifteen minutes, two giant air scrubbers trying desperately to find the last of the stachy botrys mold in the air that *isn't* in the RoD), replacing pretty much every light fixture, electrical outlet, and switch in the house, and bills that are rapidly reaching $15,000 more than I expected. And that's just to take care of the things that need work *now*.

At least it looks like the inspectors will pay for the new ductwork, or so it seems when the owner comes out of his morphine fog after double knee replacements. I hope, because as much fun as it will be to destroy this company in a civil lawsuit and the associated storm of consumer complaints I'll file, I really need the rest.

Last night I got to the point where I wished fervently that I could turn back time two months and just laugh at my sister when she suggested that Mel and I move to Charbonneau. Maybe I'll feel better after one decent night's sleep on the sedative (which really haven't worked well for me in the past, at least for sleep), and maybe once every box on the main floor has been emptied, the packing paper collected, the boxes sorted and saved for my sister's move (the other one, not the bad suggestion one), and I can't smell that funk anymore, then I'll feel better. God, I hope so.

I am sorry that this blog has been such a downer as of late, but to be very honest I kind of feel like it's therapy for me. Hopefully I'll be able to start giving good news at some point, but right now I just want to sleep.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Original Sin

I threatened to sue a man today.

I think many of us will mention their lawyers in the heat of an argument, usually out of frustration. Clearly we are a litigious society, where civil action is considered by some to be a vocation rather than a last resort. My philosophy has always been that when you bring a lawyer into a dispute, both parties lose and the lawyer wins.

Sometimes, though, you don't really care if you lose, just that the other guy does. Today was one of those days.

I'll preface the story by relating a lesson I learned in my Theology 205 class about original sin. Many of you know that I am not a deist, but neither am I atheist. I simply figure that if there is a higher being who wants to send me an unambiguous message that they will do so. Some of you will say that I am sent a message every day I'm alive, but hear me out. The lesson, which has stuck with me for a quarter century and is a guiding principle of my life is simple.

Take responsibility for your actions. All sin comes from avoiding said responsibility.

In Genesis, it is not that Eve takes the apple and eats from it, nor is it that she gives it to Adam and he eats from it as well, despite a rather stern admonition from God. The sin is that when asked who ate the apple, Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the Serpent. It is the avoidance of responsibility that is the sin, not the act per se.

This is not to say that acts are not harmful, cruel, stupid, or any other adjective you want to choose. It is that the *sin* is in not being willing to say, "I did it, and I'm willing to suffer the consequences." If you are willing to take responsibility, you are less likely to commit an act that carries a harsh penalty, whether monetary, social, or even just knowing you've done wrong.

Your mileage may vary, but this is the terminology I use to describe this basic building block of my ethical standards. Not everyone lives this way, and it drives me mad. What makes me madder is that much of the time people will try to lie their way out of responsibility over something as minor as money, and not much at that. It is almost as if the act of getting away with something is more valuable than their own soul. I really don't know how people who do this can look themselves in the mirror. I certainly couldn't.

So it was that when we discovered that our ductwork in our new house was made of a particularly braindead material, in this case wire mesh tubing surrounded by insulation and a thin metal film, and that said material cannot be cleaned, and that I on occasion suffer from asthsma and insist on having clean ducts, it was with hope that the people who inspected our home would step up and admit that they had missed an element that is costing us not only $3500 to replace, but we are left with no heat until that work is done. We have been fortunate to find a company that is replacing the ductwork as I type, and by tomorrow night we should be able to use something other than space heaters to stay warm.

I will not give out the name of the inspectors, but will say that their first reaction to every problem I've found in the house and notified them of has been to cover their asses. With the mold we found, they had a point that it was very unlikely they would have detected anything without pulling back vinyl wallpaper, and I freely admitted this and let them off of the hook. In the case of the ductwork, however, I stood there and watched the assistant point a flashlight into a register and tell me that it was a very good idea to have my ducts cleaned, and that these looked a little dirty but otherwise fine.

We discovered the problem after taking possession of the house. Because the mold had been spread through the ducts by the drywall crew that had had the heat on while they tore down the drywall with the mold on it, cleaning our ducts became essential not only to take care of the mold, but because it's simply good practice when buying a home. The Power Vac guy, Matt, came out, told me we couldn't do anything about it, and suggested that I should look into replacement. He spent 10 seconds looking at the register before he noticed it was mesh. Keep in mind that this also means that there is insulation wrapped around this mesh with nothing keeping it from circulating around the house. Would you want to live in this house?

