Thursday, November 30, 2006

Games: My Answers

So how did I learn to play games?

I was thinking about this on my long drive home (OK, so this now counts as my Obligatory Seattle Blogger Snow Post as well, thank God.) It might be better for me if I were to break down a few games I've spent some time playing and act as a relatively representative sample - not necessarily my favorite games, mind you - into three categories. Let's call them Board Games (in which I will put tabletop miniatures games, like HeroClix), Card Games, and Video Games.

Since I consider many RPGs to be the same, just with different systems, I'll put those at the end in a kind of catch-all category.

Board Games
Monopoly: Aside from Chutes and Ladders and Candyland, Monopoly is one of the first board games I have a memory of playing. I'm reasonably certain I was about six or so when my dad taught me how to play. I was lucky in that I came from a family that valued "game nights," so we played a lot of Clue, Euchre, Pinocle, and other games. For a while, we did it once a week. Kind of like I do now with my D&D game, come to think of it.

Chess: I think my grandfather might have taught me the rules to chess. At the very least, he had a crazy chess computer circa 1980 that always played the same opening every time. I learned its opening, and finally started to mirror everything it did. I think I played that stupid computer to a draw more times than I can count, and neither of us never learned from it. I'm guessing I was about 7 or 8.

HeroClix: OK, here's a biggie. I learned HeroClix by myself, but I did so at a friend's recommendation. People who know me, know that I tried Mage Knight before I tried HeroClix and I hated it. Absolutely, no-holds-barred hated it. I thought the IP was just generic fantasy with nothing unique to recommend it, I thought the gameplay was far too imbalanced and rewarded first strike (actually, first dice roll), and it did nothing for my imagation. I discovered HeroClix on the day Infinity Challenge (the first release) hit the stores; my buddy and I were there to get comics, and he showed me the game because he knew I liked comic book statues. And the sculpts were what drew me to the game first, before the game itself. I learned the game by trudging through the manual and forcing my wife to play playing with my wife. But it was my comic shop guy's recommendation that brought me into the fold in the first place.

Fury of Dracula: I like this game, but not many of my friends do. I was introduced to this game at GenCon 2005 by Angus, who told me he'd played the original version and that I should check out a demo in the Fantasy Flight booth. So I did, and while the game is complicated (not as complicated as Arkham Horror, which I will not include in this list because I've never actually managed to play it), I had a good time and grabbed a copy when it came out later that year. I then tried to teach my wife, roommate, and friends, who didn't like it; then I tried to teach the WizKids crew, who also really didn't like it all that much. Fury of Dracula has its flaws, but what's interesting is that both my personal buddies and the WizKids crew wanted to quit playing after trying it for a certain amount of time. It just wasn't fun for them, and I can't imagine what they would have done if they'd tried to learn it by reading the instructions having purchased the game blind.

Go: First, my confession - I wanted to play Go after I watched the movie Pi because it was "cool." At least in the movie. So I bought a cheap Go set and a book to teach myself Go. I didn't really understand it. Then I journeyed onto Yahoo Games and played Go online. I didn't really understand it then, either. Then I tried to have Crabby teach me how to play Go. And to this day, I still don't understand the rules. Supposedly, the rules are simple, but so far no one has adequately explained the game's mechanics to me in such a way that I've seen the underlying strategic structure (or, for that matter, what the hell I'm supposed to be doing!) I'd still like to play Go someday.

Card Games
Poker: Texas Hold 'Em. Here's another game I didn't understand, even after watching it on television and reading a book about it. It took someone explaining to me how it worked before I "got it." Since that time, I've read all kinds of books, played all kinds of poker both in "real life" and online, listened to poker podcasts, read poker magazines, and so forth, but the game mechanics and my opinions of the game were formed when someone took the time to explain the game to me.

