Friday, November 23, 2012


Oh, I should also mention, especially for new readers:
While my printfection store is still online, I also discovered redbubble.
If you look at the links in the sidebar, you can buy Ossian-related merchandise from both.
Redbubble lets you get stickers (really the primary reason I chose them), but also if you really love Ossian, you can get him on an ipad case or something.

I have set commission on these items to 0%. I can't justify adding to the price when I won't possibly meet the minimums to collect.

So, have fun with that!
I'll post pictures of the stickers when my first order arrives...

Thanksgiving PGWJ

Twas the night before Thanksgiving,
And at Josh's house,
Six gamers were gathered
(And somewhere, a mouse :/ )

The Wonders were 7,
The players were 6.
And Josh didn't win,
Despite knowing the tricks.

Why am I rhyming?
I'm really not sure.
But now that I've started,
It's too hard to stop.

Oh *ahem* yeah that's a lot better.

So, yeah here's a PGWJ session report of sorts.

As usual, Kevin brought some friends over, and we played some games.
We played a few rounds of 7 Wonders, and since this is coming back into rotation I am really feeling compelled to buy Cities, and the ipad app (which gives you an extra "digital" wonder). Maybe that is where some of my birthday money will go.

After playing 7 Wonders, we switched gears to play the Back to the Future cardgame, which is a variant on Chrononauts.
First, I must direct you to this thread. Note my post at the end, I won't spoil it:

Short version of that story is, the character "ID cards" have a barcode on the back, so what every good smartphone-owning nerd is going to do right away is to scan that barcode and see what it says. In my case, that kind of backfired but I still thought it was funny.

I was a little bit disappointed with the BttF game, because even though the "timeline" had some fun thematic elements, there was absolutely no story to go along with the characters, all of whom are "descendents" of the characters from the movies but not actually in the movies.
It would have been nice to know a little bit more about what makes Marty McFly III tick, rather than just seeing a list of events in the movies that made him be born.  Chrononauts definitely wins on flavor, and BttF has a rich universe (and is one of my favorite movie franchises of all time), so this made me sad.
They could have also spiced it up with more pictures, but that probably delves more into the "expensive licensing fees" arena which is an unfortunate reality of game design.
I did end up winning (on behalf of Marty III), but partially due to the fact that one of Kevin's friends was making silly decisions just to make the game end without regard for his win condition.
That's a sort of gamer I am not fond of playing with (although in other games, he was just fine, and some games actually cater to that sort of behavior).  Hopefully if I ever play Galactica with him, he won't aim for a human loss when human "just because it's funny".

Anyway, it was great to have 6, and I hope we get another good run of sessions going.
During December I'll be able to participate in some gaming outside of my house, and PGWJ might also switch nights in the future due to scheduling conflicts.
If you're interested, please get on my list!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Red Dwarf X: "The Beginning", and the series as One Glorious Whole

So that's that. "The Beginning". The last episode of Red Dwarf X, which certainly leaves it open-ended for future seasons, episodes, and/or specials.

Setting aside the major plothole of RDX, which I'll get to in a moment, I liked this episode. The jokes were good, the story was good.
I liked the idea that they are constantly getting threatened by Rogue Simulants, to the point where it bores them -- whether it's Lister's meta-confidence that he's going to live to 171 or not.
I really appreciated the scene of Cat being Cat, playing with a string, calling back to the yo-yo scene of the olden days. Maybe the first scene of Cat acting "like a cat" rather than "a 3-year-old with sharp teeth and unique fashion sense" since Series 3.
I thought the jokes were very classic Dwarf interactions.  Thumbs up on this episode, and a good way to go out.  And even a post-credits scene to end on a funny note.

Minor episode-specific continuity things:

I'm not sure I believe Rimmer's Dad's Message.  I think he recorded it expecting for weasely Arnie to watch it in advance; it's surprising that it took this long (I'd think Rimmer would have watched it even before the radiation leak happened, when he thought his dad was still alive [but was dead, as we saw in "Better than Life"]).  I think he was simply disowning his embarrassment of a son -- although, as it turns out (from "Trojan", SXE1), brother Howard may have just been a better liar about his accomplishments after leaving home.

Rimmer's last words: "Mummy mummy mummy!" (or "Mu-"). Offensively forgetting that his last words -- caught on tape and seen by Lister (albeit a few hundred years ago, so we can forgive him for forgetting) -- were, of course, "Gazpacho Soup".

But this point leads into something I said in an earlier post regarding...

Real Series Continuity

This Rimmer is a hologram of the Arnold J. Rimmer from the original series.  The one who was responsible for the deaths of 1167 (give or take 1000) crew members by failing to seal the drive plate properly.
The last time we saw this version of Rimmer (aside from "Back to Earth", which arguably takes place after Series X or not-at-all) was in "Stoke Me A Clipper" (S7E2), when "our" Arnie left to don the mullet wig and become the next Ace, and the Cat and Kryten were led to believe that he was no more.
But, if he is "back" from taking his turn as Ace, then he certainly hasn't learned any lessons.

And we know that at least "Ouroboros" (S7E3) has to have happened in Series X continuity, because there's a whole episode devoted to it, as mentioned in this blog entry where I stitched together Lister's personal geneological history.

So here is the theory (which I did mention a few posts down, but here it is a little more fleshed out):

At the end of S7E8, "Nanarchy", the crew (Lister, Cat, Kryten, and Kochanski) find themselves in a "dust storm" which turns out to be the disintegrated bits of Red Dwarf, after they discover a watch containing their old pal Holly.
But this is where Series 8 and Series X's universes diverge.
Mercifully, Series X can be seen to erase Series 8 from its miserable existence.

In this universe, instead of finding Holly, they find a hologram disk.  By the typical luck of the Red Dwarf crew, this hologram disk is the backup copy of Arnold Rimmer, last seen in Me2 (S1E6)!
They have to piece together exactly what happened themselves, since Rimmer obviously knows nothing, but they manage to convince the nanos to reconstruct the Holly-less (and crew-less!) Red Dwarf, with some serious upgrades (more computer screens, better vending machines, but still no weapons).
Somewhere along the way, Kochanski gets lost, or maybe finds another way to return to her home universe -- but not explicitly killed, since there are a few references to looking for her throughout Series X. Other than this minor question, this is a rather smooth ("with a capital SMOO") explanation of how we got here, to a Holly-less, Kochanski-less, but old-school-Rimmer, modernized ship.

(one more note: They also must have retained Legion's (S6E2) knowledge of how to convert Rimmer to Hard Light, and taken some time out to get that squared away -- or maybe the nanos did them that favor. I'm sure Arnie was pleased)

My overall impressions of Series X

So, I went into Series X with low expectations.  After being "not very fond" of Series 8 and Back to Earth, I thought this was going to be more of the same horribleness.
But I must say, this far exceeded those expectations. As far as writing, pacing, and jokes, at least 4 of the 6 episodes were up to old Series 5 and 6 standards. Continuity could use a little work, and I do miss the Rob Grant touches of the early seasons, but a lot of these cynical reactions are just a result of living on the internet for so long.  
This definitely isn't the best of all the series, but it ranks high enough to watch it again. 
And I'm certainly looking forward to the BluRay extras (already on my wishlist, although it's coming out in R1 a little late for the holiday season...)

On the arbitrary Ossian Scale of Rating Things, I'd rate Series X as a solid GRRRR

I might come around to some more Red Dwarf Overanalysis posts on the blog; stay tuned.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Dear Dave

So here's another episode that, despite some minor continuity and setting nits, was pretty decent.

It definitely adds a few more sentences to my "Fathers and Suns" post.  Lister's excited about being a dad, and yet again ignoring the other children he's fathered -- even himself, which he just made a big deal out of a few episodes ago. I'll go back and add that epilogue later.

Other than that, there isn't really much else to say. One of the better episodes of the season so far.
Let's see what the final Series X episode throws at us.