A call to the inspector had me listening to him telling me, over and over, that he'd never heard of such a thing, and that he doubted it existed. He arranged to have his assistant come by today with an HVAC guy to take a look, as he was going in for knee surgery the following morning. This is important, because during the inspection I listened to him discuss an awful lot of issues related to his knee during a 2 hour phone call, and not so much inspecting, which his assistant was doing.

The next day, our mold tester was out (who happened to be the guy they'd brought out about the mold). He had been very analytical and matter-of-fact, which impresses me in an inspector, so he took one look at the ducting and declared it to be something that our original inspector should have caught and mentioned. He also found another problem the inspectors had missed, a leak in the roof into an eave area that was plainly obvious.

At this point, I was pretty certain that I was going to insist that the inspector pay for the duct replacement. Had we been aware of the problem I would have asked the sellers to reduce the price of the house by the cost of duct replacement, and could have done so at a time that would have been convenient for us and for the folks doing the painting and drywall work in the house. I was not given that chance.

Today, the assistant showed up with his pet HVAC guy, and told me that the product was code during construction (although he'd never seen it before and didn't know it existed), that there had never been a recall effort, that his job as inspector was to tell me what things were or weren't code, not what might cause a health problem. My wife lit into him at that point, telling him that he was a professional and as such his job was to represent us as his clients, not hide behind semantics. An ex-inspector had already told me he should have seen it, regardless of whether he was aware of the product, and that it was more than reasonable for us to want to replace it.

With a room full of people suggesting to this guy that he tell his boss (under morphine for his knee pain) that he should do the right thing, including my realtor, a contractor, and the guy replacing the ductwork, but still not the slightest sense of willingness to take responsibility nor even say that he felt for our plight, I pulled out the big guns.

I don't if you've ever been on a jury in a civil action, but I have. You should be aware that juries have a strong propensity in such matters to want the wronged party to be compensated for what has happened to them, and a willingness to have whoever is in the defendent's chair pay for it with even the slightest chance of responsibility. Frankly, I hate this, and in the jury I was empaneled on I fought tooth and nail to force a party that had in all likelihood saved lived by their actions pay damages. I lost that fight.

The assistant had also been on civil actions as a juror, and when I pulled that particular card out, the look on his face told me that I would get what I was asking for: the cost of replacing my ductwork minus the cost of the cleaning (as I'd saved that money - I am nothing if not honest), plus a refund of their fee as I could no longer trust their inspection work. That comes to just about the cost of the ductwork replacement, as the fee and the cleaning were the same cost. At $3500, that's about the same as an expert witness or two, and nothing for the lawyers. And that's if they won the suit, which is unlikely. Keep in mind that the main inspector spent little time actually inspecting, that they already missed a leak, and that by claiming they'd never seen the product they looked stupid.

One other thing: Inspectors live by their reputations (as do we all, although theirs is critical). Here stands my realtor, who pretty much runs this community's real estate market, and that horse has clearly left the barn - she's already taken his name off of the very list that we used to choose him. Throw in a complaint to the Portland Contractor's Board, a grade of F on Angie's List, a wife who worked for six different branches of one of the most successful real estate companies in town (and was loved by all of them), of whom many are now working for different companies, and whatever other way I can tell people to avoid these guys, and the math becomes very clear.

Take responsibility for your failings.

The owner is still under morphine, so I gave them two weeks to do the right thing. After that, you'll know his name, as will quite a few realtors in town. I would estimate the potential loss to his business to be in the tens of thousands per year, perhaps more. My guess is he'll never inspect a home in this community again if my realtor has a thing to say about it. I have three or four people willing to testify on my behalf who either inspected the ducting or were present during my conversation. I have nothing better to do with my time than demonstrate to this individual that he should take responsibility for his actions. I will also state publically that were we to actually go to court (unlikely) and I were to win a large settlement, say more than $20,000, all money not going to the prosecution of the case after paying for the ductwork would be donated to a worthy cause, probably a non-lethal animal shelter or to Iraq War vets. Because this is not about me trying to make litigation a vocation, it is about teaching a lesson that this man should have learned before he turned 25.

