Sunday, March 27, 2011

One Minute Movies - Animated and Comic Book Adaptation Edition

Note - This entry was originally posted by mistake as an edit of a completely different post. As such it would not have shown up in your RSS feed unless you got edited posts. My apologies - I've restored the original post that this overwrote and given this it's own entry. I am using a Safari Extension called ScribeFire for blogging now and didn't have the paradigm down.

(original post)

I'm not sure why, but a lot of the movies I've seen lately have been either animated or based on graphic novels. Here's a rundown of them, but be warned that there be spoilers and not all of them are what you might call "new". 

The Losers - For a classic "misfit soldiers get left for dead and seek revenge to get their lives back" flick, this is a good one. While I don't know that I'll ever be a fan of Zoe Saldana (someone buy this woman a milkshake!), the rest of the cast is fine with a standout performance by Chris Evans as the smart (and smartass) tech guy Jensen. He nails the graphic novel's character perfectly. The true cool, however, is Jason Patrick as uber bad guy Max, who chews the scenery about as much as it will tolerate before becoming dietary fiber. Really engaging, some great fight scenes, and if the plot gets a little, urm, unrealistic at points, it's a great romp. Highly recommended if you like your action film with humor that doesn't involve an Austrian accent. 

How To Train Your Dragon - If Scott Pilgrim weren't on this list, I'd give this movie the Geek of the Week award for the great voice work done by the lead, Jay Baruchel. I was only slightly jarred to discover at the end of the movie that America Ferrera voiced his love interest, who looks like a white Zoe Saldana (although not nearly as famine-invoking). Great story, great animation, and I even didn't mind the standard "appearances are deceiving" plot, although it rises above the standard fare. Note that I did not see this in 3D (and in fact, only one of these movies was seen in a theater - I'm just too old for that much audio-visual stimulation it seems), but who cares. Great stuff.

Toy Story 3 - OK, who thought this was a good movie for kids under 10? Don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic movie, well done all the way around, and unlike some movie series this one just gets phenomenally better with every outing. But there is no question that there are plot elements that will give your 8 year old nightmares for weeks, and really the story isn't for them anyway. Where TS2 was about trying to regain lost youth through nostalgia, this one is about letting go of youth through sharing. Again, not seen in 3D and who cares. 

Red - I admit it. I watched this movie because I really wanted to see Helen Mirren in a leather catsuit (and I don't know why I thought she was in one). On the other hand, watching her fire a .50cal MG was a close second. The only senior citizen on my laminated card. Oh, and the rest of the movie and cast was good too. And Mary-Louise Parker has had good work done in the past, but in this movie she looked a little closer to her age and it really suits her. No one does scared and bitchy like MLP. And who doesn't love John Malkovitch getting his crazy on in a big way?

Scott Pilgrim vs The World - Help, I'm trapped in a Nintendo console! I'm not sure how in the world these guys did this, but they took slackers, punk rock, 8-bit video games, sardonic (if young) babes with vari-colored hair, and anime kung-fu movies and made one of the craziest and "funnest" movies I've seen in a while. My wife didn't really get it, and I'm not sure I did either, but it was sure a wild ride. Bass duel! In fact, that was the only weak spot, as I can't stand Brandon Routh - he was an energy sucker in Chuck, and he's an energy sucker here, Goa'uld eyes or not. The Vegan Police were a scream, though. Certainly the most novel thing I've seen in a long time, and I highly recommend it if you are younger and/or have an open mind about what makes a movie. 

Rango - I've loved everything else on this list, so I guess it makes sense that the one movie I walked away from wishing I'd spent my time grocery shopping was this animated film. At least it isn't even *offered* in 3D. I'm not a fan of Westerns, so I guess I missed all of the jokes. The funny ones, anyway. Sure, there were moments here and there (when Rango does his ember-writing during the campfire scene, there's KISS logo in the picture - too bad you don't have time to give it a better look). I knew the plot within the first 15 minutes of the movie without having been told, the color palate was your basic beige and not much else, the jokes weren't funny, the film references were tired for the most part, and the critters were a mite *too* realistic for my tastes. No question the imagery and detail were amazing, but it was more tech demo than anything else. If you love Westerns, especially the spaghetti variety, I suppose you might like this, but for me it reminded me of why I rarely see movies in the theater anymore. Oh, and this is about the worst movie to take kids to ever, despite the projectile-Skittles previews we were subjected to. Yuck. O.

