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.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Combat Commander Fun!

In what is quickly becoming clear as the last days of Rip City Gamers, Mike showed up at my place (complete with last minute change of venue) for our regular game night. Sadly, Mike and I have been the only people who have shown up for the last two sessions, and the week before that only added Alex to the mix. But more about that later.

Since it was just the two of us, and last week we played Battleline, which I won by a hair, and the old AH chestnut Football Strategy, which I clearly sucked at (Mike was winning by something like 24 points (to nothing) at halftime, and we decided that this was about as much Football Strategy as we needed), we chose this time to play Combat Commander.

No other game demonstrates my growing disillusionment with Euros compared to my growing interest in wargaming better than CC:E. While not every game is as tight as this particular outing was, every one seems to have a really interesting story, not to mention an interesting puzzle for at least one of the two sides. Better yet, since the rules keep changing on what the requirements for victory are, the puzzles tend to morph even as you play them. I really don't see how anyone could get bored with this game, provided they can handle a real-world dose of chaos.

We played Scenario 8, which features a small number of German units (two leaders, three squads) trying to break out of a Soviet encirclement at night. This is a hard scenario to play for both sides, as each is hamstrung in different ways. While the Soviets have a huge number of forces compared to the Germans, they only get a single Order per turn. Unlike the partisan scenario, however, the Soviets do have the advantage of setting up units as they'd like to leverage their leaders, although they only have two mediocre leaders and most of their machine guns are of the medium "boat anchor" calibre. The Germans, on the other hand, are limited to a single discard instead of their usual three, although they have enough orders to activate everyone if they need to in a turn.

Two other factors are also in play - because it's night time, long range fire is penalized based on range. Unless you can see the whites of their eyes, it's very unlikely you'll do much damage unless you have some serious Action cards modifying the result. This made the game very melee-intensive, which worked out more for Mike than for me. Finally, you only get points for killing other units and getting Germans off the board (at double the going rate), so the whole point is to get the Germans to exit the Soviet side, and the Soviets want to kill them first. One other thing - both sides have a Recon posture, so both sides get the same number of cards and the Defender Only actions suddenly become a bit useless for everyone (as are all arty cards). Given the strict discard rules for the Germans, this makes hand management a much different situation than they usually face, while the Soviets can afford to play a single card with a handful of crap.

Our game did not start well for me as the Germans. I began by focusing on the left side of the board, where I had some good cover in the form of a hedgerow and some small buildings to move through. Unfortunately, my initial hand had *three* useless cards, which I spent my first three turns discarding while hoping for a Move card to show up. One finally did, but not before Mike had started shifting his units from one side of the board to the other. Three turns later, I got a Move after my third discard and decided to assault the lone Russian in the first house on the left with two of my squads. Both got shot up pretty well, and while I was able to get one squad and my good leader Recovered, the other squad was wiped out by fire.

Mike is great at whining about getting bad rolls, but I seemed to get nothing higher than a 5 in my first several combat rolls. To his credit, he made the mistake of thinking that the Soviets had the same discard restriction as the Germans, but this was much later in the game that we figured this out and he was doing quite well by then, so I'll consider my bad luck early as a handicap!

After retreating back to their foxholes, my leader and squad made an assault to wipe out one Russian (giving 2VP for No Quarter), then did a Move/Assault Fire on another in the building but failed. Sadly, Mike then advanced into my hex and played...

Wait for it...

Three Ambush cards. Three. I had a Light Wounds card that allowed me to keep both units in play in a Broken state for the Melee, but no Ambush card to counter him. Then I rolled a three to match his number before he even drew a card. At this point, with one unit to give before I hit my surrender level, and with Mike adding insult to injury through his own No Quarter card to get back his 2VP for the earlier melee, he was sitting pretty at 7VP and with me facing a phalanx of units on that side of the board.

And here is where having only one order really hamstrung the Soviets. I managed to run my remaining squad/leader/LMG to the other end of the board. This board was particularly interesting because there are a lot of hills and blocking terrain that make LOS's a trifle difficult. Given the range penalty of one FP per hex fired through, ranged combat was a bit of a no-op anyway. By now we had hit the SD marker at Time 5, but it's hard to pull that particular sudden death trick with those odds, even if you have the initiative card (as Mike did when I gave it up the first time he shot at me and I rolled snake eyes. My next roll was a five which gave the same effect). However, Mike chose not to try to end the game while he could, as I was looking to exit in a short time.

