Friday, August 31, 2007

Looking For Mr. Goodhouse

Monday, we decided that this was the time to sell this house.

Tuesday, we had the realtor over, who told us that everything on every flat surface in the house had to go in a box in the garage. It better be a pretty big box...

Wednesday, we go looking for a house and find one. Fortunately, we can live with a combo shower/whirlpool bath set two feet under the floor of the bathroom; interesting wallpaper choices that largely include chickens, plaid patterns, and (I sh*t you not) mirrored walls; popcorn ceilings; andwhat appears to be storage for vinyl records and VHS tapes in what was apparently once a wood storage area right next to the fireplace. Because records actually sound better when exposed to 300 degree heat. Funny story - I ask the realtor (a different one than is selling the house) if we have to start voting Republican if we move out to this neighborhood with a golf course, and she says, without blinking, "Yes."

Thursday, we make an offer on the Chicken Ranch, $20k under the asking price. That tub is going to cost a pretty penny to remove.

Friday, we get a counter asking for $8000 of the asking price back. We don't budge.

More as I learn it...

Monday, August 27, 2007

End of an Era

Sometimes, things come at you very quickly. This summer has been one of those times for me. My 84-year-old mother has had some major life changes this summer, and as we were planning to move next spring anyway, my wife and I have decided to sell our home and move to Wilsonville, very close to where my mother's retirement community is. For those of you not familiar with the Portland Metro area, Wilsonville is as far south as it gets. While it is served by the major arterial in the area (I-5), traffic in the area is notoriously bad as it's the only real way to cross the Willamette river in the area.

In addition, because of the recent insanity in the lending market and it's effect on the housing market, we have decided to sell Right Now. This means that the house has to become showable within about two weeks, and we hope to sell by the end of October. After that, we are looking at a collapsing housing market in the traditionally slow part of the year, and we would almost certainly pull our home off of the market until next spring with no guarantee that we will be able to even get a mortgage at that time.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Glorious Leader, GWB, for his brilliant economic strategy of borrowing vast sums of money to finance his business interests in "rebuilding" Iraq. The current crazy market is a direct result of nearly a trillion dollars of taxpayer money thrown into an Islamic civil war that we never needed to start. At least Gonzales resigned today, too bad Bush and Cheney didn't make it a trifecta. But let's talk about me...

Because our group has had such difficulty attracting attendees for sessions on the periphery of the city, it is with great sadness that I have to announce that I am unlikely to host more than one more Tuesday night session, at least in the current rotation. I have been hosting regularly for something like 10 years, and I will miss it quite a bit.

I have no plans to get rid of many more games in collection (Tide of Iron and Age of Empires 3 excepted), as I expect to move closer to the city core in a few years when my mother no longer needs someone nearby. I also plan to continue attending Tuesday sessions, although I'm likely to go not much further north than Tigard on a regular basis. I have some fear that as the one person hosting in relatively central location with a decent game library that my departure will have a detrimental effect on Rip City Gamers. However, there is no question that making this move will ensure that my mother will be able to avoid an assisted living situation for at least a few years.

I will still continue to host an annual eurogaming retreat at Sunriver in the late spring, as well as WBC West in late August. WBC-West in particular was a very satisfying experience, and I'm hoping that I can set up a good gaming room in whatever house we end up living in. However, our target neighborhood has very low inventory right now so I may not have a lot of choices.

Thanks to the members of Rip City Gamers for their patience and understanding during the coming weeks, and I hope that we can find a regular site for gaming that will provide both a central location and a good library of games.

WBC West Wrapup

For those of you following the reports, you know that we had a blast at WBC-West this year. Of course, there is always room for improvement, no matter how small, and with that in mind here is a report card of sorts for how I feel the event went and what we plan to do to change things.

Games - A-

In general, the games went very well. While one or two of the titles were less than we hoped, we picked games that were playable within the time we had available and finished all of them in the sense that it was always pretty clear who would win. I think that Reds! was the exception. I think we wish we'd played Sword of Rome rather than Wellington, but the last minute arrival changes made Welly a better bet were only three of us there early Tuesday.

Scheduling - B+

Chuck and I have learned that we set ourselves up for success if we plan what games we will play in advance. I had taken the tack that because of some games running longer than we expected them to, it made sense to leave the schedule a bit open the last couple of days (Sat/Sun), and to some extent this was true - Chuck and I finished BtB on one morning, while he and Tex got a bit further in their Reds! game that evening. However, it would have been nice to have a specific 3-player game scheduled for Saturday, and things were pretty up in the air Saturday evening and most of Sunday.

Another factor that I hadn't taken as much into account was scheduling those games that have difficult board situations early in the week. BtB is an extremely tense and heavy game in this sense, as you must always be considering the integrity of your lines on a board that can be hard to parse at times, especially in the areas west of Moscow. The rivers are particularly difficult for me to see on the original map. Playing this on Wednesday, then pulling it back out on Friday morning really demonstrated the mental load games like this put on my brain, and playing them later in the week was a recipe for a migraine, not to mention complete burnout. Next year we will make a stronger effort to schedule games for the full week, and be more aware of the difficulty of the board situation as well as the ruleset.

Stamina - A-

I did much better this year than last. Part of that was avoiding much drinking (I had one glass of port and two of wine the entire week), and part was picking lighter games later in the week. On the day Mike and I played games I was much happier playing things like Combat Commander and C&C: Ancients. I also had a bit more downtime in the last couple of days, resulting in a lower stress cleanup and better sleep the last night we were there. As an excellent measure of how much this has improved, last year I took the day after I returned to recover. This year, I spent three hours doing bookkeeping and attended a three hour choir rehearsal, all without the aid of simulants. OK, I had half a Coke in the afternoon. Next year I plan to incorporate vitamins of some sort into the equation to help with muscle stiffness as I'm likely to have to sleep in a twin bed again, if not on a couch, and so nutrition will be key.

I will also mention that the idea of playing lighter games (and by that I mean games that are as much ride as game) has proven itself to be genius. We'll keep this up in the future, no question.

Con Environment Simulation - A-

If there was one thing I really liked, it was playing both BtB and AVL with multiple copies at once. It was great fun to compare board positions and to ask the other game about specific rules. I was disappointed that the CC:E tournament never really materialized, although I personally got three games in. The problem was that two of us were really interesting in doing the tournament and the others not so much. Next year I will ask people to commit to playing a certain title (probably CC:M or C&C:A because of the short game length) and hold them to it, or simply not hold the tournament at all.

One factor that wasn't present - Con Funk. That's a huge plus.

Preparation - B

Because we had a preset schedule of sorts, it made it much easier for me to read rules and run through games ahead of time to improve my understanding of the games and enjoy them more. Where I fell down in this respect was in preparing for the evening games, which I didn't do at all. The biggest problems were with Britannia, but especially with Manifest Destiny (saddled as it is with rules that are as poorly organized as it gets). I'd like to play MD again next year, but will most definitely do a quick rules rewrite to isolate out the various innovations and breakthroughs from the basic sequence. The existing rules sprinkle these items throughout at the cost of readability. After all, if you want to know what the defensive benefit of cities is you don't really care about ten different special powers that you already have right in front of you. I would also create Breakthrough cards that list what the power does rather than force players to refer to a sheet that is likely out of reading range. In other words, anticipate the shortcomings of a given game package and try to rectify it in advance.