Will he learn it? I doubt it - if you haven't figured this sort of thing out by his age (I'm guessing mid-50's), you aren't ever going to get it. But I'll leave a scar, and he won't forget that. I am a fair man. I am an honest man. I am giving this person a chance to do the right thing, to have a backbone, to look at himself in the mirror and not cringe. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Confidential to Chris: Sorry that you can't read this on your iPhone yet. Someday soon. ;-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


If I have learned anything in the last two weeks, it is this...

Don't buy a house.

We have, in the last two weeks, discovered mold in one wall of a room we won't be able to go into for at least two more weeks. While trying to get mold out of the ductwork, we have discovered that it is made of a mesh material wrapped in insulation that was sold for about a year in the late 70's, and all of it must be completely replaced, and the removed material has to be bagged in place in the attic or crawlspace. As such, we can't run the HVAC system until the ducting has been replaced, or face the possibility of remediating the entire house. Right now that looks like five days, and we may have to stay at a motel with the dogs during that time.

The painting crew not only failed to tape adequately, but left a horrendous mess that our drywaller (who contracted the painting out) has spent all day fixing with the help of five other guys. Our inspectors were idiots, and missed not only the duct issue but also a leak in the eaves, insufficient ventilation from the master bathroom, and rotting deck railing. We may sue, and I have never sued anyone in my life. Because they missed the ducting, we are likely to be out an extra $3000 that we could have gotten from the sellers, but without a civil suit we'll be stuck with getting our $435 inspection fee back. We are likely to report them to the contractor's board in Portland, not to mention Angie's List and the Better Business Bureau.

And, it took the cable installer four hours (no lie) to figure out that the wall plug was hooked up to a TV antenna in the attic, then repair water damage in the access box and replace the cable that ran up there. And the Dish Network guy is currently running cable under the house, but we just learned that they no longer have a single dish solution for HD programming so we have two sitting on our courtyard deck.

Oh, and I have no functioning toilets right now because the painters put them back so poorly that they are all leaking.

As a final insult, the stacking trays I ordered that are to hold wargames in progress were misordered and I only got half of them.

On the plus side, we seem to have finally gotten ahold of all of the existing and known problems, and I'm seriously considering hiring electrical and plumbing professionals to inspect those systems as I have zero confidence that any of them are in good shape, and my previous inspectors almost certainly missed a few things we *haven't* noticed. And all my stuff shows up today, so that's good.

Gotta go, my handyman just told me one toilet works. What a month. It has to get better. Right? Right?


At least we'll have TV to freeze by...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Last Hurrah, Multnomah Village Edition

Robert Klein used to do a bit about opening for a Richie Havens' concert in the 70's that was very funny. I heard it on Doctor Demento several times during my formative years, and several parts of the routine have stuck with me. None so much, though, as when he is about to go onstage to a crowd of screaming fans who are, sadly, screaming, "Ri-chie, Ri-chie!" At that point, he sees the stage manager sitting under a sign that reads, "Last Human Being Before The Stage". I use that term all of the time, even though no one gets it.

Last night, the final gaming session at my home in Multnomah Village was the Last Human Being Before The Stage. We have no more visitors, no more guests, no more anything but packing, getting our new place ready (including demolding one room, always nice to have a little surprise when you move into a place), and sleeping for about 10 minutes per night.

I was quite touched that so many people, both new and old, made the trip out for the last session at the place where Rip City Gamers was born. Eleven people in all, and a couple who couldn't make it at the last minute. Not a lot of games on the table, but given that I am in the early stages of a bronchial infection brought on by remodelling dust and almost certainly mold and have gotten about six hours of sleep the entire week, I was OK with that. Great fun was had by all, including what at least sounded like the most entertaining game of El Grande ever (and Matt and Ben correctly predicted that they would come in 1 and 2, aided by Chuck). The rest of us played Elfenlands, just to give a nod to 1998 and the year we started gaming as a group.

Thanks to all who have attended even a single session (OK, I may have one or two exceptions), but especially to those who were able to come last night. This was the event that demarcates this home going from ours to a place we need to vacate in a bit more than a week, and I couldn't think of a nicer group of people to celebrate it with.