Pinocle: As I mentioned before, Pinocle was a game that we played on family game nights. My family, both sides, and my in-laws all play Pinocle, so it's a good game to know in my situation. I learned Pinocle as kind of an extension to Euchre (the first trick-taking game I learned). It's not really one of my favorite games, because I think it relies a little too much on luck, but it's a fun diversion.

Magic: The route by which I learned Magic is a strange one indeed. The owner of the game store in Bloomington came to give a talk about games to my mom's elementary school class. While there, he talked about this new gaming sensation called Magic. My mom was intrigued, so she bought me a deck (of unlimted) and a booster (of Arabian Nights.) I tried it out and was hooked. I showed it to my friends, who soon bought decks, even the chubby Mormon girl (yes, Mormons play Magic.) We organized a little Magic league at school. We played in Boy Scouts. And here's the funny part: none of us really knew the right rules. We finally read the rulebook enough to figure it out, but there must have been a half-dozen variants flying around at one point. We didn't realize you could play without using all of your cards - I won a tournament because I figured out that there was no rule that didn't let me play with only green cards, so I played with only my green cards. Oh, and we anted. I lost a Time Walk in an Ante. A buddy lost a Black Lotus. We didn't care, because the "collectable" aspect to the game just wasn't there for us yet.

Munchkin: I was introduced to Munchkin by, well, a munchkin (the gaming type, not the cure little kid type) at a coworker's house. Munchkin is right up there with Chez Geek and pretty much every other Steve Jackson game: if you can keep your head down and not piss anyone off, you can win about two-thirds of the time. These games are really just excuses to be social (which is fine), and are fun because the mechanics are simple to teach and you can still play the game after a drink or three.

OK, that's a really long post. Next time, I'll do video games, RPGs, and the Lone Wolf books. 'Cuz I can.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Games: The Question, An Answer (Not Mine)

I asked the other day about how you find what you like, and HeroClix player Grey Zealot posted a very well-thought-out answer to my question on his blog, so it's really only fair that I answer myself. Which of course I don't have time to do between my work and the obligatory Seattle Blogger Post About The Snow I still have to make.

But I'll do it later. Maybe even today, if I make it out of here at a reasonable hour.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What I Want for Christmas

Whenever anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, I respond truthfully: peace on Earth, and good will towards men (and women). Apparently that's all someone in Colorado wanted until her homeowners association decided to try to fine her $25 a day for putting up a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace sign.

Some highlights from the story, formatting mine:

"Some residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq, said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs.

He said some residents believed the wreath was a symbol of Satan. Three or four residents complained, he said.

"Somebody could put up signs that say drop bombs on Iraq. If you let one go up you have to let them all go up," he said in a telephone interview Sunday."

Regarding the first highlight: what the fucking fuck?

Regarding that second one: haven't we pretty much been doing that since the first Gulf War? Even Clinton got in on the action there.

Here's Dubya's "if you're not with us, you're against us" being applied once more. Or is it the Church of Satan? Or is it part of the lie-beral War on Christmas? I just don't know which irrational conservative falsehood to use anymore. Can someone please help?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gamers Who Complain

Saying "gamers are a complainy bunch" is kind of like saying that outer space is pretty big. So here's a recent Wired article on complainy gamers and what should be done with them that others in the industry out to get a kick out of.

How Do You Find What You Like?

Since I read The Long Tail, I've been reflecting slowly on some of the things that Chris Anderson discussed. This last trip home, I introduced my nephew to Settlers of Catan, one of my favorite board games. Liz and I were talking about something unrelated the other night (video games, probably), and somehow gaming habits come up - for example, examining twenty casual games in the course of GenCon rather than three very deep games. And that got me thinking about just how we are introduced to the games we like. How do we learn the games we like?

How many games did you learn by buying something based on the box's marketing copy, reading the rules, and sitting down to tear through a game without knowing anything else about it?

Then, think about how many games you've learned because someone said "hey, let me show you this cool game!"