That is all. 

GameStorm 13 - View From The Trenches

In 2010, I served on the GameStorm 12 staff as the programmer for the boardgame section. We ended up with over 250 events, which because of scheduling software delays ended up happening over an extremely short period of time, about a month. GMs typically wanted to play in other games as well, so as the schedule filled up I needed to move games around in what ended up feeling a lot like it's own game, but we got 'er done and only one GM complained that I hadn't gotten them where they needed to go. While that was regretful, I felt that I'd done a hell of a job, especially considering that i personally contacted each and every GM, and tried to meet every one of them at the con itself. 

I was supposed to do this job again in 2011, but after my mother's health crisis of last summer I resigned that position, and given everything that has happened since then (taking over directing a choir for a dying friend, my own health issues) I was very happy to just be attending rather than planning. Given that my band Raindriver had a gig the last night of the con as well, which forced me to leave at 3pm on Saturday, I think things turned out well for me as a result. 

The Con was a little weird for me because my hypertension has been giving me tiny little migraine headaches and light sensitivity issues for the past couple of weeks. I was measuring my BP throughout the con in my hotel room, and it was a little higher than normal (back down to as low as it's been over the last couple of weeks as of this morning, thankfully), which I attribute to just being excited about being at the con. However, I did wonder from time to time if my headaches weren't going to interfere with my enjoyment. I definitely had less trouble in darker rooms. I also ran only two games and participated in only two others, which seems like not many until you realize that I still gamed for about 16 hours. 

The con itself seemed to be run quite well from my perspective, but then I didn't see all of the tiny issues going on behind the scenes like I did last year. Here are some thoughts on the con itself, then I'll discuss the games I played.

  • Registration. There was a time some years ago when I would go to GS with a prepaid registration and they would have no record of me and the people behind the desk just sort of shrugged. I would then attend the con without actually having a badge and was never challenged. This happened two years in a row. This time, I stopped by reg about 1pm and got my badge in less than a minute. I'm very happy to see registration run like a well-oiled machine, as this is the first experience a con-goer will have and thus should be as pleasant as possible. 
  • Information. I didn't access the program book more than once, and that was to see what the Dealer's Room hours were. Even then, I accessed it online. Maps were posted in several locations, as were schedules, and I never felt I needed to spend a lot of time figuring out where things were. The tables were numbered a little oddly, but to be fair I'm also aware that those sorts of things are problematic as best and as long as I can get to where I need to be I'm a happy guy. 
  • Venue. I freely admit that downtown Vancouver, WA (just across the river from Portland, OR) is not the first place I'd choose to host a convention. That said, the facility is very nice. My room was clean and had a great view of the park, the ice machine worked this year (it did not last year), and while I struggled a little getting my shower to work, in general things in the room were as I like them. The hotel itself is very nice, with video screens at the doors of all the rooms, and I went to the restaurant for the first time on Thursday evening and not only had a great steak but also had a really great waiter.
  • Pace. I had decided this year to focus on running a couple of games and scheduling a couple of games that I was unlikely to play anywhere else. Games were spaced out with lots of downtime between them - We went out for dinner on Friday at a local Thai place that was good, and so I had a four hour break between games that day. In the past I've tried to maximize my gaming time, and as I've aged I'm finding that I'd just as soon spend a little non-gaming time with my gaming friends, all of whom are great people. I intended to do some late night gaming on Friday in KC's suite, but that didn't work out. I ended up sleeping for about 10 hours on Saturday morning and was glad I did because I needed all of that energy for the gig Saturday night. I'll do this in the future when I'm not in a familiar bed, as I am at Sunriver.
  • People. Not a huge number of people from Rip City Gamers, but a lot of familiar faces and a few new friends. Special note to Steve, Rog, Lorna, and Andy from down the Willamette Valley who I know from Lorna's EGG events. I even made a few new friends, especially with Eric, who is also a musician and found my boozy humor during the Indy Arkham Horror game to be enjoyable. Maybe not a good thing to encourage, but then I'm a pretty happy and "funny" drunk! Also, two gamers I didn't know stopped by and introduced themselves, one of which is a reader of this blog. Thanks for being there in case we had enough people for two games of Alien Frontiers, Brent, and it was great to meet you! I'm always mildly amazed anyone reads this blog at all, frankly, but I'm glad people find it informative, entertaining, or at worst a distraction from the work day.
  • Alcohol. In 2010, I discovered I had a case of IPA Hop Czar beer in my trunk when I arrived at the hotel, and I made a point to drink a couple of beers (and share) before bed. The only problem was getting to a working ice machine, which was non-trivial that year. This year, I just brought fixings for Old Fashioneds and had a small flask that I filled with good bourbon (Woodhouse Reserve). Twice! After being sick for nearly two months and not being able to drink anything, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed drinking. I never found myself craving a drink during that time, but I do enjoy my bourbon and taking little nips throughout both Manifest Destiny and Arkham was nice. And I was inebriated during Arkham, but apparently not a problem. I don't normally like to be drunk when I game, so I consider that an anomaly. However, I should have been Marian for my character, as she always has whiskey ready.