Now we have the hard work, at least in terms of dealing with what we keep and what we try to avoid paying people to move for us. Amazing how much junk you build up in 10 years, especially considering that when we moved here we'd moved three times in 14 months and thus had very little in the way of furniture. In fact, almost everything we have in this house we bought while we were living here, or else inherited it from my mother when she moved to Spring Chicken Ridge (her retirement community). We've done a good job of getting rid of books, and I've even pared the games down a bit at the Rainy Day Games auctions (and a damned shame I missed the last one, as I could have tossed a few more their way). Even so, I'm figuring something like 40 boxes of books and written materials (including old RPG stuff), and a similar number of boxes for my games. Anything to try to cut into the packing costs - I just don't have the stamina to be carrying a lot of boxes around, but I'm happy to build them and fill them.

We waited until after the RCG session because I wanted games to be accessible, but also because we have about half of our books in the dining room where we play. Sorry, used to play. Sigh. Now we'll be spending a few days getting all of those books in boxes that will sit in that room, as well as filling a lot of boxes in the Doug Room. I'm very interested to see if I can fit all of my games in the new room - at the very least it will be an impressive sight.

In the new house, we have a little mold issue to get resolved, but otherwise we're on track for moving in a week from today. Thank God I'm married to a woman who has a pathological need for order, otherwise I'd never remember if we'd contacted the right people at the right time. Here's an example:

1) Tuesday morning - piano movers arrive to pick up the grand
2) Tuesday lunch - Piano movers arrive at new house to drop off the grand
2.5) Tuesday lunch - Mel signs closing papers on old house (she works that day)
3) Tuesday afternoon - Comcast shows up to install broadband
4) Tuesday afternoon - I sign closing papers on old house
4.5) Work is ongoing in the house, lots of little problems we're fixing.
5) Wednesday morning - Movers arrive to load truck
6) Wednesday morning - Carpet people show up to clean and appraise Very Expensive Persian Rug With Paint From Rampaging Dog On It (it goes on Wednesday because the piano is on top of it - very heavy - and they only pick up on Wednesdays)
7) Wednesday afternoon - Movers unload our entire world in the new house
8) Wednesday afternoon - Dish Network folks and the HOA rep show up to install the new dish, hook up to the receiver. We'll have a small TV set up to test this. Potential Problem: we aren't really sure where the A/V stack will go.

So as you can see, it's going to be a rather busy week. As a former project manager, this is the kind of crazy critical path that leaves you up at 3am wondering if there wasn't someone else that was supposed to show up on Tuesday but it didn't get onto the schedule. AIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Fortunately, the rest of the week isn't so bad, although AS I TYPE THIS I'm learning that the room with the mold is NOT going to be ready for us to move in as we're not likely to get the test back in time for it to matter. AIIIIIEEEEEE!!!!!

If anyone has good sedatives I can borrow, this would be the time to call me. ;-)

Like I said, the bloom is off the rose, and we're in the ugly part of moving. That's saying something.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Move Update

Just a quick update on how our move is going. We're still a bit less than two weeks out from the actual move itself, but things have been proceeding apace. We had the inspection and appraisal of our current home, both went well (although I've never heard what the appraisal value was, mostly out of curiosity - it should be pretty close to our selling price as we did base it on comps in our area).

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and we've had a few things go a bit off the rails:

o Dog Exploding. Not only did one of our dogs, Hallie, make a jail break when the inspector didn't close the basement door completely (she was found by someone in the neighborhood and got home safe and sound), but apparently something she ate on her adventure didn't agree with her. About two hours after I got her home I was standing at the top of our stairs, on my way down, and farted.

OMG, I just insulted someone. ;-)

Anyway, I thought to myself, "Whew! That was pretty bad!". Then I went a couple of steps down the stairs, and it got *worse*. Which, of course, tends to ignore the laws of fart physics. I thought maybe Hallie had farted, and as I went down the stairs and the smell got stronger I was to be proved partially correct. Right in the middle of my study was a pile of the wettest and stinkiest poo I've ever seen come out of my dog. And I hope to God it came out of Hallie because otherwise someone else was crapping in my basement.