Which I did, with the help of smoke and move cards. My whole strategy was to play as many orders and actions as I could that didn't match what I needed rather than discard, and I played a *lot* of Dig In actions just to get the cards out of my hand (although at one point I actually found foxholes as I was being shot at!) With my units exiting the board, I scored eight points, enough to give me the edge. My one secret objective, a single point for Objective 5 which was in my backfield but still within range of being taken by the Sovs, added a bit of a safety margin.

Mike was kicking himself for not getting more units into place before I made it around his flank, but I had an Advance card and two Ambushes, so even had he played two on me I was likely to kill any unit I went up against before he could do any permanent damage, so long as it wasn't a stack with a leader.

I find I really enjoy these scenarios that constrain units in some way - it forces you to play a slightly different game than usual, and in this I am pretty sure that CC:E will stand as one of the great wargames of all time, up there with ASL, Hannibal, The Russian Campaign, and Breakout: Normandy. (Note: I'm aware there are other great games. These seem to me to be examples of classics that have stood the test of time and are still popular ten years after they were introduced). I'd frankly have been almost as happy had we ended up tying, with Mike getting the edge with the Initiative card, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy winning too.

A great evening, with a great game and a great opponent. On the other hand I am terribly disappointed that RCG seems to have lost it's cohesion right around the time I announced that I wouldn't be hosting much anymore, at least not the usual Tuesday sessions, because of our move to the Deep South (of Portland, not the US). When seven people *total* show up for three sessions, and two of those people account for six of the seven, that's a bad sign. With no one to host in a central location (and I consider a decent game library a prerequisite for hosting), we've clearly hit a critical point that I suspect will mean the end of Rip City Gamers as we know it.

Note that I am *not* declaring the end of hostilities here, I am just noting that interest seems to have fallen off the edge of the world, whether it be from other commitments, loss of interest, or just bad timing, and saying that I am saddened by what appears to be the end of a community that I founded and nurtured for several years. I'm also hoping that I'm dead wrong, even though I'm less likely to make sessions in the Far West (Hillsboro) or even in the city core. I am looking forward to starting up a slightly different session schedule with those who live in my general area, which consititutes eight gamers who live within 15 minutes drive, one two blocks away, but it will be a different feel and Tuesdays would not be the same if it wasn't Game Night.

So prove me wrong, RCGers.

Thanks to Mike for a great game and great company. We are at his place (again) next Tuesday, then back at my place on the 9th for my last hosting at the house were RCG began.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Everything New Is Old Again

Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves about contemporary cinema is that Hollywood has apparently run out of ideas (actually, they ran out about 20 years ago), and has spent most of it's time "reimagining" or "revitalizing" old stories, characters, plots, etc. For a while, every cartoon you ever watched as a child was getting a blockbuster makeover for theatrical release. From the Flintstones to Transformers to Charlie's Angels, it's recycle, recycle, recycle.

Sadly, it's mostly been trash.

It's a bit alarming to have the revelation that the gaming industry is going through the same problem. How many variations of Carcassone came out before there was one that I'd enjoy playing with gamers (actually, there are two: Discovery and City)? I rarely buy new games anymore, mostly because they feel like yet another permutation of what has become a fixed set of mechanisms, pasted together with a theme that hasn't yet been used. There are exceptions, but in general I feel like I'm just getting yet another hamburger from yet another fast food joint.

So when I read the news that Teuber is going to refresh the Settlers franchise, I know that the golden age of Eurogames is officially over. We all love Settlers, but it never was a particularly good game, at least not with people who figured it out. There are a million expansions, many of which I own, and some actually make it a better game. The sad fact remains that with players of equal calibre it is almost certain doom to be the first person to place your town as you'll also get stuck with the worst place, and two OK sites are considerably better than a great one and a crappy one, especially if you can place them one after the other.