Of course, that second option is kind of esoteric; it could be as simple as "hey, let me show you this cool game!" or as complex as you researching a game online that you think you might enjoy, or visiting an influencer (a blogger, for example) whose opinion you value. But no matter how you think of the second option, I'd be willing to be that most of the games you know and like - Monopoly, chess, checkers, Medieval 2: Total War, Dice Wars, or even Dungeons & Dragons - you learned because someone suggested them to you, or even showed you how to play. In fact, every example above, including probably a hundred others, I found based on suggestion.

Games, of course, are a little different than movies and music, but not much different. How much of your music do you listen to because someone suggested it, and how much did you simply pick up blind in the store? How many movies have you seen because someone said "hey, you really should see this movie, you'd love it."

The challenge for marketing people like myself is finding out how to tap this phenomenon without destroying it. This kind of word-of-mouth marketing, especially for games, is a self-cleaning organism, and I suspect that tampering with it too much would simply create a barrier through which we can never again pass.

It's something interesting to consider as I move forward in my career.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In Keifer, They Have a Scorpion Problem

Now there's something you don't have to worry about in Seattle that much: scorpion problems. But in Keifer (Oklahoma, where my friend's brother lives and was recently stung by such a creature), you do. Which is to say, I spent the last week in Tulsa with kith and kin, enjoying a few days off and the company of loved ones.

The trip is one of highlights: seeing my brother, fixing a main course for Thanksgiving dinner, introducing my nephews to Settlers of Catan, getting to know my parents new cat, a trip to a bar where I suddenly became a complete convert in Washington State's smoking ban, and generally just a good time. This is the first trip home where I felt more a stranger than a part of things, not because of the company, but because I've seen myself grow in the past few months without necessarily being conscious of it and sometimes it takes facing older parts of yourself that you left behind to remind yourself of that.

It's worth mentioning that it was in the high 60s and low 70s for most of my trip, and as I pulled into the coffee shop in Bellevue where I'm writing this, it started to sleet.

Some things, I'd keep if I could.



For the first time in my life, I tried standing in line for a game console this morning. I showed up 10 minutes before Best Buy opened, and left 20 minutes later when they ran out, with about 30 people still ahead of me in line.

I'm not really all that disappointed. I went home and played Medieval II: Total War and had a blast.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanks Giving

My health.

My friends and my family.

My job, and the income provided so I don't have to worry about things like food.

A roof over my head, and a warm place to sleep.

My talents and abilities.

My perseverance.

My ability to allow myself to continue to grow and develop.

What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Book: Newton's Cannon by J. Gregory Keyes

And then there's Newton's Cannon. Rarely do I read a book without skipping parts - usually only paragraphs - here and there, or glancing at the last few pages to see how it turns out. Newton's Cannon is the first book in a long time that captured my interest enough so that I just didn't want to do that. Rather than tearing right through, I put it down in places just so I could savor the last third.

Premise: Sir Issac Newton discovers alchemy - or rather, the applications of it. Alchemy is kind of a mixture of magic and quantum mechanics - in the context of the book, it's all scientific, but there are certain aspects of it that aren't really covered by our modern scientific understanding. Newton's discovery touches off an age of invention that brings the world into a kind of steampunk age, with pistols that shoot lightning, machines that communicate over enormous distances, and more. England and France have squared off against each other, both trying to find an advantage, and France might just have that advantage, with the unwitting help of one young Ben Franklin. Oh, and Blackbeard the pirate makes an appearance.

Newton's Cannon is the first of a series of four books collectively called The Age of Unreason. Keyes' work is one of those rare treats where the execution of a cool premise is just as good as, if not better than, the premise itself. I've already purchased the second book in the series, A Calculus of Angels, and frankly I can't wait to read it, too.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

RIP Robert Altman

I can't necessarily say that Robert Altman was one of my favorite directors, but I've certainly enjoyed everything of his that I've seen. The movies lost a good one today.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Election Post Mortem, Via Jeff

I was going to sum up some of my thoughts regarding the national elections and the subseqent media coverage and spin, but Jeff did a fantastic job of hitting almost everything I was going to say - especially with his analysis of the new memes floating around the punditsphere about how we should be taking all of this.