I've been thinking some more about where Series X can possibly exist in continuity, and I've got a new theory:
At the very end of Series 7, they find the "dust storm" that is actually particles of Red Dwarf.  But in a slightly parallel universe, instead of finding the "Holly Watch", what if they found a reconstructed Arnold Rimmer Personality Disk?  And instead of resurrecting the ship with crew on it, we get an empty but souped-up ship?
That might just work.
Series 8 can diverge from canon in its own universe, and Back to Earth can be... whatever it is.
If you pass some time, and have something mysteriously weird happen to Kochanski (which keeps being alluded to so far in Series X anyway), you get a fairly consistent explanation.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

XCOM: Earth 10

The XCOM project on Earth 10 has learned a lot from its predecessors.

Earth 5 and 9 were false starts. And a few parallel Earths gave up before the bitter end.
Earth 8 showed some promise, finally finding a soldier with potential for psychic abilities, mere days before the XCOM project folded, never even getting a chance to learn how to use these abilities.

Earth 10, not wanting to repeat history, has started out cautiously.  Several months in, we have only seen two deaths: One by a surprise attack from a fast Chryssalid who took a fully healthy soldier and dropped her to the ground. The second death was that very soldier rising as a zombie and taking out her visceral hate on a fellow slightly-weakened soldier.
Research is going well. We have learned much about Overwatch, Smoke Grenades, and the finer points of using pistols, as well as favoring Panic Management over short-term Rewards when choosing which front to fight on.
Earth 10's XCOM program will continue its policy of caution and patience for as long as we can manage.

Of course, now that we have written up this status log, we are doomed.
Let's hope for the best.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Entangled

Wow.. this was.. actually a good episode.
I think it's pretty solid Series 6 fare. It would fit right in to S6 if not for the actual ship.
And it even, maybe unintentionally, had some minor Star Wars references in it.. losing your ship in a game of cards, "I've got a bad feeling about this"...

I don't really have anything negative to say about this one, surprisingly. All of the little continuity flubs in this one are no big deal.

The only question now is: What is up with Kochanski? Seems like they're looking for her, like she's gone missing, or something...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Lemons

"Lemons", the latest episode, takes the crew through another quasi-believable time travel mechanism (not an inherently bad thing; this show is really good at that), winding up in the year 23 AD, on Earth, in England.
It's a little bit contrived that yet again, their time travel widget takes them 3 million years through space onto Earth, but we'll accept that. This is even lampshaded by Cat when they first get there.

It's extremely contrived that everyone speaks English, but again we'll forgive this point, because translation jokes would have just made the episode stupider and more boring. Even "Why is there an H on your forehead, and why does your friend look like a chewed-up eraser?" doesn't need to be gone through yet again. Calling Kryten a gladiator was enough.

So, after Jesus reads about "Himself" and gets all depressed about it, you'd also think that maybe Lister would empathize. This is exactly what Dave went through in Waiting for God. They missed a great opportunity for a touching conversation between 2 reluctant gods and how they may have been misquoted, or their deeds misunderstood, even if it turned out that this wasn't really Jesus Jesus.

Rimmer mentions that his parents were members of the "Church of Judas". But we all know -- from the same episode where we learned about Lister's cardboard-box past, "The Last Day" -- that Rimmer's parents were Seventh Day Advent Hoppists ("Faith, hop and charity"). Maybe two names for the same thing, I suppose.

Also: How does Cat really know or care who Jesus is? Again, Cat's god is Cloister the Stupid, and human religion is irrelevant to his people. Sometimes I think the writers forget that Cat is a Cat except when convenient.  At all other times, he's an overgrown 5-year-old with unique fashion sense and sharp teeth.

Kryten also shouldn't be all that impressed with Jesus, but at least he spent his formative years around humans.

There is another trademark inconsistency in this episode that's almost endearing: comments about Shakespeare. Every time Shakespeare comes up, the characters' knowledge of him is whatever the plot requires of them. Whether Rimmer is referring to him as "Wilfred Shakespeare", or learning about Wilma in the Parallel Universe, or reciting that famous "Now" speech from Richard III, or coming up with a convenient way to introduce "skullet" into the lexicon...  It's not the only anachronistic cultural reference that the show has ever made, and it's not really a fault; it's just interesting that Shakespeare in particular keeps coming up like this.

Oh, yeah, and: If they were in search of battery power, why didn't anybody think to suggest Kryten's power supply or Rimmer's Light Bee power supply instead of their quest for citric acid? Not even as an insult-joke?

All the rest of that ignored, the jokes in this episode were alright, and the resolution was enough not to mess up all of human history too badly.  This is still on the level of "mediocre middle seasons", and better than Series 8, but it is not as good as Trojan was promising the series would be.

3 more episodes to go, let's see whether they can bring it on home.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Fathers and Suns and the whimsy of time travel

An academic overanalysis for your reading pleasure:
Edit: "Dear Dave"

In Series 3, Episode 6 of Red Dwarf, "The Last Day", we learn that Dave Lister "didn't have a mum"; he was found in a box under a pool table in a pub. His adopted parents (his adopted father died when he was 6, and his mother remarried) and grandmother raised him, but it sounds like he didn't have a strong family upbringing, while still holding all of his father-figures in very high regard.

In "Ouroboros", we learn that, due to some timey-wimey travel, Lister is his own biological father, and Kristine Kochanski from a parallel universe is his mum (and girlfriend).

In the most recent entry into Red Dwarf lore, "Fathers and Suns", Dave explores parenthood/sonhood by having drunken fatherly conversations with himself. But this isn't the first time Dave has talked to himself.. older scenes are definitely seen in a different light when you see them in this context.

We can not forget that Lister discovers himself to be the "father" of an entire civilization, and the closest thing to a father figure that the Cat will ever have. But the two act more like mischievous brothers than "father and son". And knowing what we know now, if they do have a spiritual father-son relationship, they also have a spiritual brotherhood.  In this sense, Lister is even more of a Jesus figure, both the Father and the Son, the Beginning and the End.. (it's also not lost that Kochanski's first name is Kristine, "Follower of Christ"), but I don't want to start any religious wars about colored hats here. Let's get back to the fun stuff!

The very first time Lister talks to himself is really early on: Series 1, Episode 2, "Future Echoes".  "This is you, age 171, Dave."  Old Lister, on his deathbed in his old bunk, complete with grey dreadlocks and mechanical bottle-opening hand, explains: "It wasn't you Rimmer saw in the drive room [when the computer exploded]; it was Bexley."
Old Lister never refers to Bexley as his son. It is "our" Lister, who hasn't yet found out about his parents, who immediately jumps to the conclusion that Bexley is his second son. Old Lister already knew that he was his own dad, and that he'd live on in the eternal cycle of life.. He also knew that Bexley was not only his son but his brother (although he was technically mother to the twins and father to himself). Not wanting to confuse the issue, or reveal too much about the future, he gave only the relevant details.
Lister runs down to the medical bay and witnesses the birth of his twins, his first children.

In Series 2, Episode 2, "Better than Life", Lister recounts the story of when his adopted father died. He really loved his dad, trying to send food down the toilet and read the football scores with his head in the bowl when he was told that dad went the same place as his goldfish. He really had a love for his father. And when his mother remarried, he established some kind of connection with her new husband, too. In "Marooned" (S3E2), the "final moments" with his guitar are to play a bittersweet song he learned from his stepdad.

Jump to Series 2, Episode 6, "Parallel Universe". This is the third time Dave Lister meets another one of himself, (and coincidentally a resolution to the Future Echoes plot). This is Deb Lister. Presumably, in her universe, she is also her own father -- her mom being Kristopher Kochanski from yet a fourth universe? -- and also doesn't know it yet.
Now wrap your head around this:
Dave and Deb Lister (effectively the same person) are their own fathers. Created out of themselves in a time-loop. They are also the mother and father of twin boys, Jim and Bexley. Jim and Bexley have two parents that never began existing and will never end existing. And Deb and Dave are also Jim and Bexley's younger half-siblings. No wonder they grew to 18 years old in 3 days ("Backwards")! These twins are the River Songs of the Red Dwarf Universe. Their DNA is Time and Existence itself.
Where are Jim and Bexley now? Perhaps they've disappeared in a horrible paradox accident. Perhaps they are the most powerful beings in two universes. This is also a good time to point out that Old Lister never said anything about Bexley dying in the Future Echo. He said it was Bexley that Rimmer saw in the Drive Room. If the twins are effectively gods, then this makes a big difference.

