Wednesday, December 31, 2003

I went to see Return of the King last night at Guildford Odeon. Comfortable seats with good sight-lines, even up against a side wall where I was. It was strange to be in a cinema that was completely full, but very quiet and attentive - not the usual munching and chattering.

I was bowled over by the film. Just as Two Towers was significantly more exciting than Fellowship of the Ring, once again Jackson lifted his game in the third movie.

I was really impressed by the pacing of the film. Yes it was long (and yes I didn't make it through without a toilet break) but there was time for the action to gather pace, time for the sense of impending doom to really develop. And time to bring it all to a close in an unhurried fashion. It reminded me of the experience of a Wagner opera, not just musically, but in the expansive way time is used to absorb you into the mythical world. It was a real shock stepping out into 21st century Guildford afterwards.

Things I really liked:

1) The mustering of Rohan, and the sense of courage struggling with despair.

2) The visualization of Minas Tirith - utterly splendid.

3) The arrival of the Riders of Rohan on the field of Pelennor was suitably spine-tingling.

4) Eowyn's fear before the battle and her confrontation with the Nazgul.

5) The Riders shouting "Death! Death!" as they charged the orcs. Connects with something deep (and rather worrying) in my heathenish Saxon roots.

Some minor quibbles:

1) Gandalf's disrespectful behaviour towards the Steward of Gondor was hard to swallow. Beating him up not just once, but twice - unforgivable rudeness!

2) The sequence of events in the Battle of Pelennor Fields was mucked about with somewhat. But not in a particularly irritating way.

3) The climactic struggle with Gollum in the Cracks of Doom was dragged out. Should have been a shockingly sudden and violent denouement. And I hated the Spielbergesque dangling over a precipice.

4) The Paths of the Dead were nowhere near scary enough. This is a problem with film ghosts in general - ghosts are scary because you see them out of the corner of your eye, or imagine you hear them behind you. You shouldn't be allowed to get a good look at them.

5) Where was Sauron's Darkness? Admittedly this would have made for a murky few hours, but the arrival of the Riders at dawn would have been even more thrilling.

6) Snogging and clapping? Group hugs?

Monday, December 29, 2003

Gavin and Phil visited over Christmas and we played a lot of Zendo. The game is really addictive and fun. It can be as simple or difficult as you please (depending on current alcohol intake) and you can play for 10 minutes or 2 hours. We found that we quickly forgot about who was winning, we got so wrapped up in the puzzle of trying to guess the Master's Rule. The small deck of example rules was very useful, but the game really came into its own when we progressed enough to start inventing our own rules.
Gosh it's quiet in the office today. Really quiet.

And it's quiet out on the Net as well. No-one is blogging much. The guns have fallen silent over at ConsimWorld. Not much incoming email either.

Looks like I shall have to do some work.....

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Had a lengthy "discussion" with Phil last night about the Iraq war. This was good fun, and also reminded me how torn I still am on this issue. I don't know what I think, but I do know what I don't think. As Phil reminded me, I am a Christian, in other words someone who claims to follow Jesus Christ, who quite clearly preached and practised non-violence. Yet at the same time I am repelled or disgusted by many of the arguments currently used by the anti-war lobby, which would make it very difficult for me to throw my lot in with them without sacrificing some self-respect.

Some of the anti-war arguments in circulation at the moment which I find repellent, wilfully ignorant, or just silly:

1) All the ills of the world can be blamed on George W Bush. If we could only get rid of this man, we would immediately enter an era of international peace and justice.

2) As above, but substitute "the Americans".

3) Suicide-bombers are not held to be responsible for their own actions, if they have been "forced" into violence as the only way of expressing their political frustration.

4) Especially if the victims are Jews.

5) The ongoing threat to British or American civilians from Islamic terrorism has been exaggerated.

6) The Americans are overreacting to September 11 2001.

7) The Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein.

8) There is moral equivalence between terrorist acts targeting civilians, and war waged by democratic governments against military targets.

9) Our Western civilization is sick to the core, we deserve everything we get.

10) There would be no cost to renouncing the use of violence against our enemies. Everyone, including us, would be better off.

On the other hand a pacifism that I could sign up to would sound more like this:

1) Non-violence will cost us. In the short-term it may well encourage the terrorists. The price might include large-scale civilian casualties in attacks against major cities in Britain and America. Nevertheless, non-violence is a core value of Christianity and our only hope for a peaceful future, so we are willing to pay the price.