Now for the games:

  • Manifest Destiny. I always enjoy this game, although I felt I got off to a very slow start and really struggled getting Pioneers. Five players require you to spend a lot of time thinking carefully about where you want to go in the turn order. I also didn't get a leader card until the *last* turn, so while I did get a little payout early, most of the time the cards weren't helping me so much as hurting others. My biggest complaint was the one guy (who left at the start of Era 3 to GM another game, which he did let us know ahead of time) who had to talk his way through his turns - he took about as long as everyone else did in a turn combined. Oh, and I had a period where my dice *sucked*. *Hard*. Nine tokens to put on the board, two made it. The new player, Steve, had Mexico and waited too long to play his initial Destiny card, but managed to win anyway, mostly because the Other Doug was so strong in the mid-game. I ended up taking second when Mexico declined to fight me for the final City and gave me the VPs for most, which combined with my money was enough to break a three-way tie for second and the moral victory. Mexico was a good six points ahead at the end and won handily. Nicely done, Steve! A fun game that doesn't see enough table time, although I can see the flaws in the game design. 
  • Advanced Civilization. Prior to this game, my gaming friends thought I was out of my mind to play an eight hour game with seven people I didn't know. Actually, this turned out OK. I stalled a little early and didn't have enough good city sites (I was Illyria, largely stuck in Italy with a brief civil-war-driven foray into southern Iberia), but I came in fifth only 20 points behind #4 (less than 1% of my points) which I considered to be a moral victory. Lots of those this weekend! The funny part was that about two hours into the game where we started having some issues with people taking a lot of time to manage their progression buying I looked across the room at my friend Greg, caught his eye, and mouthed the words "Help Me". Don't know that I'd play this with eight people in the future, but I would devote a day to a four or five player game at WBC West or EGG. I'm very glad I played, however, as this may be the only full game of Adv Civ I'll ever get in, almost certainly with this many players. 
  • Arkham Horror, Indiana Jones Variant. From a game perspective, this was not great for me personally, mostly because I really didn't get much chance to do anything. I'd mistakenly thought I needed three clues to close a gate early, so the gate I closed wasn't sealed. Then I got shut up in the Historical Society by some sort of for a couple of turns until I used a spell to drive myself crazy and teleport to the Asylum. Even then the damned snakes always seemed to be between me and wherever I needed to go, and I hate snakes. Near the end, the Doom Track was one token away from the Final Battle, and we were not even sort of geared for that particular fight (the Giant Pink Puffball Of Doom, who was immune to physical attacks, which was basically everything we had). Miraculously, we never placed that final token. The variant requires you to burn through an extra deck of special cards associated with various locations on the board by having encounters in those districts or streets, and then once you get to the last one (and have sealed the requisite number of gates as in the normal game) you turn it over and have a final fight to get the artifact and win. Unfortunately, I didn't have the necessary clues or dice to make this possible, and we lost at the last possible instant. All of that said, we had a ball. I got to say "I hate snakes!" about every five minutes, the company was excellent, and everyone had exactly the right attitude. Special thanks to Eric for not only being a great GM but also designing the variant, which I am considering having printed up (as Eric did) professionally. High point of the con for me.
  • Alien Frontiers. I ended up teaching and GMing this game but not playing. We had nine people signed up, but only six showed up and one was there to provide an extra game copy and run the second game if necessary. We prefer this with four, so he bailed and I GMed. This was the second game of this title where one player just ran away with the game at the end, playing four colonies in two turns. I think that perhaps there may be a need for stronger defensive play in this game and that it may be deeper than it looks. Then again, it may just revolve a little too much on luck. Time will tell, but for now it's still a game I enjoy. I went straight from picking up this game to the car and then home to prep for my band's gig, which went very well despite my fatigue. 