So maybe Settlers needs a bit of an overhaul, but this means that all of the expansions require overhauls as well. Not that I'm teaching a math class here, but my investment in the Settlers system (and we're just talking expansions here, not the card game or the atrocity that was Elasund and Candamir, or Starfarers which I still believe is the best of the bunch) extends to Seafarers, Cities & Knights, Das Buch, three 5&6 player expansion sets to allow me not to have to mix red and orange on the board, both historical expansions, plus three or four mini expansions that let you fish or build a waste management empire (or whatever they happen to be, it's all a blur after a while).

You can see how this would be a commercially appealing idea at a time when putting out a new game, even by an established designer and publisher, is met with a collective yawn. Settlers, rightly or wrongly, has a great reputation with non-hobbyists both here and in Europe. The other day I was in a game store, and a couple came in wanting to buy that "great game they played with friends over the weekend". It's like they drank Nescafe their entire lives and just discovered that McDonald's has OK coffee. God help them if they ever challenge themselves and try *good* coffee, or a *good* game.

I don't mean to dis Settlers - it was a landmark design at the time, and clearly has been a huge hit. I'm simply saying that there are many very good games out there, and Settlers really doesn't compare terribly well to them, even from a non-hobbyist perspective. Ticket to Ride is an excellent game to play with non-hobbyists, as is Carc: The Discovery. And while I *might* consider pulling out Settlers to get non-hobbyists interested in Euros, the simple fact is that it's main competiton is the unholy Triumvirate of Classic Ameritrash titles: Clue, Monopoly, and Sorry. When you play a game that involves few meaningful choices, of course Settlers looks like you've discovered the Promised Land when what you've really discovered is that there's something other than Cleveland.

Sorry, Cleveland. Congrats on that win over the Bengals, though! And I thought you were very nice to that Johnson boy who got lost in the Dog Pound.

So the big gorilla of gaming has decided to put its weight behind recycling their biggest money-maker. If there is a more obvious sign of the Apocalypse of Eurogaming, I really couldn't tell you what it might be. What I can tell you is that I am pretty unlikely to repurchase an entire game line, especially when the last efforts to link new designs to the franchise (Candamir!) were so weak.

On the positive side, the wargaming industry seems to be experiencing a renaissance of new designs, from Combat Commander to MMP's International Gamer's series. See, I like A Victory Lost just fine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

World's Fastest One Handed Movers

Three weeks after meeting with an agent, two weeks after listing, and less than a month after even *considering* moving, we have not only purchased a house but also managed to sell the one we're in now. This has to be some sort of record at a time when most houses are selling in six months. We figure it's a combination of location, fair price, and excellent condition. Several viewers commented on the fact that the place looked like a show home and couldn't believe anyone was actually *living* there. For those of you know have visited my house when Mel is not on vacation, this won't come as any huge surprise!

If you're interested in seeing pictures of the house, the RMLS listing number is 7089411.

Right now our timeline is as follows:

Sept 30 - By this time the inspection should be done on our old place and all that's left is waiting to close.

Oct 1 - Close on new house, begin work on getting the ceilings scraped and the whole place painted.

Oct 2-14 - Start boxing the easy stuff (games, books, media), start purging stuff we don't want to keep.

Oct 15 - Movers come to box everything else up.

Oct 17 - Movers come to put boxes somewhere else, preferably our new place.

Oct 19 - We go back to having one mortgage.

That's less than two months from anyone even suggesting we move to Wilsonville to actually being there. No point in screwing around, I guess.

I was stressing mightily over whether or not our current house would sell, given the chaos that is the lending and housing industries this particular month. I was very worried that not only would I have to carry two mortgages, but also that my source of funding for the down on the new place (my family's business) would start getting a bit cranky if we got into, oh, 2009 with no sale in sight. Don't know that I'll do it this way again, but this was a bit of a special case. Turns out we were making the right decisions all the way along (other than to lock in our rates last week before the half point drop - grumble grumble), as our buying agent told us that someone had come back to buy the house we bought and were shocked that someone else had taken it.