Now a step back for a moment, to S2E5, Stasis Leak.  In this episode, the first one with actual time travel, we see a version of Lister from "5 years in the future", who has traveled back in time to marry Kochanski (the one from his universe). Arguably, this future doesn't exist anymore, because it didn't happen. But Future Lister does seem to treat Our Lister like a bratty son, doesn't he? And maybe Kochanski has a little bit of maternal instinct toward him? Perhaps her "Oh, it's you" comment means that this isn't the first time that Dad and Son have gotten together in the last 5 years.

As another aside: From the introduction of Kryten in Series 2, through at least Series 5, Lister is also something of a father figure to Kryten (much like with the Cat). Lister teaches Kryten all about lying, cheating, "being human"... it really shows that Lister *wants* to be a dad.

During the episode "Backwards" (S3E1), we see Lister's fear of degenerating into a fetus, and then a sperm, if he's left in the Backwards Earth for 25 years. Lucky that he didn't stay, because this "time lord" un-aging and being un-born and un-conceived would certainly spawn more paradoxes.

And this brings us to the most poignant Father/Son moment of all: "Timeslides" (S3E5).
Through a questionably-plausible time travel technique, Dave Lister (age "late 20s") sits down to chat with Dave Lister (age 17), lead singer of Smeg and the Heads. This is a true Father/Son conversation.  Dad (ironically referred to by young Lister as "granddad", which he also technically is) is so "cryptofascist" and doesn't understand young people. "If you take your own chances, you'll wind up stuck on a spaceship with him, him, and him... for the rest of eternity.  You won't _have_ a future," says our Lister, who is totally "sick of it". These are the final words from Dad to Son, and Son actually listens, despite his outward defiance (as teenage sons often do).
So 17-year-old Lister invents the Tension Sheet, becoming a super rockstar, the richest man who ever lived, dying happy at a ripe old age.  At some point between 17 and 98, Lister (who never enrolled in the Space Corps) manages to acquire some time travel technology, woo Officer Kochanski (maybe on shore leave), and conceive himself, shedding the depressing-but-cosmically-important time loop, and instead creating a new time loop of existence where he is eternally happy. He has reached his reward in Heaven, so to speak.
Until, of course, Bonehead Rimmer and Thickie Holden rip Lister back out of his Heaven and into Reality, to serve out his true purpose of keeping the human race alive forever after their near-extinction.

In "DNA" (S4E2), Lister turns into a female chicken (the last chicken alive?) and almost lays an egg. Now that would lead to some interesting father/son conversations. Moving on...

"Dimension Jump" (S4E5) introduces us to the parallel universe that is the origin of Arnold "Ace" Rimmer -- and more importantly, David "Spanners" Lister. Spanners is happily married to Kochanski, with twin boys, Jim and Bexley.  These twins are not the same Jim and Bexley that our Lister has fathered. In fact, Spanners probably knows his real parents, grew up with a stable home, isn't stuck in a time-loop, and just happens to be the cosmic equivalent of our Dave. This is one possible father Lister could have been, if circumstances were different.

Series 5 brings us more alternative versions of Lister ("Inquisitor", "Demons and Angels", even "Back to Reality"), but none of them address the father/son relationship, not even by my stretch of interpretation :)

OK, I take that back a little bit.  In "Back to Reality" (S5E6), Lister's subconscious, brought on by the Despair Squid, and personified by Andy the attendant, hints that Lister knows he can not give up until he has found Kochanski. Not for True Love, but for keeping the Ouroboros cycle going.

In "Psirens" (S6E1), we see that Lister is still holding on to his dream, as a Psiren exploits his subconscious by appearing as Kochanski and mentioning their sons Jim and Bexley. Again, these aren't the same Jim and Bexley that Lister gave birth to. His subconscious mind just still has the imprint that his first 2 sons will have these names, and this is the strongest emotion that the Psirens can grab. (Once this fails, a Psiren tries a more vulnerable memory, Pete Tranter's sister, of course).

"Out of Time" (S6E6) shows us yet another potential future Lister, a selfish and "evil" future self, which inspires our Lister to fight. "What have I got to lose? Me jar?"
When "our" Lister dies, it is not Rimmer's sudden selfless burst of heroism that fixes the timelines. It is the temporal paradox itself. Without Lister alive, none of this could have ever happened. He must exist. He must find Kochanski. He must be born. Because it already "will-have-going-to-have-happened" happened.

After that point, we reach Series 7, which brings us back to the beginning again. The British version of "How I Met Your Mother", so to speak.

And then, skipping Series 8 and Back to Earth, which don't really address this part of the plot...

...we get to "Fathers and Suns" (SXE2). By this time, Lister knows the deal with his fate, and is taking it in stride. You can take or leave the rest of the episode, but the scenes of Lister and Lister show that he is a truly repentant father for all of the things he has done wrong, and understands the lessons he wished he had learned from his absent adopted father/stepfather; we only wish he has a chance to have the same conversations with Jim and Bexley someday.. Maybe they've talked to their dad (Deb) already, somewhere and sometime.

"Dear Dave" (SXE5) is another episode where Lister explores his thoughts on fatherhood.  Once again forgetting about his other "children" -- even though he just addressed his own self-paternity 3 episodes ago -- he thinks about the fact that he might have one child of the normal biological sort.  A child who could have spawned thousands of generations of descendants throughout the 3-million-and-change years since he got on the ship. The letter he got from his ex-girlfriend said she was 7 weeks pregnant, and thought it might be his, which means that this must have happened very shortly before he joined the JMC.  (Now, they've gotten mail before, like in "Better than Life", but it makes sense that they'd be receiving mail pods out-of-order since they're traveling in random directions out in deep space, hopping through parallel dimensions and actually experiencing at least one entire disintegration of the ship, and mail pod tracking beacons can't be assumed to be that accurate ;) ). Of course it turns out that the child isn't his, and he immediately does the "guy thing" and shuts off his emotional attachment and turns it into disgust at how she slept with "Roy". But we do see this vulnerable part of Lister yet again, for most of the episode.
If there is ever an absolute resolution episode of Red Dwarf, it really should be one where Lister is reunited with one of his descendants (however spacey-wacey-timey-wimey that turns out) so he can get that closure. He's long since given up on "returning to Earth" as the Plan, and now he just wants to be a good Dad.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Fathers and Suns

Have just seen the second episode of the new season of Red Dwarf, "Fathers and Suns".
Disregarding the continuity concerns for a moment, I wasn't too fond of the episode. Other than the whole tape gag (with a nice continuity nod here, being a VHS), the rest was stale. The uncomfortably awkward episode-long joke about racism was just .. gah. The mention-in-passing of Holly was downright offensive to fans (and probably to poor Norm and Hattie), and the new by-the-book computer was certainly no Queeg.

Dave Lister is coming to terms with being his own dad. This seals this in some awkward continuity where Season 7 had to have happened, but other things are not quite in sync.
Best fanwank guess is that they're in the "other universe" Red Dwarf that the crew escaped to in the "series finale" of season 8.. but that doesn't explain where Kochanski is, or why hologram Rimmer is a chicken soup repairman, since in that universe, Rimmer was the Captain.
And while Lister is talking about parenthood, there's absolutely no acknowledgement about his firstborn twins?  Technically he's their mom, but still.. come on.

..And on a more minor note, where did that "doctor-bot" come from? On the Red Dwarf I know, the only automated doctor was the skutter who couldn't be trusted to open a can of beans.

If the first episode was a GRRR on the arbitrary Ossian quality scale, this one is more like a GRP (barely registering that second R).

I will watch the rest of it, and I will buy the Bluray or DVD, but I'll continue to keep my expectations low.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I played XCOM back when it came out in the 90s. I think it was one of those games that quaintly came out on CDROM just to avoid having to include multiple floppies -- the entire installation was maybe 10 megabytes.
I have fond memories of XCOM, but I can't remember ever actually getting more than a few missions in before the world collapsed and the game ended.
I also have a clear memory of some gaming magazine at the time, releasing a video on their included CDROM (Play videos on the world wide web? Are you nuts? That'll be the day...) which went through a heavy economic analysis of the game, pointing out that if you constantly built and sold a certain piece of equipment, you would make money yada yada.
This sort of "solving" of the game turned me off, and I think it was one of the reasons, apart from the (at least perceived at the time) insane difficulty, that stopped me from playing.