2) Justice will cost us too. Giving terror suspects a fair trial will almost certainly mean that some very dangerous men are set free to kill again. Nevertheless, justice and freedom are core values of our civilization, and we are willing to pay the price to safeguard them.

3) We will not put security above freedom. We will not sacrifice our hard-won democratic values in a search for an illusory physical safety.

4) We will find other, non-violent ways to resist those who are working to overthrow our civilization and bring in a world-wide theocratic tyranny. That search may be difficult and costly, but we will not lie down and surrender our freedoms.

5) We don't impute malicious or evil motives to our leaders who took us into the Iraq and Afghan wars. But we honestly think they were honestly mistaken.

6) The moral requirement of Jesus to act non-violently applies to all humans, including the terrorists. There is no justification for violence. The ends never justify the means.

Is there a peace movement which talks like this? I'd like to hear about it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I was delivering a fine lecture to Phil on this subject only last night. THE RING AND THE RINGS - Wagner vs. Tolkien:

Tolkien refused to admit that his ring had anything to do with Wagner’s. “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased,” he said. But he certainly knew his Wagner, and made an informal study of “Die Walk├╝re” not long before writing the novels. The idea of the omnipotent ring must have come directly from Wagner; nothing quite like it appears in the old sagas. True, the Volsunga Saga features a ring from a cursed hoard, but it possesses no executive powers. In the “Nibelungenlied” saga, there is a magic rod that could be used to rule all, but it just sits around. Wagner combined these two objects into the awful amulet that is forged by Alberich from the gold of the Rhine. When Wotan steals the ring for his own godly purposes, Alberich places a curse upon it, and in so doing he speaks of “the lord of the ring as the slave of the ring.” Such details make it hard to believe Tolkien’s disavowals. Admit it, J.R.R., you used to run around brandishing a walking stick and singing “Nothung! Nothung!” like every other besotted Oxford lad.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I received a large package in the post today which I strongly suspect ...nngh..... contains my preordered copy of GMT's game Europe Engulfed, but I do not ...nngh nnngh..... intend to open it ...nnngh c'mon you can do this..... until Christmas Day.
A comment from Phil about the new flat:

Don't get a woman in here Dad. A woman would ruin this.
It all went pretty smoothly on Friday, but even with no major hitches moving house is still a pretty stressful experience. The vendors - Kris and Julie - were marvellous. They left the place spotlessly clean, with light shades, towel holders, blinds etc all still in place. It's such a beautiful flat, two days after moving in I still wander through the rooms feeling stunned, I'm just not used to all this space and luxury. There is a little voice in my head whispering "What makes you think you deserve this?" or sometimes "What makes you think you can afford this?".

Phil turned up on Saturday and immediately christened the kitchen by producing a tasty pasta dish, and the dishwasher removed the usual sting in the tail from asking Phil to cook. He also did a great job of plumbing in the washing machine, saving me a hefty callout charge, and it hasn't even leaked yet! It always feels strange to discover that your offspring - who only yesterday was a mewling, helpless, bawling sprog - actually has some useful talents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

David Warren continues his invaluable role as a purveyor of inconvenient facts:

The capture of Saddam was the climax of three huge events in Iraq, within the space of little more than a week. Unfortunately, our liberal media did not deign to report the first two. National protests against Saddamite and Islamist terrorism had already brought countless thousands into the streets of Iraq's cities, including more than 20,000 in Baghdad defying the terrorist threat.

Then, the news broke, or rather did not break very widely, of the discovery that Mohammad Atta, the late Al Qaeda "mastermind", had spent part of the summer of 2001 in Baghdad. Western intelligence is now working on this direct link between Saddam Hussein and the attacks Atta led on 9/11/01 -- after years of trying to ignore it. Atta was trained near Baghdad by the organization of Abu Nidal (who later died himself under very suspicious circumstances).

Atta was almost certainly shown through the ropes at the Iraqi regime's Salman Pak terrorist camp -- where a passenger airplane fuselage was kept to rehearse hijacking techniques. This was mere months before he piloted a hijacked aircraft into New York's WTC; he would seem to have remained in contact with Iraqi agents in the interim.