The best part of the new place will be, of course, the game room. I'm planning several things for this room:

o flat storage for wargames in progress (I use poster frames) and those poor maps that I foolishly had laminated back in the 90's when it seemed like a good idea. The storage, usually used for blueprints or art, will sit on top of a set of bookcases to maximize gaming space.

o Awesome sound system. OK, it's really just a very nice set of near-field monitors that I can plug the laptop into to access the iTunes library (now Airtunes and accessible from anywhere in the house). The room will double as a music studio if I feel like doing some computer music projects. The speakers are made by a Dutch company, Blue Sky, and feature two satellites with a sub for the lows. I think my neighbors are already getting worried.

o Walk-in closet for the Euros, bookcases for the wargames. I should be able to fit about half to three-quarters in the closet, the rest in bookcases in the room itself. Finally, I can see just how freakin' insane I am without having to leave the room.

o Multiple game tables. IKEA has these ultra-cheap VIKA tables ($39.99) that will hold a standard poster frame, although without a lot of extra room. At that price, however, you can just put two or three of them together for bigger games! I plan to start with four, putting the others either against the wall when not in use, or even taking the legs off (they unscrew) if we need the floor space for some reason. I'm looking forward to being able to leave a couple of games set up for long periods of time, as mentioned in an earlier entry - at last I can play a game over several weeks without having to resort to VASSAL or Cyberboard. while nice, there is nothing like having the actual game set up. Good thing I don't have cats...

Best of all is that there will be a Fridge. I may never leave this room...

BTW, the title of this entry is a reference to the name a group of my friends from work called themselves back when we were all cheap and young enough to move ourselves. Since we all kept an open beer bottle in one hand, we called ourselves the One-Handed Movers. Doing the whole buy/sell/move thing in seven weeks, I think we can graduate to World's Fastest.

If I was smart, I'd invest in Jesse's Hobbytown in Wilsonville, so at least when I bought games I could be paying myself...

Friday, September 14, 2007

WoW Update

The past month has seen relatively little WoW play by me. Between WBC West, deciding to sell my house, buying a house, and all of the work associated with prepping our house, I've put in relatively few hours until the last few days. However, it's been a while since I updated how things were going, so here we go!

First, my Alliance characters, all on the Drenden server. My main, the rogue HVAC engineer gnome Leonadril (Leo), has been progressing well. I try to rotate characters so that I can get double the XP for killing critters, and when you're in the low 50's it can take a *very* long time to get through a couple of levels. Early 50's are very cool, as you are breaking into a *lot* of new areas that you've never seen before (at least for me): Plaguelands, Winterspring, Moonglade, northern Felwood, Un'Goro Crater, Silithus, all sorts of places. After spending a very big chunk of my 30's in Stranglethorn Vale, it's nice to have so many options.

Even better is that I'm only a few levels away from being able to hit Outlands and all of the new areas introduced by Burning Crusade. Given how well Blizz did with the new early areas for the Draenai and Blood Elves, I'm very excited to see what's there. There is a new expansion announced, but I'm guessing we'll see it several months from now at the best, and I wouldn't be able to go there for a while anyway as it starts near level 70. Yikes.

One of the other interesting things about Leo is that he was recruited into a guild called The Grand Order. There are about 200+ members in it so far, so at least 15-30 people are on at any given time. One of my early experiences was a trip into the Troll city near Gadgetzan in Tanaris (starts with "Zul", but all Troll cities start with "Zul"), one of the few dungeons I've actually spent time in and finished off. We had an awesome level 70 druid who helped us run it, and I only died once or twice in the process. Not sure how much help I was, but at least I didn't get anyone else killed. I think.

So now Leo has his mechanostrider, as well as his ultracool riding turtle, and all is going well. I have a feeling I'm going to have to do another dungeon pretty soon to get over the low-50's hump, but so far I'm quite pleased with my progress with my original character.