Venue - A

Sunriver continues to amaze me with it's ability to handle groups. This time out, we were able to accomodate Mimi's jigsaw puzzles in the nook while we extended the dining table and had all of the wargaming in the great room area. I personally did not miss having a video game system at all (other than the Dreamcast for a little old-school gaming), and I will probably just leave the Wii at home again next year (although it will come out for the RCG retreat). The kitchen was kept pretty clean, largely because Mimi did so much cooking, although I did not notice that she was spending a huge amount of time (which could be because I was focused on my game). I remember looking around the house around noon on Sunday and thinking that pretty much everything that needed to be done up to that point had been, which is always nice. The only thing I'd change is to put bubble wrap around the dining table legs to avoid Table Leg Collision Syndrome, which "hit" just about everyone. Ouchie!

Two problem that we may have next year if there are another two gamers: we run out of beds, and the nook becomes a wargaming room instead of a puzzle table. If this gets any bigger, we will have to consider getting a second house, which would cost something like $1000 and up for the week. This would increase the costs considerably, although with eight people attending that ends up something like $120 per gamer - really quite cheap considering that it gets spread around. However, I do like having everyone in a single space, and we are nowhere near being in this situation. The biggest issue is that we have to know that people will attend and they must commit the funds regardless of whether or not they attend, and we have to know about a year to 18 months in advance. Also, houses tend to rent Friday to Friday, although we will probably have a subset that isn't there for the second weekend. Again, a problem we aren't faced with immediately.

Length - A

Mike and I discussed the idea of running the week from Sunday night through Sunday afternoon instead of arriving on Monday. I'm very open to this, and think that perhaps a Saturday to Saturday session might be the wisest. I'm not quite sure that I can take many more days than we already have, as a lack of sleep starts to really hit you in your 40s, but if I can swing a couple of afternoons where I take care of house issues rather than play games, or sleep in/nap a few days, I may just host from Friday night through the following Sunday afternoon next year. Of course, people can come and go as they like, and this may work out better for some folks who only want to come for a couple of days. I'll consider this over the winter and see how others feel and if this would improve anyone's chances of attending if even for a few days. On the other hand, this is about as close to as long as I can continually game in one stretch, so I give it an A.

Overall - A-

While there are a few tweaks we can make, I have to say that we have pretty much come up with a format that keeps everyone fresh but having a great time through the entire week. Special thanks to Chuck for driving the schedule, as this is the single biggest factor in the success of the session.

One thing that I personally found to be helpful to me was bringing a few things to do during games where I might have some downtime. Between clipping Chuck's Nine Navies War set (during Britannia), opening and organizing my WoW:CCG boosters (during Runebound), and replacing our back door hanging screen (during AVL), I never felt like I was spending a lot of time waiting for someone else to make their play. Next year I'll probably bring a knitting project, especially if I'm playing the Germans in AVL (those STAVKA activations are murder), definitely more boosters, and definitely a game or four to clip. Other people will have other things that will work for them, but if there is anything that keeps me fresh other than knowing the game, knowing what complexity I can handle and for how long, and quality of rest, it is not sitting there bored for 15 minutes. This is not to say that *I* had this problem, nor that anyone else didn't, just that having something to keep me occupied for those periods where I had little to do will help me enjoy the week that much more.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who attended. This was my first wargaming experience with Tex, and I hope he had as much fun as I did - we have surprisingly similar senses of humor and taste in games. Mike is always a pleasure to play with, almost as much fun as it is to point out that he is whining about the dice again. If I can find a set that only rolls sixes, I will definitely pick it up for you. Chuck is about as close to being on my wavelength as anyone I know, and I enjoy how relaxed and entertained I am in his presence, especially gaming but also on the trip out - we don't even notice that there's music while we're in the car as we yap yap yap yap yap.

But my biggest kudos go out to Mimi, whose sparkling personality, sense of humor, nourishing nature, and intelligence made us all feel loved and taken care of the entire week. Mimi, you are always welcome in my home.

Only 51 more weeks to WBC-West '08...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

WBC West Report, Day 6b and Day 7

When we last left out intrepid gamers, they were ready to grab some dinner on Saturday, the last full day of the event. No one really had any good ideas of what to play in the evening, so we pulled out Formula De, the game we'd planned to play on Sunday as we were packing up and closing the house. I'd brought several tracks, but as several people were not "pros" at this game (Mike had never played before), we decided to do a one-lap race using the Belgian course at Spa. The course has opportunities for getting into sixth gear, and some tricky turns, but nothing too complicated for beginners. Tex managed to go from first to last with his cars, Chuck snuck into first (and last, sort of), I kept my second place start position in my lead car after falling to 8th in mid-race, and Mike managed to blow up *both* of his cars in a single collision. I think this may be historic. A fun game, but I think I need to play with experienced drivers who can roll and run. After that, it was time for bed.

Sunday morning saw Chuck and Mike going at Chuck's Ugly Girlfriend, Twilight Struggle (hmm, maybe the game's title gives us more information about what Chuck does in the evenings!). Not once, but twice. No sense not throwing good time after bad, I guess! Mike hadn't played for a while and made some bad choices in the early going of the first game as the US, so they started over, with the USSR winning near the end of the Mid War. A great concept that is far too vulnerable to bad card draws, I'm afraid, for me to request it.

The final game was We the People, with Chuck taking those dastardly traitors to the Crown, while I took the side of the good guys. I firmly believe that the Brits win this game in the South, and if they can remove the possibility of American reinforcements from the Carolinas south by turning everything south of the Winter Attrition Line orange, they stand an excellent chance of winning. I'd used Howe to take Rhode Island up north, so along with Canada, Massachussetts, and the three southern states that would be enough for the win. In fact, very little happened up north after Clinton showed up with 8 CUs in New York.

Chuck tried to force the issue by moving Washington into Boston, but that proved to be a very bad idea indeed. The Brits has largely pushed the Americans out of the south, but one American army went south to prevent the loss of Virginia as well while Washington moved into Boston to take Massachussetts. However, this proved to be a Very Bad Idea as the spaces both north and south of Boston were British, and Clinton moved into the space to the west to lock Washington into the space. In fact, I warned Chuck about this, and when Howe marched into Boston to eliminate Washington in two battle card plays, it was all over. I'd won my first game of this largely great title against Dave (something like 10 years ago) by tricking Washington into going after a space in an area that would trap him, and while I wasn't really trying to lure Chuck into Boston, it was a pretty obvious target as it is also a Wintering space.

While all of this sounds like I actually had a plan (and, to be honest, did), the truth of the matter is that after the first couple of hands I had spectacular hands. In six turns, two of the hands were nothing but operations cards, meaning that I could almost always move and react to whatever Chuck was doing. While I have *very* few British event cards, we did draw the European War card that reshuffles the deck pretty much every other turn, so the French never showed up. On the other hand, my second hand had two 2 cards, two North's Govt cards, two American events, and the Declaration of Independence, so I definitely started the game gimped as one of the 2 cards had to be used to bring in the 8 CUs of Brit reinforcements to New York to set up Clinton. It also helped that Chuck was under the mistaken impression that the various armies could only move 3 spaces instead of 4 when activated despite the number being right on the card!

WtP is kind of a luck fest with the card draws, but it was good fun and a game I should bring out more despite the fact that the cards can completely screw you - a turn with *no* options is unlikely, but almost certainly a game ender. And I *really* hate games where you have to play a card that does you tremendous damage, as Declaration does. On the plus side, I was able to do myself some good by ensuring that there would only be a few colonies for Chuck to place PCs in, but the principle stands. Hannibal has no cards like this, nor does Wilderness War, and I think that at least the Americans should have to give the Brits a card if the latter have to play it.