On the plus side, the new owners got a freshly steamed carpet in that room.

o Garage Door of Death. Our inspection of the new house showed that our garage door seemed to be set to crush anything beneath it rather than reverse if it hit, oh, a dog. Or me. Turns out that the company that installed the door (or Handy Jack, as I'm calling the former owner, as he never saw drywall he didn't want to stick some sort of wall socket into) did a really bad job, and the drive was set high so that the door would close despite the side rubbing up against the rail. I'm hoping that we can have the people who did this fix it, otherwise we're looking at between $750 and $1250 to get the door either reinstalled or replaced entirely. I'm very glad I asked for the $2000 credit on closing, although now I'm thinking $5000 would have been more appropriate.

o Homework. We have two weeks of workmen now scraping our ceiling (no asbestos, thankfully), replacing the television sized alarm system panel (vaccuum tubes! I'm sure of it!), taking down the giant wall mirrors in the dining room, removing wallpaper, and painting the place. Cost: $11,000. I am not looking forward to redoing the bathroom and kitchen. They are supposed to be done a couple of days before we actually move in.

o Purging. Gotta get rid of the stuff that won't fit, to make room for the stuff that will. One of those is my Jerker (really) computer desk from IKEA. These are hugely popular with computer musicians, as they have places to put near-field monitors and you can stick a keyboard or mix desk under a monitor shelf. I will miss this system, but the truth is I rarely do any computer music projects these days, and with a laptop based system I'll probably just mount the speakers on the wall in my game room and pull out the necessary components when I do decide to jam. Time to check out prices and put stuff like this on Craigslist, no way am I going to ship this behemoth to Poughskeepie.

o How Dry I Am. After 19 years of flawless service, our Maytag dryer (which we sold with the house) decided to have it's first problem, two weeks before we moved out. I was torn on whether or not to fix this, as technically it's no longer ours, but we did have a couple of weeks of laundry we still need to do here as the new place has work being done on it, and I did not feel good about sticking the new owners with a surprise of this nature. So, I thought I'd open it up and take a look, but opened the wrong end (no service panel in the back). When I couldn't get the screws back in, we called the repairman.

However, in an astonishing case of No Good Deed Goes Unrewarded (as opposed to the usual state, Unpunished), it turned out that it was a $25 part causing the problem, and the bill was less than $90. For those of you keeping score, the new remote cost more than that. I was happy to give the new owners a fully functioning dryer, and do it for what is currently seeming like a very cheap amount of money (see above issues).

We're still on track to move on the 17th, and we are just starting to box some of our stuff, mostly books for now. Once we've had the final gaming session at the place where it all began, I will do the games and whats left of the books in the dining room/library. That should save us at least a couple of hours of labor on the move, which will be *more* than the cost of the remote.

Right now we're looking at a new computer desk, lighting fixtures, a 1.9GHz phone system that won't interfere with the new wireless router's .11n frequency, vaccuum cleaner (we currently have a built-in system), and toaster oven. I think we're going to live with this fridge for a couple of months, ugly as it is, as it seems kinda dumb to buy a new one if we decide to get yet another one when we redo the kitchen. Which will make the current spate of projects look very cheap indeed!

Oh, and I decided on your standard Office Depot folding tables, 5'x2.5', for the game room. I can fit three of these bad boys against the wall and have a very modular gaming surface system. With our current smallish dining table with butterfly extenders as the main table, I'll be able to do pretty much anything I want in this room. I did order four of the shelving units for storing games in progress and my laminated maps, so I'm pretty much set for what will end up in that space. Very exciting, and perhaps the thing I'm looking forward to the most. That will be one stuffed walk-in closet by the time I'm done, but it's also going to be a very clean look in the room. Makes up for having to leave the house I've loved living in the most in my lifetime. Now if only there were decent dining options down in Wilsonville...

I'll probably do another update after the move is done. I'm sure glad Mel is as organized as she is, I'd have forgotten half of what I arranged within 20 minutes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Wee Bit O' Gaming

Had a nice time gaming at Mike's place last night. Got to play Caylus Magna Carta (where do they get these names?) and Foppen.

C:MC is a nice reduction of the original game, in the same general vein as San Juan is to Puerto Rico. PR got a handful of plays in our group, then fell off when the corn strategy broke the base game. I picked up an expansion that gives you more choices of buildings (so you can dump the warehouses if you want a tight game), but we've never pulled it out in a few years. SJ, on the other hand, was our "summoning game" of choice, and with brisk play it's one of my favorite 3-4 player games.