Of the rest, I'm most enjoying Altaama, my Draenai Paladin. Part of that is the awesome intro areas (through level 22 for this character), and she's just gotten to Astranaar in Ashenvale so now I'll start seeing quests that are at least a bit familiar. Interestingly, I was recruited into Leo's guild by someone I'd played with a couple of days before while I was waiting at the dock to head to the mainland! Funny stuff. Isolde, the Night Elf druid, is in the low teens, and going to run around in the area around Darkshore until I get to the high teens before I make a run through the run from the Wetlands to Loch Modan to get to Ironforge and the other good Alliance areas. Given how dull I found Redridge and Westfall with my warlock (who I haven't played in months), I may enjoy the Night Elf areas a bit more. I did run much of Darkshore with my Night Elf warrior (long since killed off), but I just wasn't digging that character either. Finally, my dwarf warrior Igon just went to Loch Modan, but I'm not quite sure if/how I'll proceed with him.

Understand that a big part of why I use so many characters is twofold. First, if you spend time on one character, the others are earning levels where they will gain double the XP for kills. Second, and perhaps more important, is that if you have multiple characters you can leverage different trade and gathering skills. For example, Isolde is an herbalist/alchemist, so if anyone scores herbs they send them to her, and she sends them back potions (mostly useful for the lower levels, of course). You can also recycle bags and other items between professions/classes, and having a sugar daddy like Leo means that no one will need to wait past level 40 to get a mount (Leo took until level 48, *way* too long).

On the Horde side, things are a bit simpler. My main on The Scryers is Chanya, an orc shaman that I also enjoy playing quite a bit. I haven't seen her since early August, though! She's right on the verge of level 40, and I'm strongly considering running battlegrounds with her for a little while, although I have no idea how they work. I will take her up to Warsong Gulch when her turn comes around in a week or three. I definitely like the mix of combat and spell skills that Shamen and Paladi possess, although I have to admit that the sneakiness of the rogue is *very* cool, and I'd definitely play a rogue were I to give PvP a shot.

Only two other characters on the Horde side, one a Tauran hunter named Taurson with a wolf pet named Spot. This character is somewhere below most of my Alliance characters in terms of my enjoyment of the character, but part of this is because I seem to spend a lot of money on bullets. This is kind of strange, as one of the classes I really wanted to play when I first got into the game was a hunter because I'm such a dog person in real life. People talk about what the best pet to play is, but I have to say that don't know that I'd ever get rid of Spot. For me, the game really is about the roleplay rather than the levelling, and discovering new things in the world, so having an optimal character goes against my nature as I like characters that have flaws. Perhaps that's why Leo is my favorite, because he's an engineer and really likes building wacky and occasionally functional toys, like the Shrink Ray and the Goblin Jumper Cables.

The final character is my Blood Elf mage, who I haven't played in so long that I don't even remember her name! She's in her early teens as well, and another jewelcrafter as the new races have teachers in their home areas. Being a mage has a lot of advantages, and I think they even get an automatic mount at level 40, but while I've enjoyed the starting areas to some extent, and I find myself looking for the best looking outfits for her (they are a vain race), at the same time it's just not a character I care about like I do some of the others. I'll probably put together a couple more Horde characters to leverage off of each other (I still don't have a real priest, other than the one on Hydraxis that was intended to quest with my friend Laurent - it never took off, I'm afraid), but probably not for a little while.

Two other things; First, why I like playing female characters, and second why I think my WoW hours will start to drop like a rock even after we move.

I like the female characters for a few reasons, but mostly because I think they look better than most of the uber-masculine male characters. Leo is an exception, being a gnome, but in general I like the size. Plus, I'd really rather look at a nice female butt running around the landscape for hours at a time than a guy's. :-) I have *not* noticed any sexism in the game, which is nice, and there is no effective difference between the sexes other than appearance. I *almost* like this, and while I do believe that women should be given the same opportunities as men (in the real world), I also recognize there are significant biological differences between men and women that result in different life strategies and goals. It would be nice to play an RPG that recognized this in a positive way, but it's not going to be WoW.

As for my online time dropping, I have two words - Game Room. Having the ability to leave a game set up for months, that's right, months, will mean that I'll be spending more time playing things like Great War in Europe and Red Star Rising, things I'd never be able to play other than using VASSAL or Cyberboard given my current living situation. Not only that, but I'll be able to save games for long periods of time, so I can have several wargames going at once, all stored away nicely until I decide to play them. Given that I've really been enjoying wargaming more and more over the past year and euros less and less, it just makes sense that WoW time will fall off.