Of course, I won rather handily, so there you go.

I will do a wrapup entry in the next few days once I've reoriented myself to the mundane world, but with the exception of Age of Empires III ("a very, very good game" indeed) and an abortive attempt at the Gettysburg block game (for whom I have no one else to blame), it was a great week with many successes and even a few wins.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

WBC West Report, Day 6

As the week goes on here in Sunriver, there is a definite effect on the players (at least me) that I call Leaking Brain Syndrome. At some point, the relative lack of sleep and near constant tension and concentration start to wear to the point where even focusing my vision on a map requires more effort than I can muster. As such, we tried to schedule the week such that the heavier material would come earlier in the week, and for the most part we were successful. Two things in particular have really eaten away at my stamina - the first is having to search a ruleset for obscure situations (and sometimes obvious ones), which I've more or less minimized by studying the games we plan to play in advance through reading rules and occasionally running through a play session in advance. The second and more difficult problem is that many of these games require a close examination of the board situation and/or idiosyncrasies of the map. In other words, having a game that requires a lot of concentration to enjoy, such as BtB, uses up my resources much faster than a "ride" game, such as Arkham Horror.

And so it was that I immediately violated my second rule (lighter games later in the week) as Chuck and I decided to finish our BtB game in the morning. We only had a third of the game to go, which actually goes a bit quicker once the Western Allies start getting on the board and require more OPs and thus less time to resolve. This also, oddly, gives the Germans a bit of a breather on the Eastern Front as there are only so many OPs to go around, although it also requires the Germans to get their reinforcements out in a prompt manner so as to have units to deal with the Brits and US.

I began 1944 by putting up trenches on the Eastern Front, buying me a bit of time, while Chuck landed the Allies in France using Round-Up. This meant Calais, and he quickly learned why this is a Bad Idea when the Atlantic Wall has been built. A single 3-3-3 army held off the invasion, and a couple of extra units moved into the space thanks to the use of a 1-OPS on the second turn when Chuck forgot that you can't play OPS *cards* during the Spring Thaw. This effectively bottled up his forces in Northern France into the Summer, and he landed the Frogs in Marseille soon after, which were met by the Slowest Army In The World, Goering's Fliegelkorps. Unfortunately for Chuck the FJ threw the French out of Marseilles (his die rolling went seriously south for a couple of turns), and we ran into a very complex situation where we weren't sure if the French ended up eliminated in the space in question as they had to retreat two spaces, pushing them off of the beachhead. It was a bit of a mess, frankly, but it all ended up to Chuck's benefit when he got a US army and a corps into Vichy France.

At this point it was time to pull the Germans off of the Cassino Line in Italy, and form up a line just west of the West Wall, although the Allies had yet to get off the beaches in Calais. The Russians had convinced the Romanians to defect, but in general were having some trouble making serious headway in the northern part of Russia. As the end of 1944 neared, and Chuck realized he had just a few more than two turns to grab 20 points, he conceded. Kind of a depressing end to what had been a very tense game, although I think that had he rolled Hitler Orders one more time I would have had to burn some of those VP just to get the Balkan approaches to Germany secured as most of my units had been locked on the front line in the second half of 1944.

Chuck then picked up his game of Reds! with Tex, and Mike and I pulled out Combat Commander to play the Rubble Rousers scenario from the bonus sheet sent to P500 customers. This is a particularly interesting scenario as both the Russians and Germans are defending in Stalingrad, and each side sets up in a triangle of the board. Mike won handily when time ran out, although I came very close to doing serious damage to his broken units thanks to a fortuitous 150mm arty battery that showed up very late. Sadly, the first barrage drifted the wrong direction, and the second did as well as Mike pulled his final card to trigger Sudden Death. Even though I spent most of the game trying to do things that weren't working particularly well (it was very bad when a melee went wrong when I drew a three when I'd had a very good differential going into the combat and I lost eight points). Even so, this game will see so many plays, with great tension and relatively low situational complexity, in a scope that is currently only filled by the ultra-complex ASL and poor ruleset of Up Front!. Clearly the game of the year, and I strongly suspect the game of the decade.

At this point, Mike and I took time to get our blog entries up to date, followed by an attempt to get the leftovers eaten before we had to leave the next day. I'm always very sad to see the week come to a close, although I am happy to get home to normalcy (a good thing for me) and a comfy bed and regular sleep schedule. And my wife and dogs, of course.

I will post the evening game with the report from Day 7 (which will consist mostly of a Formula De game) in the near future. Thanks for following along if you've been with me this far.

WBC West Report, Day 5

Day 4 was not the best day so far, but Day 5 was to prove considerably more interesting. Similar to Day 3, we played two copies of the same game side by side, in this case A Victory Lost. I was very disappointed with the IGA's decision to give the Historical Game Award to this game, although I have publicly stated that my issue was that Combat Commander was such a great game that I couldn't imagine that any other game could (or should) beat it out. Now that I've had a game of AVL under my belt, I will admit that AVL should have won - in any other year but this one. It is a great game, one that will see a *lot* of play solitaire, but I stand by my assertion that CC:E is more deserving.

There have been many games based on the Russian winter offensive cut short by General Manstein's brilliant riposte, the so-called "backhand blow" that stopped the advance dead in it's tracks. As it was, it only delayed the inevitable, and in fact probably allowed the Western Allies to get into much of Germany before the Russians. Interestingly, GMT published a game some years ago entitled "Lost Victory," so AVL gets no points for original titles, but fortunately that's a nit at worst. GMT also published Manstein's Backhand Blow, a game in the otherwise unpopulated Schwerpunkt series that uses some interesting mechanisms that I can't recall.

At it's heart, AVL is an old-school hex-and-counter wargame with very familiar systems. Combat is resolved with a single die-roll, and avoiding attacker damage is guaranteed on 3-1 odds. While not quite as old-school, the chit pull system has been used in many games over the past 10 years at the very least, and is not really terribly innovative. Where the design shines is in the limitations placed on the chit pull system. The Soviet Union begins the game with several HQ units, three of which enter the game as it progresses, but the Russian may only select five of them for pulls. As such, early in the game the German player won't be sure which Soviet HQs will activate. Of those five, the Russian only can put three in the cup, although they do get a STAVKA chit that allows them to activate the entire board. Also, HQs may activate *any* unit, making the color coding useful only for setup and historical interest.

The Germans, on the other hand, have some interesting things happening. They have every HQ potentially available every turn, but are limited to a varying number of chits to put in the cup each game. Early on, they only get three, so their ability to respond to the oncoming Russians is very limited and it is likely that they will be pushed back to the Don/Donets river system in the first half of the game. However, the number increases as time goes on (up to six chits), plus they get two Manstein chits on turns 3 and 5. While these chits count toward their limit, they allow the German to activate any one HQ. As such, it is possible for one HQ to activate units for movement/combat three times in a single turn. As the Germans can also choose to redraw a Manstein counter (they must take the redrawn chit), they get a tremendous amount of flexibility in their operations. It is this system that demonstrates the differences between the two command structures in an incredibly simple and effective manner, and what separates this game from most of the rest of the pack.