C:MC does a similar number on Caylus, getting rid of the board, putting the buildings on cards, and in general streamlining the rules (and, in theory, play time). There were three of us playing, but we took a good two hours to get through it, including 'splainin'. We made several mistakes (thanks to what must be some of the dumbest rulesets I've ever seen) - For example, we thought you could build residences without having to resort to a lawyer, because residences are never discussed much more than in passing. There are a few references to residences having been transformed from other buildings by the lawyer, but the rules simply don't cover a handful of critical issues. Ystari does decent games, but they need better rules in general.

We also didn't remove three castle tiles, and didn't remove two if no one built onto the castle, although I think this would have shorted our game by a couple of turns at best. Having the "flip side" rules with "beginner" rules on one side and "advanced" on the other makes for a lot of confusion, let me tell you. If you're getting the sense that I think this is a pretty good game that's nearly ruined by the publisher, you're right - I've had similar experiences with Phalanx, a major reason I won't buy their games. One game, Revolution, *has* no official rules interpretation for one rule - players pick an interpretation and go. For someone who likes wargames and wants to play the game correctly, this is anathema. Ystari is moving into the same camp as Phalanx for me at this point.

But the game! We started out with Ben and I competing for castle points, although Ben got the advantage in the early going when points are bigger. I was building very few structures, although I was doing OK for money most of the time. I was on the verge of building one of the 10 point special buildings when Carey swooped in and built it one turn before I was going to. I settled for the Hotel. Did I mention that the special buildings are not listed anywhere in the rules other than one section on the Hotel? One building has a picture of a residence card on it and not one word of explanation in the rules. Argh.

In the end, I managed to pull out a win by building lots of extra structures and getting two 6 point special buildings on the map. However, we did play for a turn or two too long, and we did allow players to build residences at will (one food and you put the card on the table). Assuming that you must use lawyers, I can see players replacing the cards in their hands frequently in order to get the "right" ones in hand in the early game, something I don't know that we ever did. Ben came in second by a point, although at one point Carey was putting the game away a bit before Ben was ready for him to put it away, so I'll call it a bogie and try it again.

If this is truly playable in an hour, it's a major improvement over the box game, and one I'll pick up. Especially if you can play with two, as much of my gaming will be of this variety in the future. Although I hope they learn something about development of rules.

The crowd thinned out a bit (we had seven, a major improvement over the past three weeks when that was the combined total of attendees), so we played a five-player game of Foppen. Too bad this one is out of print, it's a marvelous trick-taking game that you can teach in minutes and has a great screwage factor without requiring players to think too hard. I beat George, but no one else. Chris nosed Carey out for the win when Carey was forced to take several points in the last couple of hands.

An entertaining evening, and it was great to see folks again after a month hiatus. Next week, we are back at my place again for the final session at the place where RCG started. I may cry.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Blub, Blub

Chuck came over today for a little wargaming, and to show off his hot new black Infinity sports car. I can hardly wait to have my own mid-life crisis! We chose Nine Navies' War, the War At Sea-derived alt-history game from Ty Bomba and Decision Games. The "alt" part supposes that the British delay a couple of weeks in getting the BEF onto the continent at the start of hostilities in the Great War, and that the German general Moltke doesn't fail his gut check in sucking in the French Plan XXVII armies into Germany and encircling them. As a result, France falls, the Germans take over portions of the French fleet as well as their ports, the Italians honor their treaty obligations and join the CP (little known fact), and the Spanish and Greeks join as well. That leaves the British and the Russians as the lone members of the Triple Entente, with the US due to come in at a random time on the Allied side. The Germans decide to attempt to blockade the British rather than make peace, and so the big naval surface battles that everyone was arming for before the war happen in this timeline. Historically, there were a handful of battles, only one of which really ended up being major (Jutland) and even then people still argue over who won.

In our game, only one of the random historical events ended up happening with the Allies taking out the CP's African colonies. Otherwise, Russia held on, the Suez canal never fell (although we mistakenly thought that at least one of the Russian ports had to fall), the US never entered, and Gibraltar held out. Which was generally bad news for me as I was the CP.

The game fell into a pretty standard pattern early, with me pressing the issue with the German fleet early in the North Sea and the Med, and I won the first battle of the North Sea with a lot of hits but very few sunk vessels. Chuck's repair facilities in Scapa Flow looked like an ER after a riot, although my ships got beat up as well. However, I started winning the number of ships sunk war early, and never really turned back. In the Med, I never really had any competition as most of the British set up in England as Chuck learned that it's much better to go strong up north in his earlier games. However, with me doing serious damage to the Russians both in the Baltic and the Black Seas as the game went on, and with a couple of turns where he was forced to place all of his units before I had to place mine, there was really only one battle in the North Atlantic where things went seriously wrong for me and even then you can replace "seriously wrong" with "matched ship-for-ship".

