Monday, March 30, 2009

My Trip, Part II: Games Played

So, as I mentioned in the last post, I went out of town for the weekend with the main purpose of visiting with friends and playing board games. One of my goals for these meetings is to play as many "new-to-me games" as possible. It's one of the few opportunities I have to try games before playing them. This time I achieved that goal pretty well. I played 19 different titles, 12 of which I'd never played before. Here are a few highlights:

Strozzi - Reiner Knizia is easily my favorite game designer. This new one of his is a more layered version of Medici, but the layers add more complexity without really adding to the enjoyment. The bidding is mostly a simplified version of Ra. It's a solid enough game, but there was nothing there that really grabbed me. If it weren't for the sweet, sweet bacon, this game would have little to offer.

Steel Driver - I knew nothing about this game going in except it was by Martin Wallace. That was enough to bias me into thinking it would be heavier than it was. Players bid for controlling shares in different railroads, then expand them across the U.S. We had a significant rule wrong which greatly affected the scoring, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Brass - This was probably the top game I was hoping to play. I had already bought it based on reviews, but I wanted to be taught by players who were familiar with it. The theme recreates the industrial revolution in Lancashire, England. Players develop the coal, iron, and cotton industries as well as canals and rails to deliver goods. There's a whole lot to learn and a lot of little exceptions, but the play itself is pretty straightforward. I liked it, but didn't love it. However, I'm eager to play again now that (I think) I've got the rules down. Hopefully, I can teach it to my local group and we can attack the learning curve together.

Spekulation - This was my favorite game of the Spiele. It's a simple buy and sell shares game in an unpredictable stock market. You start to think you can actually predict the market, and then all your plans crumble, just like the real thing. A friend in the group had made his own custom copy of the game, since it is out of print, and his graphic design really added to my enjoyment of the game. I may have to make my own copy soon.

Le Havre - I'm glad to have played this one, but I didn't really care for it. The game just took waaaay too long. Setting up an economic system where every turn you can buy a little bit more so next turn you can produce a little bit more so next turn you can buy a little bit more, etc. just didn't do it for me. I see the similarities between this and Agricola, but it didn't seem worth the effort. Perhaps another play (with my hard-earned better understanding) would be more fun, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to make the effort.

Dominion - This game wasn't new to me, but we played with new facets. I loved playing with the random set up (which I hadn't done before) and I *really* loved playing it so quickly (even though I was the slowest player). I can't wait to bring this out again for my group and show them it can be done in half an hour.

Other new games played: 2 de Mayo, Bounce It In, PowerBoats, Jet Set, Ringel Rangel, Aton, Roll Through the Ages.
Older games played: Ingenious, Hey, That's My Fish!, Amun-Re, Metropolys, Schnappschen Jagd, Harry's Grand Slam Baseball.

Also, I was able to record a podcast with my friend Mark Johnson, which I will post a link to when it becomes available. We talked about Classic (with a capital C) games: what are they, what makes one, and what modern games might earn the title? It was a fun discussion, hopefully it will prove fun to listen to as well.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Trip, Part I: Random Thoughts

Last weekend I took a trip out to California to visit friends and play games. It was a good trip, overall. I had fun and it was nice to get away from work for a while. I'll talk about the games in a separate post. This one will just cover some random experiences from the trip.

Thrifting - One of my favorite little hobbies is going to thrift stores. It's something I've done all my life without really thinking about it, but lately it's become more of a full-fledged hobby. Since I was flying into LAX and driving out to the hotel where I would meet my friends, I made a Google map that highlighted thrift stores along the way.

I had visited a couple of them the last time I was out, and knew they would provide some sort of bounty. I mainly seek out vintage Hawaiian shirts and board games. Both for personal use, but the latter also for resale on eBay. This is how I fund my new game purchases. I'm happy to say I found some of each this time. I got two groovy shirts and five games: Trumpet, Outdoor Adventure, Beyond Balderdash, Raj, and Napoleon in Europe.

One of the stores I visited is my all-time favorite. They have a literal wall of games. Dozens of them of all shapes, sizes, and types. I'm often tempted to pick up several just to play once with my friends and then either toss or re-donate back to the store. I mean, MTV's Remote Control Home Edition? How cool is that?

Debit or Credit? - This part bothered me a bit. I've been reading several financial books lately and working really hard to live completely debt free. I'm in good shape, actually, but it has been work since most of my life I have been a pretty carefree spender. Anyway, at the rental car place I wanted to pay with my debit card. They told me they would have to put a $400 deposit on it. At the hotel when I paid with my debit card, they told me they would charge the full amount of the room up front. Lastly, when filling up the tank of the rental before returning it, the gas pump display told me I got a $0.45 (What happened to the "cents" key?) charge for using debit.

All these little things felt like I was being conspired against for not using credit. I understand that with credit, the funds are coming from the seemingly limitless funds of the bank, whereas debit comes from the unknown depths of my personal account. I get that. But what if I had wanted to write a check for any of these purchases? Would that not have been allowed? (Probably not, since I was from out of town.) And what about the Visa logo on my debit card? Doesn't that guarantee the transaction just as much? And what exactly is the difference if I were to use my debit card as a credit card?