A few other notes on the game: The map is very nice, although a bit oversized for the standard 34"x22" poster frame, so a plexiglass sheet has to be used if you want a flat map (we used the map sans prophylactic, and it worked just fine). One very strange item is that all of the mech counters on both sides have two different counters, the only difference being that one set uses images of vehicles, while the other uses a NATO-like system that represents tanks as parallelograms and mech infantry as a geometric halftrack. It is very hard to parse the map with these symbols (the tanks in particular), so we used the image counters. Kind of a strange design decision under any circumstances, even if one is trying to advocate a more modern-looking symbology. In essence, a waste of counters. The rules are very clean in general, and filled with quite a few good examples. If anything, I would have liked to have had a listing of the effect of major rivers on the various systems - an excellent example is how command range is limited by unbridged major rivers, but not zones of control. A cheat sheet on the back of the largely non-useful play sequence card (which is blank) would have been helpful. And, of course, the box is flimsy. Do *not* put other games on top of this box, especially heavy games like C&C: Ancients. These are all minor nits, of course.

Chuck and Mike had played this game a couple of times in the past, so Tex and I played each other. As an example of how easy the game is to learn, it took me 15 minutes to run through the rules without prep, and we had few questions other than to establish how the major rivers worked. And we referenced that a *lot*. I did blow one rule early on, activating one Soviet HQ for movement *and* combat, when it should have been just combat, but otherwise we played a pretty clean game. What did kind of sour the game start was that Tex drew three of his chits at the start of the game, making it much harder for me to make headway early. I did get some good chit sequencing later, but the effectiveness of Manstein was demonstrated around turn 4 when he activate about half of his tank units in the Don River Bend area three times in a row, demolishing my units that had crossed the Don, including units that had come on the board from the Caucasus into the area one impulse before. That was pretty much the end of the game for me, and it does put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm. However, unlike Gettysburg, this can be mitigated by maintaining a certain amount of depth in one's backfield, but it does make it difficult to advance successfully unless you get the sequence just right. The game can definitely swing on how the chits come out, so I suspect that while this one will come out for ftf play on occasion, it will be the solitaire experience that I will enjoy the most.

After a delicious fried chicken dinner provided by Mimi, Chuck and his wife headed out for dinner on their own and the rest of us pulled out Manifest Destiny, a very nice and clean game based on Age of Renaissance. The game was clearly pushed out the door by GMT to satisfy some sort of publishing agreement, as the graphics and components are not that far off from the playtest version I saw at the real WBC some years ago. Still, most of the accounting has been removed from the game (the third epoch of AoR requires pencil and paper, which is banned from tournament play to avoid players recording how much money each other player has), and in almost every case the game has ended up very clean if not as polished as one would hope. The components also have problems - the cubes you use for expansion require you to differentiate "established" provinces from "expansion" provinces, and the game comes with little square stickers for you to put on the cubes. I do not possess this level of coordination, especially on teeny tiny cubes, so we just put black dots on one side of each cube. This is hard to see on some of the darker colors. Given that this game was so well playtested, it's kind of annoying that the components and artwork were so obviously thrown together, but in the end the game is a winner, at least in my book.

The game works pretty well with three players, and things went pretty smoothly. We did have a lot of rules questions that could have easily been handled with a cleaner ruleset, and some things aren't really covered in the FAQ, but in general we figured out what we needed to. Note to developers - nomenclature in a game like this is *critical*. Define everything, then use those definitions and use them consistently. Also, throwing in every exception for every case (which comes up a lot because every advance and breakthrough means you augment or break a rule) makes for a tedious read. I wanted to clean up these rules when the game first came out, and I bogged down in trying to cleanly describe the start of the game. Interestingly, the system I intended to use ended up being used by Chad Jensen in Combat Commander, although I am under no illusion that he got the idea from me.

Despite getting my Profit up over 50 and keeping it there the entire game (I got to 100 at one point), I was behind the curve on the Breakthrough track (the "roll the dice and see what happens!" part of the game, and perhaps the biggest flaw in the design - it is possible to win or lose based on how you roll one set of dice), and in the end Tex won with 31 points at the same time that the deck ran out, with me right behind at 30. I'd thoughtfully notified him of the presence of one 1VP breakthrough (Storytelling) that had not been claimed, which he then grabbed on the next to last turn, so I have only myself to blame.

I really like the game, but I think I need to clean up the meat of the rules for quick reference rather than wade through the ridiculous published rules and FAQ in order to enjoy it more. There are a few ambiguities as well, but this is one of my favorite games of this type and it *will* see play in the future.

By now it was very late, and it was time for bed. All in all, even though Tex edged me twice in one day, it was a very enjoyable day and I got to play one new game I enjoyed and another old favorite. One more full day, hard to believe the time goes by so quickly...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

WBC West Report, Day 4

Holy crap, it's day 4 already!

Today was the day for Mike and I to get in some gaming, and we planned to play Europe Engulfed. Mike thought it would be a good idea to play the 7 turn tournament scenario, and in hindsight that was a damned good idea. EE is all about the special action tokens and their intelligent and timely use. Mike had a great start when he used one to bump up all of his units to full strength in one area, then push to Stalingrad. Unfortunately, he chose *not* to finish off the units he'd *almost* wiped out with another action, and he lost a valuable turn of campaigning. The Russians were able to outproduce him easily, and the historical result at Stalingrad was again reproduced. The scenario was also easy to learn and play as it left out all of the political, naval, and strategic warfare rules. This is one we'll have to get on the table for real sometime soon.

Next up for us was a continuation of the Gettysburg game from the previous night. Chuck was playing Tex in Nine Navies War, so he didn't mind if we started over. Chuck and I played this two years ago, and it seemed to be an interesting game that required very specific tactics to gain success. Mike had seen those tactics, I hadn't for two years, so the outcome was never in doubt. What surprised me was that I lost half of my fighting force less than halfway into the first day thanks to spectacular rolling by Mike combined with a double move that left me in a position that could only end with me wiped off of the board before more reinforcements could arrive for the Union. I think this is a great game that's flawed by the capricious initiative roll to see who goes first. On the first day, the Union is basically performing a holding action, so if they get a double turn they really have nothing to do but reinvest in their line, while the Confederacy can run up on one turn, then fire and melee into the line on the second, but only if they get the double move. Like Royal Tank Corps, this is a great game almost ruined by a couple of lazy design decisions.

After that clusterf*ck, I asked if we could play Combat Commander, which Mike generously agreed to do. This game did not go well for Mike from the start - we played Scenario 10, Commando School, where there is a German force trying to penetrate a Soviet Commando-held town. The latest C3i has a great article on setting up the two sides and the rationale involved, so we agreed to pick one and try it out. The first thing that happened was I got a leader/squad up to Mike's big MG in his backfield pretty fast, then immediately broke the weapon team manning it. Meanwhile, a pioneer squad with a flamethrower took out half of his frontline troops on that side. We had some back and forth, and for a while I was pretty sure I was going to run out of time, but in the end a lucky melee result followed by a squad/leader exiting the board put me in positive VP, and Mike's poor opinion of the game was reinforced instead. This was the first game where I was actively looking for order/action combos to accomplish what I wanted to do, and there was much discarding, so in that sense I was quite successful. I'll have to try the same concept when I'm the defender next. It's too bad tha Mike gets so frustrated by this game, because I always enjoy it even when I lose.