Thanks to the organizers, who put on a more or less seamless experience from my perspective. I know more than most how much work is involved in preparing for a con of this size, which apparently broke 1000 attendees this year. About my only complaint was that my neighbors in the hotel liked to slam their doors and speak loudly, usually at 2am or 6am, and that's not the fault of anyone running the con. I may have a model for future GS cons - get a room, enjoy delicious spirits and meals, spend time with friends you don't see often, and play games you don't get to play a lot, or provide games others want to try (like AF, which had a very limited print run and was nearly impossible to get without a preorder). And make people laugh, that's maybe my favorite part. 

Monday, March 21, 2011


I'm using a new blog editor, one built into Safari Extensions called ScribeFire, and in using it I managed to overwrite the post I did about my blood pressure. Sorry about that. I'll see if I can't recover it when it isn't bedtime.

Edit: Got everything back where it belongs - apologies for any confusion.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How To Change Your Entire Outlook In Ten Minutes

Note: This post had been overwritten by a later post (learning curve using ScribeFire), but has been restored in it's original form. My apologies for any confusion, as the original comments were still attached to the later and unrelated post.

(original post follows)

I've been struggling with a chest cold that morphs into a sinus infection, then back to a chest cold, then back to a sinus infection. For over six weeks, part of which was during a remodel of our master bathroom. Really hard to sleep in and rest during that period. 

After getting really tired of not getting better, I decided to go to the local Urgent Care clinic in Wilsonville and throw some antibiotics at it. I generally would prefer that my immune system take care of this, but I'm doing some travel in April (Mexican Riviera cruise to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversaries of myself and a couple that have been very good friends all this time). 

While I was there they took my blood pressure. I've known my blood pressure is not great, but I take Metoprolol for it, a beta blocker, and it seems to have been managing it well enough. Except that this time my BP read 212/105. 

Apparently, I am a walking time bomb. And if I get a bad headache ("the worst headache of your life" according to the PA at the clinic) or my vision gets funny or I start to run a fever I'm supposed to go to the ER now. As you can imagine, every time I get even a little headache, and I'm getting a lot of them, I start to get worried. Which raises my BP. Being a worrier, as most of my family is, it's kind of like being told that you are going to die Any Second Now, or worse (and I consider this to be a lot worse) have a stroke that makes you a lot less functional. I've watched my own mother become a lot less functional over the past nine months, undoubtedly a part of the stress that is part of why that number was so high, and I'm really not interested in needing help to eat or get to the toilet. Really really really not interested. 

We're still in the process of just getting my BP to a point where it won't kill me on a bad day. I'm banned from strenuous exercise, such as jumping up and down like an idiot in my rock cover band Raindriver (which I am scheduled to do in about nine days), but I can still perform. 

Today, I had a very minor migraine, which of course included an aura which of course means your vision is funny, one of the things they mentioned. And taking a vasosuppressor like caffeine (which I normally avoid in day to day life) raises your blood pressure, but I was getting very sensitive to light and needed to perform with a men's glee club I direct this evening. I ended up taking half of an Excedrine Migraine, which includes aspirin, acetomenaphin, and caffeine. It did the trick, but it was scary.