I still had fond memories of it. I like turn-based games because my reflexes suck. I liked the combination of resource management, research and tactics.

I never played any of the so-called sequels.

But then, after a long hiatus from modern computer gaming, when I picked up my new laptop a few months ago, I was looking for a new game to draw me in.  And lo and behold, I hear about XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which coincidentally is co-designed by a college friend, the guy who introduced me to this strange European boardgame called Die Siedler Von Catan (before it was printed in English), killed off my Call of Cthulhu character with a madman NPC's axe to the chest, and who also co-designed the top boardgame on boardgamegeek.
The game is also racking up all sorts of awards before it's released, and nobody can find a bad thing to say about it.

So I put my money up, preordered it on Steam, and figured maybe I'll find a little bit of time to play it over the next few months.

And then.. my 4-year-old gets sick, sick enough to stay home from school the day after the game is digitally released.  And he's home for the rest of the week.
I had to stay home with him.
This was a boon for some spare gaming time (while, yes, also doing actual Work From Home), but even then, I have a history of getting easily bored of games and walking away from them.
This game is phenomenal. It has absolutely drawn me in.

Sure there are a few little flaws in it -- like I wish there was an "undo" button for a move in combat -- and sure it's really hard.  But with all the decisions you have to balance, I am really enjoying it.

In my first attempt at playing, I made a gross underestimation.  I started in Europe (the only continent that doesn't get a monthly input of engineers), and I launched my first free Satellite in Europe (because you get bonuses for having multiple satellites in the same continent).  And, on top of that, I skipped (or failed, I forget which) the first mission which grants extra Engineers.
Now, the thing is.. You start the game with 5 Engineers.  And you can't build a Workshop (the building that gives you 5 more of them) until you've acquired some more in some other way.
So... with all of this combined, my game went several game-months without being able to build new tech.  As a result, my soldiers kept dying (I am a big fan of permadeath).. but the missions also kept getting more difficult.
I got to the point where I was sending 5 rookies to their deaths over and over, while my ever-growing supply of Scientists were devoting their lives to unimplementable theoretical research.  This did not make the world happy.  I put that game aside, despite my original insistence on playing to the bitter end.  When it stops being fun, you want to try something else.

So I started a new game.. this time shunning the tutorial, but still starting in Europe (despite the option for 5 continents in non-Tutorial mode, rather than the with-Tutorial 2), but this time I launched my first satellite in China, Asia being Engineer-heavy.
This.. seemed to start out better...
But in this scenario, I was running out of money.  Surprise surprise, when your Engineers have the ability to build stuff, you have to pay for it!
I couldn't afford to recruit new soldiers to replace the still-always-dying ones, and had to skip a few missions.
My first month's report card was a D! Much worse than in the "old" game.
But I did manage to crawl out of that pit.  I finally advanced one of my soldiers to Captain level (he's British, so I dubbed him Arnold "Ace" Rimmer), with a few other Officers beneath him.. and now that I can use alien technology properly, they don't just asplode in combat.
Even though the entire continent of Africa has abandoned me, I think I am in much better shape.

I'm still not sure what the "end game" is in XCOM -- other than, of course "you are doomed, everybody dies". But it should be a lot of fun finding out!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Red Dwarf X review, part 1: Trojan

(At this point, I will stop apologizing for not posting gaming content in awhile. It is kind of dumb that I keep starting posts with such apologies. Quick summary: I've been gaming, not as much as I would like, but it's been pretty good. And XCOM comes out tomorrow, yay!)

So.. I first discovered Red Dwarf back in the days when "channel surfing" actually happened; there was a marathon on PBS. It must have been season 3, because I distinctly remember the Backwards episode.
At this point, it wasn't clear to me that The Cat was a Cat, the Hologram was Dead, and that they mostly spent their time on the ship.  But I got hooked, pretty quickly.
A few other friends in high school were Red Dwarf fans, so we'd nerdily discuss the details and make inside jokes.

Eventually, via VHS and (mostly) PBS, I caught up with series 1-6 through high school. I also read the books, which take a different path down Continuity Lane.

When I got to college, and I had a Unix shell account (The Internet!), one of the first communities I felt comfortable in was the Red Dwarf community., and its sister IRC channel #starbug/#bluemidget, were where I spent a lot of time in the days before the internet was dominated by the web.
I first picked a nickname "Rimmer", but quickly changed it after I was propositioned by a person who introduced me to the other definition of the word.
Then I settled on "Legion" for the longest time (in my angsty days I always saw myself as the "sum of all parts" of the people around me), until I got sick of "Legion Of Doom" hackers threatening me to change my nick on IRC.
For most of my internet adulthood, my nickname has been "Jozxyqk", a relatively obscure Red Dwarf reference (from one of my least-favorite episodes, incidentally) that I only know of one other person (in Australia) using. My primary internet domain is (another relatively obscure reference).
I've only recently been steering my online persona away from Red Dwarf references and taking on Ossian. GRR! :)

Throughout the years, I met a few people through Red Dwarf -- while I never managed to take that trip to London or meet any of the cast/crew, I had a few visitors from around the world and traveled to meet some in person in the US. And I'm still in contact (at least facebook/twitter-level contact) with a handful. Some of you are likely reading this. Hi!
I even got a copy of the book "Last Human" signed by Doug Naylor (which does say "To Legion"), amongst other memorabilia.

Through college and the few years afterward, I managed to get VHS copies of series 7, series 8, the SmegUp/Out blooper tapes, and the "10th anniversary night" from my friends in the UK. I even scored a VHS copy of both American pilot attempts, and got to enjoy the Exit Sign Joke, the only really good thing to come out of those.

In college I had a friend introduce me to all of the Indian foods mentioned by Lister in the series, and I am still a vindaloo fan to this day thanks to Red Dwarf.
I also convinced my "science fiction literature" teacher, freshman year, to allow me to show a few episodes of Red Dwarf as a part of a unit, after he subjected us to some episodes of Star Trek (which I loved to hate).

By now, I own all of the episodes on DVD, including the special Skutter that came with Series 8. I even own the Region-2-Only Remastered "Bodysnatcher" boxset, which I've managed to watch on my computer. On that note, let's just say that I'm grateful that Grant Naylor chose to return to the originally-mastered versions of the shows as canon, unlike certain other owners of popular sci fi properties. But my completist nature forced me to watch them.

I've always said I was a bigger fan of series 1-2 than the later stuff; I preferred it when it was "a sitcom that happened to be in space", than when it was "a sci fi show with jokes".  On the other hand, I can separate the two, and I genuinely love the whole first 6 series, in their own ways.
I enjoyed pulling apart continuity errors, getting deeply involved in discussions over nothing, and generally love the show. Why else would I still be writing a blog post this long about Red Dwarf?

I didn't hate Series 7, although it was certainly a departure. I think the JFK episode, if you stripped out the Dwarf-specific references (and maybe fixed up the JFK accent a bit) is one of the most brilliant and internally-consistent JFK Conspiracy Theory stories ever.
Series 8 on the other hand -- I stand with many fans who thought it was pretty crappy. It didn't feel like Red Dwarf.  The characters, the humor, the forced situations.. We all wish we could forget it.

When I was first dating my now-wife, she was a complete foreigner (literally). 90% of my pop culture and nerd-culture references went several feet above her head. She hadn't even seen Star Wars (and that's a whole other blog post for another day)!
So when I said "you have to sit down and watch the entirety of this obscure British sci fi comedy show with me, it's called Red Dwarf", and she said "Is that the one with the Cat? I love that show!", I pretty much proposed right there.

When the "Back to Earth" special was announced, I was skeptical that it would be any good. I watched it. I was not thrilled.

So when they said "Yeah we're going to follow this up with another full series", add me to the chorus of skeptics. It's going to suck. They're too old. The magic is gone.

And here we are, with Red Dwarf X, episode 1: "Trojan".
Downloading this episode (I swear I will buy the BluRay, regardless of how I feel about the whole show!) felt a little risky, considering its name. :)
But I got it, and I watched it, together with my wife, who hadn't even been aware that it existed yet.