Finally, while Chuck and Tex started Reds!, Mike and I played one of the new C3i Command and Colors: Ancients scenarios, this one featuring Mago Barca and a lot of Gallic warriors facing a rather out-of-sorts Publius Scipio in Spain. Like most of these games, wackiness ensued and I won when I got exactly the roll I needed with my light infantry throwing pointy sticks at a horse. I'd had similar luck knocking off the elephants before they really got a chance to start snorting and stampeding. I like these games, and I hold that C&C:A is the best of the bunch for many reasons, but for me they will always be filler rather than something I'll pull out first thing.

After dinner, we tried out Age of Empires III, a game recommended by one of the people in Rip City Gamers as similar to Caylus and Pillars of the Earth but better. How wrong could he have been. The writing was on the wall when at a recent gaming session I asked if he had played the game recently, and he replied he didn't really like the game that much. After I'd bought it on his recommendation. Frankly, the game turned out to be even more disappointing than the usual Glenn Drover dreck - if there was ever a game company that should have gone under, it was Eagle - mostly because it was *so* *close* to being a good game. The problem? The completely random discovery mechanic that is a central element of the game. Sure, the explorers who when into the unknown had no way of knowing what they'd face, and in some games this makes for a great mechanism that I really enjoy. In this game, it was simply annoying as hell. Send out five explorers, get a tile that only needed two. Send out five, get a card that required six. Broken, broken, broken. And you have to explore before you can start to populate the new world, so you have no choice but to use discovery. This one goes on the pile, and I am done taking recommendations from pretty much anyone when it comes to Euro-style games. Yuck.

By now it was a bit on the late side, and no one really had the stomach to play anything else, so off to bed it was. Kind of a disappointing day, all things considered, but as always the company more than made up for the busts. Tomorrow looks to be two games of A Victory Lost side by side and see what it was that got this game an award over Combat Commander.

Only two full days left...

WBC West Report, Day 3

Today was Barbarossa to Berlin day, where everyone played the now-classic GMT CDG. Chuck and I had a game for the ages two years ago at our first WBC-W, and today's game was not far removed. Mike and Tex played the game as well, but neither had played nearly as often as Chuck and I, and it showed in some spectacular ways. Most telling was that Tex lost as the Germans when he failed to have Hitler Declare War when the card first came out, and Mike didn't declare until turn 7. By the time Tex got the Totaler Krieg card, he was below 11 points and had effectively lost the game. I'm not quite sure what they did with the rest of their time, as Chuck and I were far too busy staring at our mapboard in yet another tense contest.

I began the game with a very aggressive push by the Germans toward Moscow, helped by the Panzergroup Guderian card in my opening hand and a lot of crap, so I also got the chance to cycle it into the discard pile for the second turn. By the middle of the second turn I was on the doorstep to Moscow, and Chuck had (at most) 8 points in the space, with me having 8 points in panzer armies adjacent. That was when the brainfart hit, and I forgot that urban centers were *not*, repeat, *not* No Retreat spaces. As such, I had about as good a chance as I could want to attack Moscow and push him out, but more importantly kill Stalin. Had I done so, it would have been 4 VP (a near impossible gap to make up by the Allies short of a complete German collapse at the end of the game), plus he would have been dinged 1 RP every time he played a card. Given that I'd played OKW Conference and would have made the attack using Taifun, it really was a criminal mistake on my part.

Chuck's defenses stiffened up, and things started going badly for me. He'd gotten Industrial Evac as his first card play, so the tank armies were on the board by turn 6 and he was drawing an extra card starting on turn 9. Somehow, the Germans managed to get to their 5 VP spaces in the first winter turn, but dropped to 4 for the second. Miraculously, I held onto two spaces for the third winter, and we ran out of time before starting the spring of '44. We're at pretty much historical positions, with the Germans barely holding on in Russia, not too far from the German border, and a mixed British/American force hanging out south of the Cassino Line in Italy. The spring thaw is upon us, so I'll get a chance to play some of the events that need playing (my final German reinforcement, the East Front trenches, and Revenge Weapons for a VP, which I'll need). I figure I have to hang onto something like 5 VP spaces, one of which has to be a supply source, to win at this point. However, I've taken quite a bit of damage, and Chuck has a much better grip on the Soviet positions this game - last time many of his units had been left behind as he pushed forward, but this time they are all in my face. I figure I'll lose one more point this coming winter when I won't have any VP spaces in Russia, although I may make a fortress out of Odessa and see if it can hold out.

One other interesting note: Hitler didn't declare war until Winter '42 (turn 4), so I couldn't play Totaler Krieg until turn 8. What I'd forgotten was that I needed 11 VP in order to play the card, but I made no more than a token gesture in North Africa and was kicked out late in turn 6. When turn 7 rolled around, I realized with some horror that I had 13 VP, and that if Chuck now played Casablanca he would take 7 VP, of which I could recoup no more than two (Tunis and Marseilles). With pretty much no chance of taking back three VP spaces, I would have lost in a rather embarrassing fashion had he had the card in hand. To be fair, Chuck passed up a chance to play Torch earlier in the game, which would have given him the same opportunity regardless of how I was doing. Had I realized my peril I would have brought the Panzer Armee Afrika into play (something I rarely do as I'd rather have that 4 card for OPS/SRs/RPs), and when we play the game again in a couple of years I hope I can remember. Man, that was a close one.

Mike and Tex played on a second edition map, and I have to say that I'll spring for the Deluxe Map just to get this. If nothing else, the rivers are no longer the stupid blue lines crossing the brown lines connecting the areas, but now are dotted blue lines connecting the areas, and much easier to recognize and parse. I don't think the rivers have really come into play much, amazingly, but that may also be because I can't keep track of them easily. Quite annoying, and this is a change I'll make before I play again.

We finally quit around 5pm, relaxed for a bit, then went out for a nice dinner at the Sunriver Grill, then went grocery shopping for a few supplies. We got back about 7pm, when Chuck explained Runebound 2nd Ed for Tex and I (quite nicely, I must say - we had very few questions during our game play), and we played until about 11pm. RB is a fun game, but there is so little interaction between the players that it's a game I'd buy mostly to play solitaire. Tex won when he found the boss monster on the first draw of the red cards, and managed to beat him. Had he failed, I could have won provided I rolled a 10 on the two dice, a statistical probability, or an 8 had one of my two allies survived taking the shots from the dragon in the ranged and melee steps. Since I could do 8 damage using magic, that would have been enough to take out the boss and win, but Tex beat me to it. Still, this looks to be a fun game to pull out for solitaire play, and while I'm still more than a little steamed that FFG didn't provide a reasonable upgrade path for players who'd bought the first edition (me), I think this is a reaction that has done what I wanted it to do. Which means that I want the game. :-/

During Tex's turns, I sorted through my remaining WoW:CCG boosters, 12 in all, and then got all of the cards arranged for easy deck building. I now have enough cards to build a deck for pretty much any class in either faction, which is nice. I still have an unreasonable number of Alliance ally cards, but I figure a little trading will take care of that. I'm somewhat astonished that I have so few duplicates of so many cards, especially from the Heroes of Azeroth series, and even a few purple cards. I'm looking forward to tuning my gnome rogue deck now that I have a good selection of abilities, and even a Horde rogue that I can use if I want. Who thought I'd want to every play a CCG, much less do deck building? Even I'm surprised. The good news is that I don't really feel like I need to buy a whole lot more cards, even with the new series coming out. As such, I'll hold off on the boosters for that set until after the New Year, although I'll probably buy a Molten Core raid deck (and an Oxyania's Lair raid deck) just to be able to play those games multiplayer. With all of these cards, I can probably supply four or five full 60-card decks that would be enough to get the job done, and it would fun to play with those in my group who enjoy CCGs. Both Mike and Chuck liked the game, even though neither plays WoW, so throw in Laurent and Dave and you've got a raid group.