We made it to the ninth turn, when Chuck looked at his once proud British fleet, saw a whopping 12 ships left on the board, me with about a 40 point lead, one or two Russians left, no US involvement (they come in a bit slowly), a huge ship advantage in the Med, and decided that perhaps we'd be better off discussing the plans for my new gaming room. We had a bit of a suspicious that perhaps either the Allies required a slightly different strategy, or else they were in real trouble. There is an optional rule that forces the German fleet to move to the Cherbourg port in the first turn rather than start there, and I suspect that will help a bit, although to be honest he got a bad roll for the French fleet (he got four ships, I got 12) and the US never came in.

This is a great solo game, one I'll probably set up and play in the fairly near future. You do roll a bucket of dice, and high rolls are good in general, so Mike will hate it. Next time, of course, I'll have to be the Allies...

Radar Love

I'm clearly a big fan of TV, but I never seem to be able to find a universal remote that does the things I want it to do. We used a Crisp Solutions Ucommand learning remote that I bought some years ago, when $100 for something that had some configurability was a really good deal (the only other option was a bulky Sony unit). The remote worked to a certain extent, but when anyone else other than my wife and I needed to operate the AV stack the learning curve was killer.

A couple of months ago I discovered that our DVD remote didn't work anymore, which wasn't a huge deal as I typically only used it if I needed to change to a different disc in the carousel as that button wasn't mapped on the universal. So it was with a certain amount of concern that all of a sudden the Ucommand started eating batteries, and finally dumped all of it's programming and refused to relearn it. Given that it is *only* a learning remote (no codes or other way to learn data), that meant that suddenly we couldn't operate the DVD player unless the specific command had a button on the front panel. Which meant no navigating through menus, which means only the first episode of any TV series DVD was accessible.

I tried getting our Dish Network remote to learn the DVD, but none of the documented codes worked, and after 45 (really) attempts to find the right code using the brute force method I decided to give up. I went out and tried a couple of universal remotes, but the Philips unit from Costco (which looked like it would work well) did everything - but select an input source on the A/V receiver. Kind of a critical function, Philips. It's going back to Costco.

I'd heard good things about the Harmony series, which is from Logitech, but the units were typically very expensive ($300 and up!), and I don't usually think of Logitech as a particularly high quality company. However, I'm here to tell you that their low end model, the 550, is only about $100 and is programmable from my Mac. That's right, they support the Mac. You cannot believe how much more pleasant it is to program via a computer interface than push buttons and hope you got it right.

The other things I like - it functions as a learning remote, so if there's a function that doesn't seem to work you can always use that method. We have a new HD Dish Network DVR receiver that we really like, but the remote was controlling the old receiver after we programmed it initially. I gave it a couple of commands from the Dish remote, and it worked like a charm. Another good thing - it organizes macros as activities, then sets the controls for you given the activity. For example, if you want to watch TV, you push one button and it turns on the TV, the receiver, the Dish receiver, sets everything to the correct inputs, and then sets the buttons so that you can control the volume on the A/V receiver with the volume controls and the DVR functions with the transport controls.

The best part? If it doesn't work, you just change the button assignments. And the buttons are all discrete rubber buttons, no more virtual LCD "buttons" that don't give tactile feedback.

$100 may seem like a lot of money for a TV remote, but the programmability is so amazing (you can run *anything* that uses remotes, and the database of devices *and* the programming software is updated regularly) and it works so well that we use it for everything - we always used the Dish remote for those functions as we really liked the hard buttons. And every button is represented, even the Info, Guide, Menu, and Recall buttons. If you don't like the choices the program makes, you can set your own. And there is an LCD display that adds more functions - paged, so you can add a lot if you wish - if you want to go crazy.

And I swear to God it makes the HD look even better. Really. I've been waiting for a good universal remote that actually works for everything I own for years. I can even set this up to work with my iPod were I to buy a remote-capable dock.