Book: The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson

The last Kim Stanley Robinson book I tried to read was The Years of Rice and Salt, which I couldn't finish. In the same Amazon order as the post below, I grabbed The Wild Shore, a post-apocalyptic tale by Robinson, and couldn't put it down.

Part of a triptych (trilogy) of similar books about three vastly different futures for Orange County, California, The Wild Shore takes place in an America about fifty years after a nuclear attack destroyed major cities. Bombs were detonated from ground-level, inside trucks and buildings, so the devastation isn't as complete as it could have been if they were launched from ICBMs, but it was still complete enough. The UN has decided that the United States should be cut off from the rest of the world for 100 years as punishment for its imperialism (at least, that's the explanation given in the book, but the narrator does show that there is a good reason to question whether or not that's true.) So anyone who tries to leave, is killed by one of the battleships that patrols the shore. Additionally, if any settlement makes too much progress towards reunification - such as building a railroad track - a space-based satellite destroys the structure.

A blurb on the back describes The Wild Shore as a cross between Huck Finn and Our Town, and that's as apt a description as any. The action centers around one small village of survivors, who have built a community based on fishing and agriculture. They battle with the "scavengers" who inhabit the ruins of Orange County, people who have chosen to simply live off the scraps of the old civilization rather than trying to make a new life. The book clearly comes down on the side of the farmers, and in an interesting twist for the genre, the calls to action for resistance, revolution, and reunification and rebuilding the old United States are less important than the personal lessons the main character learns as he instead grows up in his village and his decisions and perspectives start influencing the lives of those around him, for better or worse.

The Wild Shore is not a rollicking action-adventure, but it's a hell of a read regardless. It's an interesting contrast to David Brin's The Postman, which released about the same time (early 1980s) and embraced the spirit of reclamation and reunification rather than the spirit of community and family that The Wild Shore ultimately concerns itself with. Amazon sells The Wild Shore too.

Book: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

Fair warning: this is going to be less a book review than a confessional.

I typically try to keep a very open mind when reading books, especially when I'm reading a post-apocalyptic adventure novel - my favorite SF genre. So I grabbed Dies the Fire from an online recommendaton with a bevy of other books using a birthday gift certificate, because it was post-apocalyptic and sounded like an interesting premise: some sort of electrical disturbance basically puts everyone back a few hundred years, before electricity and steam. Breakdown of society, people coming together, evil enemy army, and so forth. Sure, sounds like a decent read.

The plot breaks into two arcs: rugged bush pilot flying wealthy family to remote Idaho, and Wiccan acoustic guitar playing single mother in small Oregon college town.

The pilot plot was OK I guess. But boy howdy, the other character's plotline was awful.

Maybe it's just because I've spent so much time around those folks, but in the first twenty pages the Wiccan was casting spells, remarking about how her friend who fought in the SCA and made fine weapons for Ren Faires would always stand by her side, and just generally reminded me of the worst parts of some GenCon attention whore, I put the book aside.

OK, I didn't. I skipped around. I read the end (a habit most people would cruicify me for if offered the chance, but fuck 'em, the journey is more important than the destination for me.) And the samples I found were an annoying and shitty as the first twenty pages. So this one landed on the pile that's going to Half Price the next time I'm taking a load down there.

Does that make me a bigot? Maybe. I tried to think how I would respond if the character were, say, a Muslim or a Christian. Would I be equally as annoyed by a Christian character making signs of the cross and quoting scripture? As much as I wish I could say "yes, that would equally annoy me," I know the answer is "no, not really." I have some personal feelings about Wicca and some - not all, but some - people who choose to practice that faith that color my personal judgement in this regard. But even that is a counterfeit argument - I have feelings about Christians as well, and not all of them very positive. But why my personal negative - and somewhat irrational - response to this character?