Meanwhile, Chuck and Mike got started with Gettysburg, one of the better Columbia block games. Mike really likes these games, which is good as tomorrow we'll try playing Europe Engulfed, in our case the 1-map '42-'43 scenario. Nothing like the Eastern Front for two days straight. Chuck and Tex will play Nine Navies War, the alt-history Great War version of War at Sea. We'd played this a few weeks ago, or at least the three turn introductory scenario, and it was quick and fun, although they'll probably run their game a little longer. I'm not sure when Chuck and I will finish up our BtB game, but when we do I'll post the results. Night play should be Age of Empires III, which most of us are looking forward to. Unfortunately, Tex doesn't seem to be terribly interested in a Combat Commander tournament, so that may not see as much play as I'd like, although I figure Mike and I will probably get in a game tomorrow afternoon assuming we finish EE within five hours.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

WBC West Report, Day 2

Tuesday dawned clear and beautiful, a great change from Monday's car wash that was the ride out. A perfect day to sit inside and play games!

After getting some breakfast and waiting for Chuck to finish with a work-related phone call, the four of us started in on Wellington, the CDG based on Napoleonic Wars. Welly is a very interesting game - you play in teams, but there is a certain level of competition for taking key duchies, even on the French side. The game focuses on the Peninsular War in Spain during the Napoleonic era, from 1812 through 1814. We played through all three years, and it took over six hours when we were expecting more like four, and that did *not* include the 'splainin'.

1812 went well for Mike and I as the British and Spanish players respectively. I did a good job of forcing the issue with my weak Spanish forces in the south, forking Soult's strong army while taking keys and keeping him from being able to deploy at the end of the turn to rebuild his forces. Mike's British were making inroads on Madrid (a key spot on the map), and in fact managed to take it in 1813, a bit ahead of schedule. However, by 1814 we were having trouble keeping up with cards to play, and a major battle with Wellington and some Spanish Allies went south and blunted our attack. In the end, we weren't able to take any French duchies, giving 8 points alone to the French and putting us a few points down from winning. The Spanish did pretty well, taking two forts and nine of the Spanish Keys by the end of the game, although my damned Spanish Revolt card did not result in a single successful takeover of a key the entire game, and I played it three times. A bit longer than I expected, but a very interesting game that I'll play again.

By now it was dinner time, or close to it, and after about 30 minutes break we kept to schedule and pulled out Arkham Horror, this time with the King In Yellow expansion. I won't go into too much detail on the game other than to say that I strongly recommend you *not* play the Touring Show version, the one where all of the new cards go on the tops of the decks. Unlike Dark Pharoah, this one works better integrated into the basic game, mostly because the spells repeat frequently, as do some of the items. We ended up two freaking points from beating Nyarlathotep when we got tired of not closing gates and the terror track racing up, and the blights getting worse and worse (the Riots are harsh, dude!) Had I one more clue token, I think we could have won, but as it was I couldn't roll six dice that I needed to get six successes on the last round of combat, although I did get four of five. It was fun, but it was very quick and as I say, the theme was a bit much. We did play with the Herald mechanism, I recommend it as it adds another tough decision point into the game and counters the feeling that things are getting easier as the game progresses.

With a few hours left to game in the evening, Chuck taught Tex Battlecards, the wacky card game based (loosely) on various WW2 theaters, this one North Africa. I loved this game when we first discovered it, but I've never really recaptured that initial buzz. It sounded like they had fun, though. Meanwhile, Mike and I played sealed deck WoW:CCG, using the original Heroes boosters. I'm still astonished that there are so few duplicates (other than quest cards) in these decks. Mike smoked me, mostly because most of my Druid's abilities were tied to allies, and all of my ally cards (aside from four) were at the bottom of my deck.

On the plus side, and it is a very big plus, I scored a loot card. For the Saltwater Snapjaw mount. As I type, my gnome is flying to Booty Bay to collect my new ride. I don't know if it will ever replace my mechanostrider (which I am totally digging, btw), but it will be cool to have it and it makes my investment in a CCG feel almost worthwhile. Pictures in a later post.

That's all for today. Tomorrow is the big Barbarossa to Berlin double-game day, which should be fun. This was the high point of WBC-West two years ago for Chuck and I, and I'm really looking forward to playing this again.

WBC West Report, Day 1

Nothing as detailed as what I've done in the past, but here's a quick report on WBC West '07.

Chuck and I got out of Portland pretty early, and were here and gaming by 2:30pm. With only 2-3 hours of gaming before Mike, Tex, and Mimi got here we decided to get in our first round of Combat Commander. Our scenario was the new C3i entry, Varsity Blues. It features the American paratroopers trying to get past a German position on their way to rendevous with the British in early 1945. Only the 3 and 4 objectives are worth points, and only one each at that, so the way to get points is to get off the board or eliminate enemy units.

The game started off well for me when Chuck used sustained fire with his lone heavy machine gun and rolled doubles, breaking it. On his next play, he got a sniper that also destroyed the machine gun, so within minutes Chuck has lost his primary weapon. To add insult to injury, I got a Scrounge event that handed the HMG directly to *me*. Ouch.

Things were moving along, but not quite quickly enough. We had three timer events fairly quickly, so the game was potentially half over. I used the machine gun to kill one squad, and a successful advance killed one more squad plus a team. I had four other German units in some trouble at one point, but some handy cards got Chuck out of trouble.

When the next to last Time event got pulled with me soon to run out of cards in my deck (and trigger the chance of sudden death), I reluctantly handed Chuck the Initiative card. I figured that if I waited until one of us drew for sudden death that if I used it Chuck would either get the card or win the game, so why not give it now. Amazingly, I survived both the next two sudden deaths, and was now poised to kill five points worth of units, and get another five points off the board. Since Chuck was 8 points ahead, even with one point for being defender (which you get after the sd check), I'd pull the game out. Sadly, my advance rolled a time event (yay) and I failed the sd roll. I figure I was about one more round after this one to get those points, so time was definitely on Chuck's side. A great game.

We next pulled out my two premade decks for WoW: CCG, and I got to try out my orc warlock deck. The Horde have about half the Ally cards that the Alliance has, so it's not as finely tuned as my rogue deck. The game is pretty similar to Magic and a host of other CCGs, so nothing new for him. On the other hand, he's not familiar with the online game, and we weren't playing a raid deck, but we were mostly just passing time waiting for the rest of the group.

We started dinner close to six (Asian chicken night), with the other three participants arriving just in time to eat. MImi started working a puzzle, and the rest of us pulled out Britannia, the first group game of the week. Play time was right about five hours, with 30 minutes explaining in advance. I was hoping to finish by 11pm, but we went over that by just about an hour. I had Green, Mike was Red, Doug was Blue (the only person who'd not played in years), and Chuck was Yellow (the Roman faction for those with the AH or Gibson sets). Chuck got out to a strong start, with 103 points with the Romans in the early going. He was very aggressive going north, and once there he moved units back south to garrison his forts. My Welsh took a beating early, as my dice went bitterly cold for about four turns, when the Danes showed up.