Line Ethics - I have traveled quite a bit casually thanks to the passes I used to get from my sister. I know the drill when it comes to getting through the security lines. Now they've divided them up between the Casual Traveler line and the Expert Traveler line. I have no problem identifying myself as an Expert, and I zip right through. However, when I was leaving LAX a family of six decided they just wanted to be in the shorter line. Grandma, two parents, and three kids in their teens held up the line for 10 minutes. They had trouble walking through the metal detector. They had trouble putting all their gear on the conveyor. Oh, I have to take off my belt? How many times do we have to walk through? Oh, I have to take off my shoes?

Additionally frustrating was the fact that none of the security guards seemed to mind that these people clearly did not belong in the "Expert Traveler" line. I suppose it was too late to kick them out of the line, but what's the point of having the separate lines if they don't mean anything?

Beer Ethics - Okay, last little bit because I see I'm rambling as usual. At the airport on my way out, I stopped to get a $10 turkey sandwich from a stall and a couple of beers at the bar. When I got the tab, the bartender had only charged me for one. So I called him over and pointed out his error without thinking much about it. But the guy on the stool next to me says, "Man, that's cool." Huh? "That's cool that you told him about the mistake." The bartender, too, seemed overly grateful to me. It bothers me that doing the right thing was seen as a praiseworthy act. Are we really that selfish and bad that most people wouldn't have corrected him?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse-Five Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Although it had a lot of interesting aspects to it, the book overall left me flat.

Vonnegut tries to relate his experience of surviving the bombing of Dresden during World War II. He uses the character of Billy Pilgrim as a sort of surrogate, while still interjecting his voice as author from time to time throughout the book.

Billy has become "unstuck" in time, and he flashes forward and backwards through time to different experiences in his life, including a period where he was abducted by aliens to live in a zoo on their planet.

I liked the jumping around of the narrative and the simple writing style. The little anecdotes loosely strung together effectively portrayed how difficult it must be to relate something of this magnitude. Little absurdities throughout the book reinforced how absurd the whole situation was.

I've heard that this is Vonnegut's "anti-war" book, and I think it works okay in that regard. However, the recurring mantra "So it goes" implies more that war, death, and cruelty are all just inevitable parts of life.

I enjoyed it, but not as much as I was expecting to.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Three Things

I promised myself that I would respond to any of these "Tags" I received from friends. At the time I wasn't on Facebook, so I've given myself an out and I do not feel obligated to replicate all of those. Anyway, here are my three things.

Now, here's what you're supposed to do...and please do not spoil the fun. Start a new note, delete my answers and put in your own. Tag all your friends and tell them to tag you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known things about each other.

Three Names I go by
1. Greg
2. Gregarius
3. Dude

Three Jobs I have had in my life
1. Waiter
2. Janitor
3. Editor

Three Places I have lived
1. Houston, TX
2. Glendale, CA
3. Denton, TX

Three TV Shows that I watch (not counting the myriad I watch on dvd)
1. Lost
2. Battlestar Galactica
3. The Colbert Report

Three places I have been
1. Great Britain
2. Spain
3. Germany

People that e-mail me regularly
1. Dale
2. My Parents
3. Karen

Three of my favorite foods
1. Chips and Salsa
2. Rice Krispy Treats
3. Alaskan King Crab

Three things I would like to do
1. Sell a screenplay
2. Travel to too many places to list
3. Skydive

Things I am looking forward to
1. Traveling the world
2. Spending time with friends
3. Buying a house

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Shining

The Shining The Shining by Stephen King

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I've never been a fan of horror as a genre, but I found this one while cleaning my house and thought I should give it a try. It really didn't do anything for me. Even though it had some interesting ideas, I didn't find any of the imagery particularly frightening or disturbing.

It has been many years since I've seen the movie adaptation, so my memory of it isn't very strong. However, the differences between the two are significant and apparent. I can see how fans of the book would be disappointed.

The book tells the story of a family of three: Jack Torrence, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, his wife Wendy, and their son Danny who has a strong, ESP-like intuition referred to as a "Shine" (hence the title). They'll be spending months as caretakers of the Overlook hotel, which gets snowbound every winter. Unfortunately, the Overlook has a history, or will, or demonic possession of its own, and does whatever it takes to claim the family for itself.

I liked how the narrative shifted perspective among the major characters throughout the story, and I liked how not everything was explained completely. But the story never really engaged me. There seemed to be a missed opportunity to explore whether Jack was going insane, suffering DTs from alcohol withdrawal, or being possessed. The book instead made it clear that the hotel was in fact to blame and all the terrifying things were really happening. This made it less interesting to me.

I still enjoy the early Stephen King books I've read (The Dead Zone is quite good), but I'm in no hurry to look into others.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, March 5, 2009



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