And I guess that's the point. Every time my head starts to hurt I start to worry that this will be the Big One, which makes me tense up which makes my head hurt more. I have to constantly concentrate to relax, something I'm not very good at. I spent a good part of the day with pressure on my eyes in a dark room listening to Steve Roach ambient music, which worked pretty well. 

The good news is that the medication is lowering my BP to tolerable levels. The bad news is that we have no idea why my BP is up so high, although I have a pretty good guess that my mother's health crisis (and the attendant education about a wide range of incontinence products), taking on the task of directing a choir on the verge of the holiday season, my continuing estrangement from my daughter, the impending deaths of both my mother and a very good friend and mentor, and watching not only the leadership of my country determined to take the direct road to hell but also apparently the rest of the world as well. I'm staying away from news, twitchy video games, fast food, and anything resembling a discussion online. It's a big set of changes for me. 

Did I mention within a couple of hours of hearing my BP was in terrible shape that we found we have a mouse infestation? At least you can throw an exterminator at that problem. And they are field mice, so I'm just thinking that Stuart Little is hanging out in the furnace "room" during the wee hours because it's nice and warm. 

What I am thinking a lot about is what if right now is my last minute on earth. I've thought about what if this is the last minute on earth for *other* people, but not myself. I am not a religious man, as I've discussed before, and I'm not worried about facing my maker, assuming there is one. I've lived an ethical life for the most part, far more than many people I know (not personally, the friends I have who are religious have the right attitude as far as I can tell) who claim to be Christian. I figure if I'm going to be held in judgement that if the main criteria is whether I made the right choice in deities then I'm in big trouble no matter *what* I believe. 

No, I'm thinking about whether there are things left for me to do. Not going to Antarctica or publishing a novel. Teaching my granddaughter to play the piano. Actually, seeing my granddaughter do a lot of things, including growing up. Making music. Spending time with friends. Doing the things that bring me joy. Have I done enough of those things?

The short answer is "no". I don't know that I will *ever* have done enough of those things. I lead, for lack of a better term, a blessed life. I want for nothing, I have many options and choices I can make that many people don't, I have musical talent that touches people in ways I don't fully understand but value, I have family and friends that, at the end of the day, I know will be there when I need them. These things are priceless, and I appreciated them before I learned that my brain could go poof at any time. 

What I did not have was a sense that time was ticking quite as quickly as it is. I figure I'm good to about 70, maybe 75 given my family's history with heart disease (fortunately, not much cancer or stroke or dementia prior to anyone's 80's). But 48? That's too young. That makes everything just that much more precious. 

Now I'm on the verge of taking a very close look at my life and what I have control over and what I don't. I will almost certainly need to rethink my diet, I will most certainly be checking my BP on a daily basis because I'm a huge convert to awareness for some reason. I suspect that, based on my inability to relax much of the time, that I'll be on some sort of psychoactive medication, and I'm concerned that it will affect parts of my life I really don't want affected. I suspect I'll be evaluating what is important in my life and what isn't on a level I'm not used to doing. 

I think perhaps that it's overdue. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Long Time No See, And How Five Dierolls Made Me Want To Sell My EFS Collection

I've been sick a lot lately. Chest cold that lasts about 10 days, then turns into a sinus infection for about 15 days, then 3 days of feeling good.

Then the chest cold comes back.

Getting a little old being on day 40 of this. As you can imagine, I may be a little cranky.

So it was that I was thrilled to have my good friend Mike over to play a little Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov. I'd played a couple of the small scenarios from the EFS series from GMT Games, none of which used the supply rules, so I was looking forward to trying out the On To Rostov scenario (#6) which sticks the Germans out at the *very* end of their logistical chain along the Black Sea/Sea of Azov, and expects them to get into Rostov, in the mud, with relatively little supply, with most of the units holding their flank not only out of supply, but with no way to get them *back* in supply without using up those really important MSUs that you need to attack effectively.

It's not a really pretty picture for the Germans, but I was game.

And then I started rolling the die.

Here's the thing about EFS, at least the small to moderate scenarios. You generally want to have MSUs around to attack with, but there are a pretty limited number, and in this specific scenario you need to at least be able to interdict one critical Soviet HQ in order to be able to have some operational flexibility and actually attack from time to time *without* the supply. Even then you are pushing the limits of your supply line as you move forward, and taking Rostov will be no help.