So.. even considering the setup of Back to Earth.. the first question is: "How did we get here?"
(Well, the zeroeth question is "how do we explain them being so much older?" but I let that one go for now)
When last we saw the crew in series continuity, Original Rimmer was long gone in his role as Ace, there was some metaphysical weirdness going on where Nanobot Alive Rimmer was kicking death in the nuts, and the rest of the Boys (and Kochanski) had escaped to a parallel universe.
Here we are on the bridge of Red Dwarf itself (another thing I'd completely let slide; the set looked amazing and nobody wants it to look like it did in the 80s).  Rimmer is Rimmer, a hard light hologram.
Lister is Lister, Cat is series 5-ish Cat. Kryten is Kryten.  Kochanski is.. where?  She gets mentioned, and not in an "is dead" way, so.. ?  Maybe she was just in the bathroom for this whole episode?
And, naturally, Holly is where?  Or at least some sort of ship computer which doesn't require these 4 idiots to manually pilot a 5-mile-long ship?

If we were taking this episode on its own, it would make sense that it was in a "Series 7 never happened, this picks up a little bit after series 6" kind of timeline. But blurbs about future episodes say that Lister is wrestling with the idea of being his own father, which means at least Series 7 must have happened, with Kochanski as part of the crew.
Also, ignoring all of the unlikelihoods of encountering another ship where they are (or a robot home shopping network) for the sake of sanity:
Howard Rimmer is just all wrong. First of all, why is he a hard-light hologram? It makes sense that Arnie was one, because the brilliant scientist Legion converted him. It even, OK,  makes sense that Ace (the last Ace before Arnie took over), was hard-light, because it is his job to be awesome and perfect and Better Than Rimmer.
But Howard being hard-light is just a sign of lazy writing, or an interesting backstory that warranted a mention, perhaps.
Second, we've already seen Howard (and the other brothers) as being these amazing Space Corps Officers, so how does it make sense that he was a chicken soup machine repairman, no better than the runty little brother he used to cover in fire ants?
Third -- and most strange -- he claims that the "attack" that wiped out his crew was fairly recent, and his Simulant Friend has just been hanging out with him not doing anything evil since then. How's that, exactly, unless they've traveled through a time bubble back 3 million years? (which maybe they did; see the First Question)
Or maybe that entire thing was an Artificial Reality test.  Arnie is no stranger to being the center of those kinds of situations.
Will we get an explanation? Maybe, maybe not.

All that being said, you'd think I hated the episode. But I liked it. I genuinely liked it!
The character relationships, and the jokes, were very reminiscent of the "middle seasons", the most comfortable era of the show. Even where the jokes fell flat, they fell flat in exactly the same way as those old seasons. It's orders of magnitude better than Series 8 and that BTE special.
As the credits rolled, my wife sang along with the theme tune, so I took that as a sign of approval as well.

I am genuinely interested in watching more, and seeing where they take things. I'd be happier if they at least pretend to address the continuity issues (other than the Space Quest IV-like "we skipped series 9 where all of this stuff happened"), but I will be at peace with that if the second episode doesn't go there.

I will try and not be too critical of the rest of the episodes, and only follow up with a reaction after the end of the series. But this seemed like a good time to start writing it all down.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Untested BSG Loyalty Variant

Hello loyal Signpost-readers,
I know I owe you some session reports, reviews, and reactions on laptop gaming, but instead I'm presenting you with an untested variant I came up with for Battlestar Galactica.
Let me know what you think!
(cross-posted to boardgamegeek)

Note: I have not thought deeply about the full implications of this variant, but it seemed interesting enough to share.

This is just a random idea I had for a loyalty variant which focuses on the probability of players being a Cylon rather than a hard and fast number in the Loyalty Deck. Adjust paranoia accordingly.

It does require one person to be an impartial moderator with the ability to obscure die rolls and card draws, so maybe it's best for PBF games.
But you could work out a system for a face-to-face game with an especially patient moderator.

Here we go:

At the beginning of the game, shuffle the "You Are A Cylon" cards. If you're playing with Personal Goals/Final Five, then shuffle all of the You Are Not A Cylon (YANAC) cards together in a separate pile (otherwise it doesn't matter if you shuffle, since all YANAC cards are the same). (This variant does not use any Sympathizer card, no matter how many players).

For each player, secretly roll the die. On an 8, that player gets a card from the Cylon pile. Otherwise, that player gets a card from the YANAC pile. Roll twice for Baltar.

At the sleeper phase, do the same thing again (roll twice for Boomer).
If there were zero OR one Cylon pre-sleeper, then add +1 to this set of rolls. 
Don't give these Loyalty cards out until you have finished this set of rolls, because of this:
After this set of rolls, if there would still be zero Cylons, or if it's a 6+-player game and there would be only one Cylon, randomly choose one player who will receive a You Are A Cylon card instead.

Before the game begins, you can decide how Executing human characters works. Either Pegasus-style (no new loyalty card) or Exodus-style (roll a die as above for the replacement character).

You may even adjust probabilities up or down by changing the die type (with the top value of that die being the target for Cylonity, of course) -- d6 for a harder human game, d10 for an easier human game.

So you may end up with a 5-player-game with 3 Cylons, or even a 6-player game with 6 Cylons all wondering who they are screwing.. On average, though, you should have a similar experience to the base game with just a wee bit more uncertainty.

Is this worth an experimental game?

Thursday, August 23, 2012


I should post something about the new laptop and the games I've been playing on it.  Yeah I'll do that soon.

I'll leave you with an anecdote about Max Payne 3...
Witnessed a funny bug.  During a cutscene inside the corporate office ("Chapter VI"), the secretary's shirt was completely invisible.  And no, not in the fun way.  More like what happens if you wear a green shirt in front of a greenscreen.  Kinda weird.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

...or will she be named Zev?

I'm accepting suggestions for names for the new laptop.
"Boomer" is by far the most likely one (possibly using "Athena" when it boots to Linux), considering that my main server is Baltar and I have a few other Galactica-themed machine names.

I also thought of this little theme (some of you may recognize the reference):
Name the machine "Zev" (possibly "Xev" in Linux mode, possibly vice-versa)..
Rename the old 'dead' netbook/laptop (or the old deader desktop) "Kai"..
And rename the wireless-G SSID to.. Brunnen-G, of course!

Any other dorky ideas?
Keep it clean :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Oh yeah, so I ordered a gaming laptop (some specs at ).
Yeah that happened.
Her name will probably be Boomer.
Hopefully it will arrive by Labor Day weekend and I'll be able to catch up on like 8 (!) years of PC games... I took some advantage of the Steam Summer Sale and am just waiting to get going with these.
Maybe I'll have some more to say about that soon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Infiltration.. and Batman

I promised you an Infiltration post, so here it is, a little bit late.

Way back on Father's Day, when our trip began to Maine, amongst my gifts were 2 games: Power Grid: The Robots (basically an official hack for playing 2-player Grid), and Infiltration , a game designed by Donald X. Vaccarino (who is also known for Dominion), and published by Fantasy Flight Games (who make a lot of games I like) in their Android universe (kind of Bladerunner/Cyberpunky).

So far, I've played 2 games of Infiltration: One with 2 players with my wife (the 2-player rules are just "each player uses 2 guys"), and one with 3 players at a gaming-centric bachelor party a few weeks later.
Hoping to play it some more.

I'm not going to go through the rules in detail; it's a pretty straightforward game.
Each "operative" wants to get in to the complex, collect "data", and get out before "security arrives". They use various action cards and item cards to move around and defeat minor obstacles, and the alarm level goes up each turn.
It could have easily been themed as "adventurers stealing treasure from a sleeping dragon" or whatever.

The game is very light. It is all about gambling between going further into the complex where the rooms are higher-risk/higher-reward, or just leaving with something.  If you have zero data and you're the only one who escaped, guess what? You win! (Although that scenario is pretty unlikely)
The one FFG mechanic that is kind of dumb is how the data bits are randomly distributed.
There are over 100 cardboard chits, which are either worth 1, 2, or 3 units of data.
The as-printed rules say to turn them all upside down and shuffle them. And when you enter a room, take random ones and put them into the room.
That is really clunky.
By my second game, I ended up using dice to mark "how much data" is in a room, and grabbing the actual bits from a bag. That works way better.