Meanwhile, Tex seemed to be doing quite well, with his Angles running all over the Midlands, and Mike's Saxons firmly controlling the south. Chuck's Romano-British managed to survive pretty handily, running all over the place. They survived until turn 16, not quite the distance. The Welsh did manage to sneak in their 12 points for York, but it cost at least that much in lost points in Wales as it took considerable time to win the parts I'd deserted to get to York back.

In the endgame, I was very sure I was dead in the water, then my Danes rolled in and kicked but. I got 36 points with them alone on turn 11, and several more points a few turns later. They were no match for Chuck's Norwegians, though, and despite a good effort to slow him down he pretty much wiped the floor with my poor Danes. At least the Welsh got their areas back! Meanwhile, Tex's Normans were making a run for it. Unfortunately, Tex left William a bit exposed (not much, mind you), and he lost him on the very last turn. The Danes made a run of it, but ended up controlling only 2 points worth of areas on the final turn. Fortunately, the Welsh were worth 20, and with another 10 from the Caldonians and lone Dane, I scored 30 point in one turn, putting me back into the race.

I didn't quite realize how much back in the race until I discovered that Chuck was scoring very low points on the last turn. When we counted all of the points up, Chuck won by a nose with 211 to both Tex's and my 208, with Mike bringing up the rear - he'd missed a leader, and had very bad luck with the Norsemen, and I think the end of the game was quite anticlimactic for him.

By now it was midnight, so off to bed we went, me doing the blog before turning out the light. You'll have to forgive the typos, but it's been a long day...

More tomorrow, when we plan to play Wellington and Arkham Horror, among other things.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

International Gamer's Awards - WTF?????

The IGA announced their Historical Simulations category winner for 2007, and it was A Victory Lost. Up against it were several mediocre games, including the sadly broken Shifting Sands, and the SCS reprint of Afrika, but I have to say I was stunned that Combat Commander did not whup every other game in the field. CC:E is superior in almost every measurable way to AVL, the sole exception being that if you can't handle the fact that a battlefield is an inherently chaotic place, you won't like the game. Most armchair generals tend toward being control freaks, I guess. Still, they gave the nod to Twilight Struggle the year before, which I find equally baffling, so I guess they are living up to their non-newsworthiness that has plagued the award since it's inception.

What is definitely disturbing, and why I won't pay the slightest attention to the award in the future, is that the developer for A Victory Lost is one of the judges. Yes, I've looked at how they vote and who wins, but the very fact that the developer is involved in any way completely destroys the credibility of the vote. [Ed. note - Adam Starkweather abstained from the voting, and I apologize to Adam and the IGA for not checking this before posting to the blog. I still stand by my contention that CC:E is a more worthy recipient of the award. Thanks to Greg for catching this.]

I would like to be clear that I think that AVL is a very good game, and in any other year it probably *should* be the winner. However, given the expandability, story, elegance, tension, literary feel, and above all the best damned wargame rulebook *ever*, how CC:E failed to win completely escapes me. So what killed it, guys? No tanks? Didn't draw a Recover card when you needed one?

I guess that's why no one cares about this award.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Check My Ride

And it only took me to level 49.

Hey, it's my first toon. Give me a break. I even got the Carrot on a Stick before I got the Mechanostrider.


Monday, August 13, 2007


No, not me, silly. Karl. Karl Rove. The Man Who Sold The Iraq War To America.

I'm sure there will be an avalanche of articles both positive and negative about the man, but I will just say this: we are one step closer to having evil out of the executive branch of government.

When I say "evil" I do not mean it in the mythic sense, but in the sense of acting both for personal gain regardless of the cost and regardless of the method. If you think that we live in a toxic political environment, Karl has contributed a considerable amount to that state in the various political campaigns he has run.

I, for one, hope the man retires and we never have to see or hear from him again.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Worst Part About Getting Old

After the, um, you know. The thing. Not working. That.

The worst part about getting old is that things change in ways that you wish they hadn't. Two things have reinforced this for me recently, both of which will demonstrate my point.

First was a trip out to my alma mater, University of Portland. I've been out there on and off since I graduated, both with my bachelor's in 1986 and my masters in 1997, so that really isn't that different. Even when I went back for my masters it was clear that I was not 20 years old anymore. So I was a bit surprised when I was there a couple of days ago to help with auditions for a choir I sing with that it occurred to me that I really *couldn't* go home again. The place is still largely the same, with the improvments you'd expect and hope for, but more than 25 years after I first set foot on campus I got a sense of what people my age have been realizing for eons - my youth is gone and all of the perceived freedom and potential with it.

Second was seeing an old friend going to his mailbox as I was driving. I guess that shouldn't be a terribly odd thing to experience, but the strange thing is that I've watched this person (we'll call him Leo, not his name or the name of anyone I know) *change* over the years since we were undergrads together, then co-workers. We did all sorts of spur-of-the-moment things in college, like driving to Astoria on the Oregon Coast in the dead of night to his parents house because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

After graduation, all of Leo's good qualities started to fade and his bad ones took over. I remember at one point he was complaining about his job at a major chip manufacturer in the area, and I asked him if he didn't have enough in his stock portfolio to simply quit and live off of that for a few years, and he replied that he liked yelling at his reports too much. Really. On another occasion, he took great pleasure in repeatedly frightening one of my dogs at a group function, an act that freaked out the group of college friends that were there.

I guess he had a lot of things going on under the hood, because he left his wife a few years ago, and he's never contacted me since. To be fair, I wasn't really interested in contacting him either, even to let him know about my biological daughter's return to my life. At this point I think of him as a failed person, someone who was looking for how to sleep well at night and who just couldn't seem to figure out the right path to get there. We've stayed friends with his wife (they have yet to divorce, even though they've been separated longer than they were married. I won't go into the particulars of how they met and married, but it's a story all on it's own), so I guess my views are colored a bit by her (generous) accounting of events, but since Leo doesn't seem to want to present his case to me I guess I have to take hers as what happened.

A common friend who feels more or less as I do told me that Leo was living in this particular part of town, not far from where my wife works, and when I drove out there today to drop something off for her I thought I'd see if I couldn't find the house with six Saabs and two International Scouts in the driveway (Leo always had car parts under his bed, rumor was enough to make an entire Camaro). I didn't see the cars, but I did see Leo. I considered stopping and saying hello for about five seconds, then decided that that was about as much contact as I really needed and everything else would just end up with both of us being uncomfortable. I know that he frequents a couple of restaurants in our area, so I suppose we'll run into each other at some point, but for now I've decided just to let things take their own course.

So institutions change and sometimes they change for the better but you get left behind. People change, and turn to what those of us who knew Leo 25 years ago call the Dark Side, but what happened was that he just got mean. That may be the saddest part of life, is seeing those people who you once cared about floundering, and knowing that it will take calamity for them to understand what is important - those whom you call friends and family, but in the end, what people will say about you when you are gone. Sometimes, being gone doesn't involve dying, and that's where Leo went. He's right there, and yet he's gone.

I am going to be the crankiest old man ever.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Hollywood's Crystal Ball

My wife had a very long phone call with her parents last night, leaving me trapped on the couch with a big knitting project (really) and no remote in reach. So I watched a good portion of the Will Smith action flick Enemy of the State, which is really a fairly fun movie. Smith has remarkable comic timing, and I'm a huge Gene Hackman fan.