So I go hard against said HQ, sending two bombers, one a Stuka which is harder for the enemy AA to hit, and an Italian fighter just in case the Russians get feisty. Which they don't. And the Russian AA, which has about a 20-40% chance of shooting down each aircraft, hits both bombers (damaging one), which means this really good HQ is going to allow a lot of bad things to happen to my later ground attack, although it's not the end of the world.

No, the end of the world is rolling high on all three of my attacks at 3-1 or better odds. In this game, rolling high is generally bad for the attacker during combat. Rolling four 8-9-10 results out of five is not likely, but very possible. And I did it.

In five dierolls, the scenario was all but over. Five rolls.

I've commented on chaos factors in wargames before. Having lots of rolls is good because it tends to spread out the probability curve. My problem wasn't that I was making poor choices, my problem was that I couldn't even get started because the first five rolls were terrible. The best result killed two Soviet steps, but no retreat and so I couldn't get across the river.

Over the next three turns, I took a grand total of four hexes. Four total, and I lost five steps in the process while the Russians lost another two. And I never did successfully interdict that damned HQ.

And here's the problem. When a game like those in the EFS system force the attacker to focus their efforts, in this case because of the penalties for attacking without Attack Supply, you end up with relatively few die rolls. Your odds of a statistical outlier *leap* upward in this case, because every roll is fairly critical. Yes, most wargames have critical rolls, but there's enough going on that you should have enough that they spread out well. In my case, all five rolls were critical. And all went south, and at that point you might as well just start over.

Me, I'm not sure I'm willing to start over. After spending something like 10 hours prepping to play this game, it was all but over in one. I even got Dry weather in the second turn, and no better results. When I resorted to unsupplied attacks, it got worse.

There's a word for this sort of game. "Fragile".

The game comes with seven scenarios, of which two use small maps and are intended for teaching the game. Three more take up two or more maps, something I can only leave on my table for limited amounts of time and at about 90 minutes per turn a 20 turn game is just not in the cards. That leaves two one-mappers, one of which relies on a super-heavy artillery unit, which isn't even near the main action, to get a certain number of successes against the Soviets guarding the Perekop Peninsula. When I played that scenario, I did really well with my Germans but the arty couldn't hit the broad side of an isthmus. Literally.

I really want to like this game. Yeah, it's fiddly. Every type of weather changes things dramatically and changes a bunch of rules. Trying to remember which types of movement are possible in which weather types with which types of units requires a full 8.5"x11" play aid, not counting the Terrain Effects Chart. And don't even get me started on trying to figure out how replacements work, and the Germans didn't even *get* replacements in any of the scenarios I've played.

What the game does have is a pretty cool, if involved, asymmetrical sequence of play, Soviet HQs whose operational status plays a huge roll in their army's effectiveness, good mechanisms that force you to make hard decisions about operational tempo and focus, and a really good ruleset (which it should be by the sixth game).

What it doesn't have is robustness. Two games that went south not because of poor play, but because of poor rolling. And it didn't take a whole lot of rolling. When five rolls can determine the outcome of a scenario (and that happened to me in two full-map scenarios) one has to wonder if making a game like this a lifestyle choice similar to ASL is a good idea. At least ASL fits on a table and plays out in a couple of nights at most.

But really? Five bad rolls (of which one wasn't really bad, per se, just not the result I was hoping for - there was just no retreat result at all)? And the game is more or less over once the Soviets have a chance to fill in the gap? That's just a game that can't tolerate statistical outliers well.

I plan to give the system one more try now that I have most of the mechanisms under my belt, probably the Odessa scenario from the latest set, Crimea. It's a little guy, though, and I'm still very worried that a few bad rolls and it's done will lead to the series going into my sell pile. Fortunately, it's sought after (although sadly I never got AGC, and my Typhoon maps are laminated), so they have some value.

A real shame, this is a game I wanted desperately to work for those times when I do have the table space for a big game.

Perhaps worse was that Mike never rolled an attack the entire game. He didn't need to. My dice killed my units as effectively as anything he had on the map.