Of course the other factor is that I'm only a few months away from Leonadril making it to level 70, at which point I may start losing interest in WoW as well. While I'll probably keep playing, I suspect that my seratonin levels will finally start dropping during play, which doesn't happen so much now (unless I'm doing a quest for a drop that requires *far* too much grinding, as with Gaelen's Amulet in Bloodmyst Isle). Regardless, I consider my investment in WoW, both monetarily (including the CCG) and temporaly to be one of the better gaming experiences I've had. Thank the Spirit that this game wasn't available to me while I was in grad school, or worse before I got out of high school as it would have been a huge problem for me. Even the first Civilization game took up way too much of my time back in the early 90's, but having a computer or video game when I was 15 would have really been a bone of contention between me and my parents!

Anyway, that's my thoughts on WoW for now. I'll do another update in a month or three for those of you who care (Laurent).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why I Hate Euros / Why I Love Euros

Somehow I've been able to get out of the house on two consecutive Tuesday nights to play games at Mike's. Good thing, too, as it was just Alex, myself, and Mike last night. We played two games which pretty much sum up how I currently feel about Euros.

First up was Thurn & Taxis: Power and Postboxes. Or whatever the expansion to the original game is. Play is mostly like the original, but set in Prussia rather than Bavaria, and with the carriages removed in exchange for a "play a card to allow for longer routes" mechanism that effectively gives players an out if they find themselves without a legal card play on their route. I'm not a huge fan of this game, it always feels like so much of how your game goes depends rather strongly on what cards show up in the draft pool when you are starting a route, and I don't know that the expansion made the game better at all.

I've knocked the Discovery mechanism in AoE3, mostly because it a) is necessary to move the game along, and b) the cards can throw the game at the end of play. In T&T, though, you were encouraged to always have a play ready in hand, and if you didn't you could always punt and cash in the route or gamble and hope a useful card showed up next turn. This is the classic definition of managable luck, where you can choose to take a shot or play it safe. AoE3 doesn't have that, at least unless you are willing to devote five colonists, a full turn's worth, to ensure a successful discovery, and then you get a crappy turnout.

Unfortunately, it's gone in the expansion. And I wasn't that hot on the original, to be frank. After a few games, it just felt like you were playing to see what the draft looked like.

A bad sign, as I won the game.

On the other hand, I was not at all prepared to enjoy playing Midgard, but found a 30 minute game that feels a lot deeper than it looks at first blush. The start of the game, where you draft cards from hands going around the table, means that you have knowlege of *almost* all of the cards in play. Then, how you sequence your plays is another brain burner, although it goes by fairly quickly. While I can't say I loved the theme and it felt like there were a *lot* of components for what the game was, I think this may be the first Euro that I've seen in a while where I wanted to play again right away. And I came in last.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Euros drive me crazy these days.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Are You Ready For Some Football?

I know I am. The NFL is the only sport, professional or otherwise, that I follow with any regularity. Oh sure, I watch the women's team beach volleyball in the Olympics just like every other guy, but MLB and the NBA leave me cold. So it was with great excitement that we watched the Seattle Seahawks opening game today. Not only that, but this was the first time we'd gotten the chance to watch them in high def, that is if you don't count the first preseason game they played.

The 'Hawks won over Tampa Bay 20 to 6, but they were aided in the mid-game by injuries to Cadillac Williams, Jeff Garcia, and one of the TB cornerbacks. Their defense was pretty good, at least after the first quarter, which was a big part of their slightly above average season last year. Shaun Alexander was OK, but it took him a long time to get his motor running, and I'm starting to think that he was at his best when he was on a one-year contract looking for something long term. Now that he has it, the fire isn't there. You can say that they don't have the same line, that he was hurt last year, blah blah blah. I base my belief on the simple fact that he dogged it before the year they went to the Superbowl, and he certainly looked to be dogging it today (at least until Tampa's defense got so tired that they couldn't stop my 2 year old nephew).