One of the opening scenes features Larry King interviewing a Congress-Critter about the balance of security vs freedom. Of course, we've been having this discussion (or screaming match, really) about this topic for six years now, and I'm delighted to see that we're moving back toward the "freedom" side of the debate. Things were really scary there for a few years, when to even suggest that the US had perhaps overreacted to a few thousand dead and destruction of some prime real estate with hundreds of thousands dead and the destruction of an entire country's infrastructure (and Iraq isn't doing too well either) could have resulted in rocks through my front window by "patriots". The interviewee even talked about how all it would take would be one prominent building coming down before Americans would start gladly trading in their freedoms for security, in this case the government watching people all of the time.

So it was with a bit of a shock that it occurred to me that this movie pre-dated 9/11. By three years.

So it is with great thanks that I toss to my own Congress-Critter, Ron Wyden, for having the balls to vote against extending Bush's wiretapping authorization. At any other time, the revelations that have come from this single program alone would have been enough to sink any president since the end of WWII, but in these frighteningly close to Fascism times in the US, we extend them. Well done, sir. My other Congress-Critter, Gordon Smith, famous for accurately calling our invasion of Iraq "criminal" more than four years after the act, voted for the bill.

Me, I think that I would like to have every person who thought this was a good idea monitored 24/7, with all of their activities thoughout the day (and night) recorded and available on the web. Because some of them are, you know, bought and sold. Because we clearly can't trust the dozen or so Federal legislators who are already up on ethics charges. While it's possible there are actual legitimate national security issues surrounding George Bush's life, I suggest we instead monitor his daughters, who clearly need the supervision. Plus there's probably a revenue stream there.

Because you can put bars on your windows, you can install a safe in your wall, you can buy a ferocious dog to guard your house, you can buy handguns to protect your family, but the fact remains that if someone really wants to take something from you or do you harm and has the means and skills to do so, they will. All the wiretapping in the world won't make a bit of difference, and all it does is trade our freedom for security. It's so sad that Hollywood figured this out nearly ten years ago, and even predicted how the crisis would come, and we thought it was just entertainment.

Ran Over - Guest Entry

One of the things I really enjoyed about the now defunct Gathering of Engineers blog that I contributed to was the input of many voices, occasionally talking about the same thing. Having fewer posts to do was, in one way, a lower burden on the individual writer. Of course, there was pressure to come up with a topic on a regular basis other than just when you felt like it (such as this blog), and in the end I found myself without topics on occasion. Sometimes this led to a stream-of-consciousness entry, sometimes it led to me playing smacky-smacky wtih gaming podcasts and a stint as Mr. Whiney on the Dice Tower. Which meant I once again had the pressure of deadlines and coming up with interesting topics on a regular basis.

Since I'm only doing gaming posts when the mood strikes me, and very little in the way of session recaps, one of my gaming friends asked if he could contribute from time to time. I'm going to post a few things from him from time to time, and next time I'll remember to do it within a week or so of when he sends the essay to me (this one has languished for about a month - damn you, World of Warcraft!)


I'll let him introduce himself...

--------------------(Dug-Free Zone)---------------------

First of all, here’s quick note of introducing myself. As Doug is on a Euro-game reporting hiatus, I volunteered to occasionally write some game content for his blog. My name is Chuck Lietz and if you’re a regular reader here on either Doug’s website or on some of the other RipCityGamer’s blogs, you’ve probably heard my name at one point or another. I’ve been playing games all my life and in particular really grew up at a young age playing countless hours of card games while growing up in the Midwest. As I got older, my father who was a history professor brought home a copy of Tactics II that he had found at Goodwill and thought it would be something my older brother and I might like for awhile and then we’d move on. Little did he know where this would lead in that I have been an avid wargamer for about 30 years now with a collection of well over 1,000 titles. We would occasionally play some of the AH family game lines and the old chestnut Rail Baron was a favorite of ours despite its prodigious length. I believe it was the summer of 2000 when I first met Doug at a local gaming convention playing a game of Brittania and when first told me about his group of “Euro” gamers. My first thought was “Yuk, why don’t you guys keep me out of your games of Candyland and Life” but I didn’t really have any other wargaming face-to-face opponents and we exchanged e-mails with the thought of playing War at Sea. When we subsequently met, he and I hit it off right away and eventually I agreed to try coming to a few of the RCG game night sessions and later moved on to became a “regular” member.

I have lately been playing a lot of two-player games, both Euros and wargames and so I’m always on the lookout for good designs to put into the rotation. While my wargame collection is huge, I really don’t buy many Eurogames limiting it pretty much to either my top 10 list, Martin Wallace designs, and a couple of dungeon crawls. However, a recent development is that my wife has started to show some interest in games and this usually takes the form of two-player friendly designs and so I’ve tried to actively find games I think we’d enjoy. So, when Mike Deans (who is a Simply Fun rep) told me about the game Drive my first response was sounds interesting but I’d have to try it out first before I buy. Mike and I played some hands and I quickly concluded that this was a fun little game that I thought my wife would like and so I bought a copy.

Drive is a very straight-forward card game that I believe retails for about $22. For your hard earned shekels, you get a deck of 110 cards, a small board, rules, and a box. The components are serviceable and effective but other than the drawings of the cars on the cards, there’s not a lot of eye candy here. The cards are of average quality and I do think you could easily wear out a copy which is a minor annoyance. I probably would have preferred to skip having the marginally useful board in favor of getting thicker cards but not a show stopper. Rules are clear and while the game is simple, it is amazing how even simple games can sometimes end up with poor or confusing rules but that is not the case here. After Mike explained the rules, I think I’ve only skimmed them once which is a good sign.

The 110 card deck has 9 suits of cars and every card in each suit has the same value which matches the total number of cards of that suit which are in the deck. For example, there are 6 cards in the deck of the 6 suit, and 18 cards in the deck of the 18 suit, and so on. The object of the game is to score the most points and you get points based on the value of the suits you control. Game play for Drive is similar to Gin Rummy and your turn is essentially to draw two cards and then either play a set of matching cards in a suit or discard a card face-up that your opponent could subsequently draw. Playing a set can be either to start a new set or to discard and replace an existing suit that either you or your opponent has laid down at the end of a previous turn with the caveat that the number of cards in your set must exceed the number of cards in the existing set. For example, if you lay down a set of 3 cards in the 6 suit, you are guaranteed to control this set as no other player can collect 4 cards in this suit as there are only 3 more cards of this suit in the deck. The hand ends when either one player controls a majority of sets determined by the number of players (6 of 9 for two-player), when all 9 sets have been claimed, or when both draw piles have been exhausted. There’s a little bit more going on here but this is essentially it.

Now my wife generally is not a gamer and usually plays games primarily because she knows I like them. As such, most games we play I end up winning because I’ve played them before and they don’t capture enough interest for her to invest more than a casual attention to them. However, Drive has been a different story. We’ve easily played 20 plus hands and after my winning the first hand, I don’t think I’ve won another. We’ve been married for a long time and for some unknown reason, her ability to read me and then apply it to the game concepts and strategy of Drive has been downright uncanny. When I’m looking to go out early, she steals a key set to block me and when I’m looking for a longer game she is able to anticipate my motives and read into my drawing patterns to consistently beat me to the punch on winning key suits. Last night’s game was no exception and while generally I am a gracious loser (due to years of experience), losing to my non-gamer wife so consistently has been quite aggravating. At this time, I’m pretty much to the point where I need to find a new replacement game pretty quickly. However, I would still strongly recommend Drive to gamers and non-gamers alike as it is simplistic but has enough depth of tactics that it will be a game you can pick up and continue playing and (providing you win the occasional hand or two) enjoying for some time.