So, the short story is that it's a fun, easy-to-learn, semi-random beer and pretzels game. Not a game you'd structure your entire game night around, but I'm still happy to have it.
It rates a basic GRRRR on the arbitrary rating scale.

So, I promised you some Batman!

In other news, I've been trying to pull myself back into videogaming, both with my PS3/Wii and with plans for a modern gaming laptop.
The first step has been to replace my old 60GB hard drive in my PS3 (one of the original "60GB model" ones with the PS2 hardware) with a 1TB drive. That procedure went a lot more smoothly than expected, despite fears of certain things not being backed up by the Backup Utility, etc.  That documentation is really awful.
Anyway, I plan on maybe joining PlaystationPlus for a year, and downloading everything they've got for free. (You can't keep the free stuff if you don't keep paying, but it's definitely more than $50 worth of stuff)
But for now, I picked up a "new" game (catching up with the last few years): Batman Arkham Asylum, Game of the Year Edition.
I've only barely gotten started with it -- I've just faced off with Scarecrow and Bane (not the most comforting game sequences to have right before bed). But it is certainly keeping my attention, and making me actually look forward to turning on the PS3 again for more than just watching Blurays of BSG...

Regarding the gaming laptop, that purchase is still a few months away, and of course technology and prices are always fluctuating. I've got some pretty good ideas of what I need/want now, but it may even turn out that the PS3 scratches my itch enough that I abandon the PC gaming idea altogether.

We shall see...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I owe you some posts...

After this weekend, which is a wedding that includes some gaming for a "bachelor party", I'll catch up with a few posts here, I swear. I also might dump some whining/speculation in here about my next PC.. 

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Alta Tensão, and the attack of Fat Willard

At last night's PlayGamesWithJosh session, my wife -- now finished with school -- finally got to participate.
Along with the 2 other "regulars", this made 4 of us.

The game on the table was Power Grid, and the Brazil map was chosen in  honor of my wife's Brazilian upbringing.  (and we used just the basic deck, no promos, all the rest of the standard stuff)

For those unfamiliar, the Brazil variant isn't much different from the basic game. It has more of a focus on "biogas" plants (represented by garbage, but the rulebook is very particular about calling it biofuel here).
When cards are removed from the power plant deck to balance for the number of players, all of the biogas plants must stay in. This actually becomes more relevant with fewer players, since with more players you are using all of the plants anyway. With 4, you remove 4, so it sort of mattered.
Additionally, you put plant #14 (a biogas-related plant) in a predictable location under #13 after setup.
Overall, including the refresh rates, the map ends up making Coal possibly the most expensive and scarce resource.

Of course, the distribution of cities is also different on the Brazilian map. We chose the eastern 4 territories, where there are 2 pockets of low-cost cities.

A quick aside:
Dinner for the evening was from the Neapoli Cafe, by Kevin's suggestion.
Their signature sub is called the Fat Willard:
Grilled chicken tenders, Mozzarella sticks, seasoned fries, marinara sauce, topped w/melted cheese on warm garlic bread
I had to try it.  My brain is happy that I did. My body.. is still processing it. I can hear my arteries creaking.  ... I will definitely have to try this again. :) 

In the beginning, it seemed like Talita was making suboptimal decisions, buying more cities than she could power, pushing us quickly towards Step 2, and buying overly expensive plants. But she's smart and she definitely knew what she was doing.

Up in the northeast, Kevin was blocking me in like a good game of Go.
I'm not sure how much of a good choice that was for him, but it definitely made my life a little more expensive in Step 1.

Max, who wins a lot of games at PGWJ, was kind of on his own, doing his own thing.

There was a lot of battling over resources, meanwhile.  There was even a point, late in the game, where all of the available Oil got bought up. Partly as an anti-Josh measure, partly by Josh to make sure I had the resources for later.

Biogas, interestingly, never got too expensive to handle. It does refresh quickly, but also not many people were powering cities with it.

We also ran out of plants during Step 3, which I don't think I've ever seen happen (although I haven't played PG all that many times, and mostly with 2).
This left everyone with the ability to power 18 cities, except for Kevin who could only power 17 (the minimum for game-end).

On the last turn, Kevin built his 17th city. But everyone else was able to build and power their 18th.  First Max (with 22 Elektros to spare), then me (exactly spending all my money), then Talita, who had plenty of money remaining.
Winner, on money tiebreak: Talita!
So her strategy did work out in the end.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Frakkin' Toasters!

That was an intense game of BSG last night.

As President Baltar, I ended the game with 5 You Are Not A Cylon cards. Is that some sort of record?

We had a 5-player game, with 2 newbies on board. We decided to play with the base game, Destination Kobol, all the rest of Pegasus except for Cylon Leaders, and the Cylon Fleet Board from Exodus (plus all of the crises, skillcards, characters, etc); regular old Loyalty with Pegasus-style Executions.

The game was Baltar (me) -> Helo (Max) -> Starbuck (Kevin) -> Kat (Sean) -> Tory (Andrea)

Admiral Helo tipped his loyalty a little bit early, when he was forced to discard cards and didn't choose to dump the Treachery he had picked upf rom an earlier crisis. Good eyes, Kevin!
So, Helo was brigged early and stayed there until he decided Revealing was his best option.

It wasn't until the Sleeper Phase that Starbuck joined the toaster crew..

They also managed to get 2 of the strongest Super Crises.. Bomb on Colonial One (which we thankfully passed) and Fleet Mobilization (which we also passed, but it was too late).

Long story short, with our severe shortage of Engineering, we were unable to repair the ship quickly enough. In the end, we were swarmed by Raiders, at a mere distance of 4, and were blown to smithereens.

Our one hopeful moment was a very well-rolled nuke, which blew up 2 Basestars, 6 Raiders, and 2 Heavies at once. Unfortunately, that didn't pan out in the long run...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

PGWJ, April Fool's Week edition

This week was a PlayGamesWithJosh session that I think is worthy of a brief report...

We had our usual core of 3 players. Myself, "Uncle" Max, and "KatⒶstrophe" Kevin.
Good Recruiter Kevin almost got us another 4th (like he did last week) but unfortunately she bailed.

Nonetheless, we got some serious gaming done with 3 people.

It started with 2 rounds of 7 Wonders, which was originally a way to pass time until the 4th arrived.
The jury is still out on Leaders, and we didn't use them for either game.
The games passed quickly.. the first game ended in a tie which I won on money, and I somehow managed to win the second game as well. This is also notably the first time I've ever seen Max end a game with a negative (or even low) Military score.

Next. thanks to the first episode of Wil Wheaton's new TableTop web-series, we got out my gigantic box of boxes of Small World.
(I should post a picture of that ridiculously over-organized setup)
I have all the expansion stuff of SW from before Underground came out. Again, coincidentally, we played without the Leaders expansion for a game, and we also didn't use the Tales & Legends "Event Deck" (which I have never used).

I don't remember the entire progression of race/power combos, but one notable appearance was Kevin's Seafaring Priestesses, with the power to build a literally indestructible (until you go into decline with your second race) tower in decline. One of my favorite combos, but it turns you into a big target. The tower ended up with only a value of 3, after planned attacks against it.
In the end, Max won by a single coin.
And cleanup was a breeze! Thanks, Really Useful Boxes!

Finally, we played Power Grid.
We used the Korea map, which I had bought but never tried before (and no, Matt, we didn't use your house rules on this; we used the rules as printed).
The 2 markets really made it interesting, especially after I made a relatively early nuclear plant grab.
Somehow, despite my constant math errors (which all got corrected), I managed to pull a win out..
Also minorly notable: We were somehow missing the entirety of the coal cubes, so we used blue houses instead. Luckily, I was able to find them in the back seat of my car in a hidden Really Useful Box (transportation incident from last time I brought the game somewhere).

Next week, despite dietary restrictions, I think we might have an even better turnout. Can't wait!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rex: Final Days of an Empire, first day

Yes, I bought Rex.. and yes, despite the universe trying to intervene, we got to play it once.
But with only 3 players.