There were a lot of other exciting games, but it's really about the 'Hawks for us. This is always a fun part of the year, when we can still dream that perhaps the 'Hawks will get back to the Super Bowl. Given that the only real contenders, at least after today's performance, are the 'Boys and the Panthers (in the NFC - I have no illusions that we'd actually win the big game), right now it seems like maybe it could happen. The big question will be how good the Cards and Niners will be, and we'll get a sense of that on Monday night.

I am *so* ready for some football...

Friday, September 07, 2007

New Stuff

Those of you who are wargamers, especially those of you who are fool enough to pre-order games (like me), know that there is quite a bit of product coming out over the next few months. Here are a few things that I'm looking forward to playing once Doug's Den Of Iniquity And Boardgaming finally gets set up (in about six weeks, so this is the only way I get any gaming in while our house is assaulted by Those Who Refuse To Buy)...

Red Star Rising - Yes, Adam, while I did indeed wrong you by incorrectly assuming you were involved in the IGA voting, I'm still helping put your kids through school by buying every game you develop at MMP. I figure I've paid for the part where one child waits for the professor to arrive for five minutes. Happy to help! ;-)

Yet another monster East Front strategic level game, this one looks to have some interesting elements. For one, you can fight the war in *all* of Finland. Which requires you to use an extra map, but since it's the one that has the reinforcement schedule on it, you're probably setting it up anyway. Unless you don't play wargames on your ping pong table, because that's what it's gonna take! The various Soviet armies use combat strength chits, based on whether they are tank, guards/shock, or infantry armies, so even the Russians will be surprised by how well their units function. Unlike a lot of games that use this mechanism, the chits change over time, so all of the crappy ones get removed as their units die while better ones come in during the course of the game. This could be really good, or it could mean Counter Glut, which I'm not a big fan of because I have yet to resort to tweezers.

On the plus side, this will make the game eminently solitairable. I'm really not sure if any of those are real words, but they sound good. I'm not sure this will get on the table this year, but it's one I'm interested in. Extra bonus: Tiny additional map lets the Germans hope they can actually reach Baku.

Great War In Europe Deluxe - What? You say that two maps are for wimps? Absolutely right, as GWiE:D (from now on GWE, as any acronym with a colon is too long) has not two but *three* maps. One for France and Italy, one for Russia and the Balkans, and one more with three insets for the Caucasus, Iraq, and the Levant. Of course, you can always play *just* Europe or the Near East, but what fun is that? The other good news is that each map is completely independent of the others, so you can put them all over the house if you need to. While one side moves and fights in the West (and the Levant), the other side moves and fights in the Eastern portions.

The one problem I have so far is that there seems to be an awful lot of mistakes for a game that is getting republished. The reinforcement schedule disagrees with several counters I've seen, and this is *after* they printed a sheet of corrected counters. Example: two Canadian corps are labeled as entering on strategic turn I, but are listed as coming in on two different turns in the playbook. I'm sure all of this will be corrected in Living Rules, but it's a bit annoying.

The game appears to be a very traditional Igo-Ugo design, but instead of cards to drive political events there are chit pulls, with players able to choose *not* to play some events if they wish. I will almost certainly set this up as a Near East only game for my first playthrough, then it will be the whole hog. Because I'm planning to be able to store games in-progress for long periods of time in the new gameroom, this may actually get played all the way through, at least once.

Flight Leader - Picked up from Mike, who was going to put his copy on eBay. Unpunched, too! One I've always been interested in looking at, and probably one that will not see a lot of play, but I'm a sucker for this era of AH games and the price was right. Plus, not a lot of games out there on Cold War era air combat (Downtown is an exception, another game I'm looking forward to setting up and playing solitaire).

Paydirt - I'm a big NFL fan, so I'm thrilled to finally get a copy of this old SI title that AH added to their stable in the late 70's. Chuck, who is a fan of the game, tells me that someone usually puts out team data for purchase on the web. Certainly not a solitaire game, but one that I may feel is a bit more of a game than a ride (like Pizza Box Football, which is fun but a bit limited). I think my nephews may like this one (the 30+ year old ones, that is).