I guess the answer is, "I don't know." Maybe it is a little bit of bigotry, because it seems based largely on my personal disdain for some practitioners of the faith rather than the religion itself (as far as I'm concerned, religions are pretty much equal, with the exception of Scientology.) It's hard to explain. And maybe I don't have to.

I wish I could have kept reading, because Stirling penned some really tight prose. The pilot's plotline especially just rocked and rolled along, and I wanted to read more, just to see what happened next - not a bad thing. Seth mentioned that Stirling wrote some historical fiction, so I might try to track down a copy of that, just to give the author another shot.

If you really want to read Dies the Fire, there's a link to I can't really recommend it though.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pulp Fiction

If a news story about African gold pirates operating deep underground isn't rife with pulpy plot possibilities, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Conservative Terrorism

Via SA, some Internet Detectives did some digging and discovered that the man arrested for mailing white powder to Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann, and others, was an avid poster on conservative forum Free Republic. In fact, more than one set of Detectives has been on the case.

Unsurprising? Hardly. When you spend all day circlejerking about what you hate, eventually that hatred consumes you and becomes you.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fifteen Days Late...

Pictures of Halloween pumpking carving, 2006, including Shub-Pumpkinroth, the Black Pumpkin of the Woods.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Joe Comes Back

I half-expected Joe "Mortal Kombat should be Banned" Lieberman to switch his party affiliation to the Republicans after he had to run as an independent in the Connecticut Senate race. He says he's still a Democrat.

Now maybe he'll start acting like one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Maria and Me

My life has been all about politics lately: check my Flickr photostream for pics of Maria Cantwell's visit to my office today.

I Wake Up in a Changed America

Democrats have majority control of the House. We're on track to taking the Senate (as long as Joe "Mortal Kombat is destroying our children" Lieberman votes with the Dems, not something I'm optimistic about), and Donald "Waterboarding isn't Torture" Rumsfeld has resigned.

It is a changed America.

Do I think that we're going to be pulling out of Iraq, raising the minimum wage and issuing socialized health care in the next few weeks? No. But what this does, is offer what could very well be the best part of our American system of government: checks and balances. Our government works best when one party controls the legislature and another controls the White House (Reagan and the Dems in the 80s, Clinton and the Repubs in the 90s), only because it tends to keep the kinds of shenanigans that come with a representative electoral process to a minimum. They know that they can't act without reprisal, because the balance of power is delicate. When the balance tips, we have problems.

I do expect some progress to be made. Depending on how well the Democrats do, it's conceivable that a Dem could win the White House in 2008 - but what would that do for the balance of power? Depends on the Dem, I suppose. Hopefully it's Not Hillary. Then I won't be able to enjoy Grand Theft Auto 5. But things will probably change, albeit at the typical glacial pace of democratic politics. More importantly, America's image as a democracy stands a chance of being restored in the international community - something that's far more important.

WA Initiatives

Looks like the moronic initiatives in Washington State are failing.

Is the other shoe going to drop tonight?

Huh. We're... Winning?

MSNBC is declaring that the Democrats will win the House. Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough are talking about possible impeachments charges and investigations into the Bush administration's energy and Iraq policies.

Are we moving into Bizarroworld??

Santorum OUT!

Not of the closet, but out of office. Stay the course, chumps! Keep on staying that course!!

Did You Vote?

Hope so. Big election today. Of course, not bigger than Britney Spears filing for divorce.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Grand Theft Mario

This is making the rounds, but worth watching: a Robot Chicken bit where Mario and Luigi end up in Vice City.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lone Woof

A good deal of the wasted developmental part of my youth was spent immersed in the Lone Wolf series of RPG-book-game-adventures by Joe Dever. Did you know that you can re-live the awesomeness of these books online? Now if only I didn't have that pesky "work" thing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween at Work

The best part about days like this is that my office brings in the booze around 2 in the afternoon.