Even with 3 players, it is a great game with lots of subtlety.
The Jol-Nar vs. the Lazax vs. the Sol Federation abilities combine nicely with their strengths and weaknesses.
As the Jol-Nar, my only issue is that my memory isn't perfect. FFG changed the original Dune rules so it is now illegal to write things down, so I had to remember where all the cards went in the Bidding Phase. With 3 players it was sort of easy to manage, but with 6 I can imagine the Jol-Nar are going to have some trouble keeping track.

The Sol Federation won (with the normal victory conditions) and the game took maybe 2 and a half hours, including interruptions and rule questions..

Unfortunately we didn't get to see any of the alliance mechanics, but hopefully we will be able to have a bigger game -- MAYBE even six players?! -- next week or some time in April.

But yes, the game has many aspects I enjoy in "gamer games". Unique powers, territory control, interesting combat mechanic, even aspects that feel like Risk Legacy without the permanent changes. (although that's a whole separate thread to think about..)
Highly recommended so far.
A rating of GRRRRRRR on the arbitrary rating scale :)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Go Go Gadget ... what?

Another little diversion from the gaming-related talk, but sort of on-topic.

Talk about First World Problems!

I've sold off most of my VTES collection, and I have made enough money that I want to reward myself with a gadget of some sort.

Edit: Please think of this more like a "fantasy rant" than a real shopping list... I'm not sure whether I'm actually going to buy something "big" or not...

I was originally thinking about replacing our Home Theater In A Box with a proper receiver and speakers, but after doing a fair amount of research, it seems like it's still too much cost and setup hassle for the amount of improvement it would give our little living room.

I'm not incredibly interested in a tablet right now; my ipad2 and my Galaxy Nexus (call it a 4-inch tablet with phone capabilities) exactly fill that niche for me.
It's all the rage right now, but a wifi ipad3 or full-sized Android tablet wouldn't add much.
And although I'm vaguely interested in a 4G-enabled tablet (whether Apple or Android or other), the data plan would exceed my new "buffer" of money within a few months. And then I'd be 'stuck' with it as a new long-term expense.

I could also get a new laptop (or wait for a Windows 8 tablet/desktop hybrid device thing); my primary 'Windows PC' these days is a good-enough-for-browsing-and-email netbook/laptop hybrid. But see the "gaming PC" comment below, and we've got no shortage of 'computers' in the house.

Another idea is more of an "un-gadget"; I've seriously considered adding a "free phone with no data plan" to our family plan, to assure that no matter how much I mess with my primary 'phone' (currently the Galaxy Nexus), I can still make and receive calls. That would still add a minimum of $9.99 a month, though, and I honestly don't make and receive regular phone calls very often at all. Also, if I chose this option, I think I'd wait to see what Verizon says about their shared data plans. If I could get a "free" Android phone and still not have to pay more for data, at least it would be able to sync contacts.

Instead of a gadget, I could buy more boardgames. There are certainly a few on my list that I wouldn't mind owning. But I still have to catch up with playing the ones I've already got :)

Same goes with videogames, really; I haven't turned on the PS3 or Wii in weeks, never mind my supposed "Gaming PC" which I updated a couple years ago and has mostly been doing nothing since then... Of course I could get something new and video-gamey and use it as motivation to get back to digital gaming, but there's also the fact that most new video games just don't interest me, and I suck at online twitch-factor games :)

A truly "unthinkable!" idea is to -- gasp -- save the money instead of searching out for something to buy just because it's shiny. And save it for guilt-free small purchases here and there, or for the next big thing I haven't discovered yet. But seriously, I would like to buy myself something symbolic for crossing this threshhold, even something tiny.

All that being said, your thoughts?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rex: Final Days of an Empire

How did I miss this?

This is FFG's remake of the classic Dune game.
I remember playing Dune once in college and really enjoying it, although I couldn't tell you anything about what the mechanics were :)

But it's definitely on my radar..

Friday, March 2, 2012

Oh, the Horror!

OK, I guess I lied about that Risk Legacy update. I will eventually write a big thing about that, but not yet.

So.. I'm in the process of selling a bunch of VTES cards, but that isn't important. What is important is that as payment for some of the cards, someone gave me a copy of Arkham Horror.

Now, of course I had heard of this game before. But I wasn't interested in it. While I do like Pandemic, the "pure co-op" aspect of Arkham was a turn-off. I'm a BSG fan, I like a game with a traitor. And without ever playing Arkham, I assumed that the game would fall flat without a "bad guy" player representing the Elder Gods.

But hey, a new game is a new game, so I gave it a shot.

We were 3 investigators: Ashcan Pete the Drifter (me), Darrell Simmons the Photographer (Max), and Bob Jenkins the Salesman (Mike).

Our adversary was Azathoth, which means that I wasn't going to get a chance to see the "end battle" no matter what.

Ashcan Pete somehow ended up being the Mage of the group. They were dumping spells on me, and I was collecting Clues preparing to close some gates.
I felt like I was actually making a difference, and knew what was going on, which is rare when I'm the newbie to a game. :)

The game ended up being pretty fun and it made for a cool story.
Monsters started popping up all over the place, and the atmosphere was tense. No real need for a traitor.

In the end, 7 gates opened, Azathoth awakened, and the game instantly ended.

I'm willing to try again...
Now I just have to resist the Completist Urge to buy an expansion or two or seven.. :)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Risk Legacy "teaser" update...

We played Risk Legacy, twice, last night at PGWJ.
I want to write a big report about it, with pictures, and blatant spoilage... and I'll try to do it soon.
Earth #6730 definitely changed significantly last night, and we will see the full extent of the changes soon...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

TempleCon 2012

I'm back from TempleCon 2012, and it was yet another successful and fun year at the Con.

I should have prepped this blog post while I was there, but I'll try to remember what happened...

I arrived Friday evening, earlier than I expected.
I hadn't been planning to play the Friday VTES tournament, but after finding my way down the secret elevator to where the VTES room was, I noticed that the group was small, and I didn't really know what else was going on, so I sat down with my Chaundice deck (unmodified and un-looked-at for a year) and played 2 rounds.
It didn't get me anywhere in the tourney, but I didn't expect it to. I had some fun playing VTES for the first time in awhile, and that was OK.
Afterwards, we played some other games -- I think this was when we got a game or 2 of 7 Wonders in. Great fun.

I still had very little clue where I was going to sleep -- next year I will spring for a room and beg for roommates instead of the other way around -- but thankfully I got a sofa in a fellow player's room to crash on for a few hours, and then got up, my usual early self.

I'm a very early riser, and that doesn't mix too well with a convention like this. In the morning it was kind of quiet, and after trekking across the street to Dunkin's, I camped out around the boardgame room until it opened.
I was invited to a game of Diplomacy... but passed. That's not exactly a pickup game :)

I sat around in the boardgame room wondering what to do. And then some guys got out the library copy of BSG and were puzzlingly looking at the components.

I couldn't resist.

Long story short, I sat down to play with these strangers; a 4 player game with some Pegasus and some Exodus components.
I was Admiral Helo, with President Baltar, Tyrol, and CAG Boomer around the table.
Interestingly, the Exodus loyalty rules left the Sympathizer card as the "extra"; Baltar was on his own as the lone Cylon (as he usually is).
He didn't even need to Reveal; Boomer was brigged, I was brigged, and Tyrol was frakked. We resigned when there wasn't much we could do.

By the time that game ended, Round 1 of the VTES Qualifier was well underway. So I got in at Round 2.
Unfortunately, my Round 2 was not really much of a round. My predator was Ben Peal, with Kevin Mergen's Una deck (40+ Freak Drives), and I basically got a chance to take 1 action all game before I got smushed.

Round 3 was a little bit better. My deck got to Do Something. But I still ended up with zero VPs (or maybe I squeezed out one, I honestly forget; will update this entry after I see Matt's report).

Somewhere during the tournament, I tried out the game "Atlantis", and I actually won. Not sure it's a game I'd pick up, but it was interesting..

And then that night, there were *two* games of BSG.
In the first (7 player!) game, I was Starbuck and became a Cylon at the sleeper phase, sitting next to Prescott as Leoben. Cally (Tony) was the other Cylon. We won due to a forced march of Centurions, one of the classics.
Prescott didn't meet his goal (he wasn't in the brig and hadn't been executed), and that actually led to a question (can you Infiltrate directly into the Brig?) which we ruled as "no" but I haven't looked up an official answer.