A few of the other games I want to see hit the tables in my new room in the next year:

WW2: Barbarossa to Berlin - A great game at WBC-West that fell apart when Chuck blinked on getting Overlord and then got the coldest dice I've seen in a while. At 10 hours, not likely to come out much, but now I can play over a few days or weeks (or months) so it will see much more table time.

A Victory Lost - Definitely a good solitaire game, although one I may play ftf as well. I look forward to figuring out how to use the Soviets early on, then withstand Mannstein's riposte.

Ukraine '43 - Follows on nicely from AVL, but with a completely different designer and system. This is another game that has an extra minimap, and table space hasn't allowed many of these in the past. Simonitch also did Ardennes '44, using the same system, but I'm not sure how excited I'll be about yet another Bulge game.

Europe Engulfed - This one will be a bit more of a challenge, as it won't tolerate being stuck in an art desk as cardboard counter games would. Still, Mike and I enjoyed this one and I really want to see how well it works with the diplomatic/political rules in the early game. I may solo this one, but also may play with Mike if he can devote enough time in a short enough period. May become my semi-permanently set up game.

It is my goal to start working through the hundred plus wargame collection I have and set up and play as many as I can in the time I'll be exiled to Charbonneau. While I expect this will take some time away from my WoW religion, at the same time I've really never had space where I could leave a game up for more than a few days without dirty looks from my wife, or risk the cleaning people getting a bit overzealous with a feather duster (at one point, they actually picked up every single counter on the 3rd Fleet board and dusted it while it was set up on the dining room table. I told them that level of devotion and diligence was not only unnecessary, but undesired!).

Hey, I gotta get *something* out of this move... Just a few more weeks, baby.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Realtor Strikes Back

Actually, not really. But it makes a great title!

Our house went on sale last night, and we were awakened this morning at 9:15am (amazing how you don't sleep well when you have a house you're buying but not one you've sold) by a realtor wanting to show the house. I take that as a very good sign, although the buyers decided not to offer because the place was "too noisy". The level of noise we get in our house is about the same as you get anywhere within two blocks of the Village proper, so I'm not sure they should have been looking in this area, or even in an urban setting at all.

I am predicting that we will get an offer, for less than we want, within a week, and an offer we will accept within three.

I usually don't post personal info, but if you're interested in seeing what my crib looks like, there are pictures on RMLS. The address is 7424 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97219. Given that I'll be living somewhere else in a few weeks (hopefully sooner - now that all of our furniture is in the garage we might as well rent the new place for a couple of weeks before we close), I figure that any boardgame-following stalkers have a limited window of opportunity to cause harm to me or my family. Bonus - our dog Hallie snuck into the shot of the deck. Sadly, she's got her "crazy barber" cut on, so she isn't as cute as she is normally.

One last bit of news: we have the new place inspected tomorrow, so I should know a) if we'll really end up buying this house, b) what interest rate we can lock into, and c) ask if we can rent a couple of weeks ahead of time to get in and take care of the wallpaper, painting, and popcorn ceilings.

I feel like my BP is up around 210/160.

Plus, I can hardly wait to set up all three maps for Great War in Europe Deluxe (which I finished clipping tonight)! This from a man who has had about three hours to devote to World of Warcraft since August 20th. Right.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Offer: Accepted

And we have a place to go when this place sells! They came back $8000 over what we'd offered, but we decided to stand firm and they caved. All it would take is ten seconds trying to get into the master bath shower/spa tub combo (with the attendant hitting of one's head on the shower door rail) to realize that there was significant work required on this house. The bathroom has moved near the top of the to-do list after getting the mirrors off of the dining room walls and removing the popcorn ceilings! And removing wallpaper and painting.

Oh my, what *have* I gotten myself into.

We've spent most of the weekend so far trying to prep our place for viewing. There is really an astonishing amount of work to do, from putting everything not nailed down into a box in the garage (I am officially fine with spending whatever it takes to have someone else box up and move our stuff), to carrying medium sized pieces of furniture down the stairs or around the horn (all the way around the end unit on the street when the stairs has gotten a bit tricky to navigate). However, the place is very close as I type this on Sunday morning, and we're hoping to finish everything but a very few items so that we have little or no work to do on Labor Day.

I am too old for this.