I'll note that this is not a great remote if you aren't technically competent - you need to be able to figure out the somewhat less than intuitive computer program (it's not clear that when you add a button you should add it to an activity rather than to a device, which limits you to a single device's commands). Also, the remote does end to have a little delay when you press a button of about 100ms, but otherwise it's a winner. And we can turn everything on and everything off with single button presses, which was what sold my wife on it. Finally, my guests can figure out how to watch TV or a DVD without having a graduate course in configuration technology.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I Heart TV

While the movie studios put out derivative crap, the television studios have clearly picked up the amazing writing and acting talent. Here's a rundown of the shows we've been watching and my take:

Damages: Whassup, FX? First The Riches, now Damages, perhaps the best noir lawyer show EVAH. Some really good stuff here, if you've got cable. It's been on for about two months, though, so if you want to catch up (and you better - this is not a show you pick up in mid-season) you might look for the earlier episodes online.

Torchwood: BBCs spinoff of the very good Doctor Who refresh series. In fact, it's an anagram. This one may be a winner, or it may not - it's got the quirky DW feel, but not quite the timing or pace. Of course, I've only seen one episode. This one is still up for grabs.

Chuck: I laughed, I cried, I got all of the jokes. I must be the biggest geek ever! An excellent first episode of this geek-meets-spy series. Not sure if it can carry the theme over a full hour each week, but very promising.

Bionic Woman: An excellent cast with the exception of the title character who somehow manages to suck every ounce of entertainment out of every scene she's in. Not sure I'll sit through another one of these. Brush With Greatness: My brother went to high school with Lindsey Wagner, the original.

Journeyman: Very interesting premise about a man who travels back through time at inopportune moments (like when driving a car) to "fix" some bit of history that should never have happened. Of course, he runs into his "dead" ex-fiance on one of the trips for extra progressive discovery fun! This show is another one on the fence - the feel was great, but there were several plot holes in the pilot regarding the guy he was helping.

Dirty Sexy Money: A clear winner! Public Defender lawyer gets sucked into working for the uber-rich family his father represented, ends up discovering that dear ol' dad may have been killed. A stellar cast including Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh as the heads of said family. The ringtones as each member of the family called him on his first day on the job (programmed by his assistant) were hilarious.

Private Practice: Grey's Anatomy spin-off starring the gorgeous Kate Walsh. She did stellar work as the ice-queen wife of McDreamy on GA, but the writers had trouble keeping her in that mode and she ended up playing an almost comedic role toward the end of last season. Flat writing, uninteresting story lines, and the strangest setting I've ever seen (a multi-discipline clinic in LA) bring down what should be a really good cast (Tim Daly, Taye Diggs). I hope Kate has a clause that will let her go back to Grey's, watching her is like eating really good ice cream. Yum. Because this show won't make it past week 13 without paddles.

Reaper: Man discovers that his folks sold his soul to Satan before he was born. Satan shows up on his 21st birthday and tells him he gets to either collect souls that have escaped from Hell (using a Dirt Devil in the first episode) or face a variety of bad ends for himself or his family. This show looks to be about three-quarters of the way there, although clearly the high point is Ray Wise as a very cheerful Satan and Tyler Labine as the best slacker every. The workplace setting of a Home Depot type store offers many opportunities for hilarity. There's a show here.

Life: Damian Lewis was the best thing about the early episodes of Band of Brothers, so it's a bit strange to see him as a somewhat unhinged cop who did 12 years for a murder he didn't commit, but who is exonerated and put back on the force as a detective as part of his settlement (which also involved an entire precinct full of money). It's *almost* good, but Lewis is doing the "crazy cop" thing a little too hard, and someone overplucked his brows. Another one on the fence, but one I have some hope for.

So two duds, two awesome shows, and several that just might do well, but just might not. Of course, Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Lost (looking forward to see where *this* one goes), Dexter, Weeds... Good thing we have a digital recorder, because otherwise we'd be fighting over who got the tape time.

And I just have to say it - HD makes even Bionic Woman look amazing. I think that the movie industry is going to be in serious trouble over the next 10 years unless they start taking more chances. The truth is that television has always had the advantage of being able to tell a story over a longer period, although always with the risk that said story will stop before it ends. Many of these shows require watching from the early episodes, which has killed other programs in the past (Twin Peaks, anyone?), but now that you can see past episodes via the web, either for free on the network sites or through purchasing online a la iTunes, or even just wait for the DVD set to come out at the end of the summer, there is no excuse. TV has come into it's own as a quality storytelling medium, and I'm loving it.