In the second game (5 of us), I was in a silly mood so I chose Ellen Tigh.
Once again we had a lone Cylon (Matt M, but I don't remember which character he was), but we agreed beforehand to use the house rule "if the last card in the loyalty deck is a Cylon, lose 1 of each resource", which I may continue to use.
This was a pretty brutal game and the resources dwindled down into nothing. A third Cylon victory.

At about 2am, I had a floor to sleep on in Kevin+Pete+Matt's room, and we found Kevin very drunk and awake in bed. A short conversation about the backstory of Huang, Blood Cultist (he was apparently a Subway employee who liked to play Mario Kart), and I got about 2 hours of uncomfortable floor-sleep (see my earlier comment about a hotel room for next year).

Once again I was an early riser. But Sunday, the VTES draft started at 11, so there wasn't much time to do anything between room-opening time and VTES time. I could have skipped VTES but I was feeling like hanging out with those guys.
This gave me the idea that maybe next year, I will volunteer with TempleCon as an "early morning gaming liaison", to keep the boardgame room open and running for the morning people like me.

In the actual draft -- where we got Free Cards -- we played 2 rounds with no final; the Sunday draft usually fizzles out like this.
I drafted a halfway decent Lasombra deck out of a bunch of random packs.
I was happy that, in both rounds, I got to use Paulo's ability on the first turn of the game (move 1 blood from him to an uncontrolled Lasombra when he comes out).
In the first round, a combination of Pentex Subversion and Consignment to Duat locked me down after a strong start (draftferiors make dom/obt even better!), and I died without a VP.
In the second round, my stealth-weenie predator (Ira) "allowed me" to get 1VP before he obliterated me.

Overall it was fun.
And I gave away most of my free cards, knowing full well that I'd otherwise probably just be selling them which isn't fair.

Hoping to get back to the con next year, whether I play VTES or not (I don't think I'll be building any new decks, either way ...)

BONUS FACT: Throughout several plays of 7 Wonders during the weekend, I happened to notice that one of the cards looked 'marked'. There was some sort of grey blob on the back of the card.
When I got home, I posted something on boardgamegeek about card replacing, and I got contacted directly by the North American publisher of the game. A replacement is on its way. Cool!
Also, this morning (I'm home from work for unrelated reasons), I went through my set of BSG. To my surprise, it's still complete! Not a single lost bit or card!

Anyway, see you next year at TempleCon!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Windows 7 problem solved (?)

I know this is mostly a gaming blog, but I really wanted a place to make something publicly searchable, for people experiencing the painful issue that recently happened with my wife's Toshiba laptop.

I have been working on this problem since 4pm yesterday; it is now 10:30am, I haven't slept, and I'm fairly confident that I found the answer.

The symptom:
Her machine was acting strangely and slowly...
So what do I do, but go over to Windows Update and see if I can install a patch.
I saw Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) had not been installed yet, so the genius that I am I chose to install it.
Boy was that a bad idea.
The machine wouldn't boot; it got caught with some Fatal Errors failing to install some patch.
I tried rebooting to a recovery partition. I tried running the standard Restore tools; they did not work. I tried 'sfc /scannow', and it said it couldn't fix everything. Obviously I also did not have a good Restore Point to go back to.
Rebooting, I got either "Fatal Error C0000034", or some other Fatal Error number, or the machine would simply stall at the "Starting Windows" screen and then go black after about 20 minutes.

This was so frustrating...
Eventually I must have found the magic search terms.
After booting with a Linux LiveUSB and backing up the whole drive to a server, I finally found THIS:

It involves what is basically a System Restore of registry entries back to the very original state.
Somehow, this "just worked"! The machine booted, it's happy (so far) and all of the programs and data are intact (so far).
I still don't really understand how it fixed things without breaking other things...
...and I'll be damned if I try going back to Windows Update any time soon; my wife is graduating at the end of this semester and needs a working laptop during that time.
So maybe in June or July we will find our install discs and reinstall from scratch just in case. But for now, so far so good.

If there is any other detail (or failure) that I need to add, I will post it in the comments. Please read.

I hope that people of the future get some use out of this post. Please comment if you found your solution here.

I leave you with the wisdom of XKCD:

Friday, January 13, 2012


I should mention TempleCon here, if I haven't already)
I'm going to it. February 3-5. (still not sure where I'm sleeping, at least on Friday night)

I've been at TempleCon every year since its inception, and have played in the major VTES tournaments there.
But I haven't played VTES since last TempleCon, and I did preregister for a "full-priced, not secret-VTES-code" badge.
While I'm planning to participate in VTES -- at least the Saturday tournament -- I also want to get some boardgaming in.

Obviously, it isn't the best venue to bring Risk Legacy to (...or is it? we might have 3 or 4 of our original 5 there hmm), and I probably don't want to play in anyone else's Legacy game if they've opened up stuff I haven't seen yet.

But I will definitely be up for games of Dominion, 7 Wonders, Cosmic, random-game-I-haven't-played-yet... with strangers or with friends.

Who reads my blog and is going to TempleCon -- for VTES or otherwise?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

7 Wonders for 7 Players

Happy (belated) New Year, Team Grr!

Over the Holiday Season, one of my gifts was the game "7 Wonders". I've been waiting to play it for weeks.
At the most recent PlayGamesWithJosh™ meeting, we were scheduled for 5 people, in which case we were going to continue our Risk Legacy game.. but then a 6th piped in, and a really-last-minute 7th.

Aha! 7 Wonders takes up to 7 players. Perfect!

Some of us were passingly familiar with the rules but hadn't really played; most of us hadn't played before at all.

Just around 7:45pm:
We assigned one person in charge of the rules (I'm a terrible game teacher), went over them a little bit, and decided to just start playing. We used all 7 wonders (obviously) on their "A" sides.
As soon as we had our first hands of cards, there was an immediate screech to a halt, questions popping up everywhere about what symbols meant what, how things interacted, etc etc.
Oh crap, this game is going to take all night!

Not so..
A few rounds in, a few mistakes made, we started getting the hang of things (except Science).
We finished the first game in under an hour, even with our slowdowns (including the inevitable part of the Third Age where everyone has to look up symbols again) and the arrival of pizza.

Then the Rules Guy actually explained how Science was scored, and that made a bit of a difference.

So, we went on to Game 2, wherein we would start with a fresh understanding of the game.
Of course, some of us decided to go more heavily into Science in Game 2 (especially me), and it showed.

After Game 2, "wow, that went fast."
We played a third game, this time with everyone using Side B.
This game really flowed well, and felt solid.
I can't wait to play again.

Specific personal opinions:
I like the fact that you can "do your own thing", but still have to be aware of what the guys on your left and right are doing. What resources they have, how much military they've got, and (to some extent) "hate-drafting" (taking a card just so the guy to your left/right doesn't get it).

I like the fact that it is a FAST game with SEVEN players. Damn, dude. A 7-player game of BSG could take 6 hours :)

I like the fact that the meanings of the icons are intuitive, after you've seen a few. The colors, the arrows, the numbers, you could easily see a new card and immediately know exactly what it does.

The rulebook could use some work. When questions came up in the game, we eventually did find the answers in the rulebook, but they weren't always where you expected, and sometimes were in "aside statements". (Like whether you could build 2 buildings of the same name, or whether you could build multiple parts of your Wonder in the same Age, for instance).

But 7 Wonders gets a GRRRRRR (that's good) on the arbitrary Ossian Rating Scale :)

Plans for next time:
I think I'll try to make "starting player packs", a ziplock baggie with 3 coins and 2 of each positive military point, to make setup faster. (Unfortunately there aren't nearly enough "-1" chips to give everyone the potential maximum of 6 for their own pool).

Need to figure out a smooth way to randomize "side A/side B". It doesn't seem like it would work really well to rely on the facing of the Wonder cards; I don't know how to fairly randomize that. Some ideas out there?

One burning question:
Why is Science listed before Guilds in the rulebook, but after Guilds on the scoresheet?

Should the game get exercised several times before buying the Leaders expansion, or is it worth diving straight in?

Any other commentary?