Such details are characteristically omitted from most of our news media, not because the facts aren't newsworthy, but because they contradict, indeed completely destroy, the case said media were previously making. For in order to undermine the Bush administration's justifications for invading Iraq, those media have repeated over and over that "no links have been found between Saddam and international terrorism."
As NTL don't seem to be able to cope with my moving house, I will be saying goodbye to my NTLWorld dialup account on Friday. I've been piping all my email through Oddpost anyway for the last few months, and as a consequence enjoying a wonderfully spam-free life. So it seemed like a good time to put all my eggs in one basket and switch to my Oddpost address ( Sent the "change your address book" email out to friends and family last Friday. Today, for the first time since I signed up, Oddpost is inexplicably down. No idea why or how long for.

In other words - basket dropped, eggs lying broken on the floor.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Cool! Theology Trading Cards featuring St Anthony of the Desert, Perpetua and Felicitas. They don't seem to have any rules for playing games with them, but I'm sure we could scribble some factors for orthodoxy, asceticism and saintliness on them, get out the d20s and start rolling on the martyrdom table! (via Jordon Cooper)
It was the office Christmas dinner party last night. I did my bit for gamevangelism by wrapping up Fluxx as my Secret Santa gift. I'm not sure yet who received it or whether they liked it. I'm spending today hanging around in the office kitchen hoping not to overhear something like this: "You'll never guess what idiotic present I ended up with last night!"
Over at Looney Labs there is an excellent report about an ongoing PBEM game of Homeworlds. It gives a good idea of how this intriguing space conquest game actually plays, which is useful for me as I have never been able to persuade the ignorant boardgame geeks of Salisbury to try it.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

It's all too true - Pretty women scramble men's ability to assess the future: Men lose the ability to think rationally when they see beautiful women, suggests new research.
The French government is planning to crack down on religious minorities, in the name of tolerance. BBC NEWS | French headscarf ban recommended: [Mr Chirac] added: 'We cannot accept ostentatious signs of religious proselytism, whatever the religion.'

It seems to be a law of the moral universe, that whenever one value is absolutized at the expense of all others, you end up destroying the very thing you have just deified.
Greg Costikyan's blog about game design issues is consistently worth reading. Today he brings us some crystal-clear and rather counter-intuitive discussion of the role of luck in games:

At the Replay conference in 1999, Garfield said 'If I am very lucky, I can beat Kasparov at Chess.' A priori, the statement is nonsensical. Chess is a game of pure strategy, without any luck elements whatsoever. Kasparov is the world champion; I don't know how good a Chess player Garfield is, but he's clearly not anywhere near in the same league. How, then, could he win 'by luck?'

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

This article is noteworthy for taking a sympathetic view of evangelical spirituality - unusual for the BBC. BBC NEWS | The new weapon in crimefighting... prayer:

He is, according to canteen culture, John the Baptist. That was the nickname John Sutherland got as a young policeman. Now 33, and a remarkably young-looking inspector in the Metropolitan Police, he seems comfortable with his authority, leading a team of up to 25 officers as they respond to 999 calls - robberies, assaults, whatever the world can throw at them. In many ways he's the regulation copper, asserting that what defines him is the way he deals with everyday cases like car crashes. But he does distinguish himself by his willingness to talk about his prayers.

'I believe in the power of prayer and the person of Jesus,' he says. 'In terms of my fight against crime as a police officer, I believe we are capable of having an impact in a practical way. If you take an individual burglar, and pray for him, and he becomes a Christian, one of the net impacts of that is that he may stop burgling.'
I'm extremely busy at the moment, had a great weekend but a tiring one in Essex and London celebrating my friend Nicky's birthday and baptism, I was out last night saying goodbye to the Ceroc club, out for NTL dinner tomorrow and Bible group dinner Friday, Workshop at weekend........!! And I'm supposed to get ready for my housemove next Friday in the midst of all this.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Looney Labs are about to ship another boxed IceHouse game - IceTowers. Looks nicely presented. Like Zendo it contains a complete set of IceHouse pieces, but as an incentive to those who already own them they are in new colours. Hmmmm, tempting......
PvP is on a roll this week - Francis is running an RPG about RPG gamers.

"My gamer is going to cheat on his next roll."

"Hey! You can't do that."

"Yes I can. My gamer has the 'Palm Dice' skill and his alignment is 'Snarky'."

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Chris Farrell, long-standing BoardGameGeek pundit, has an excellent new weblog - he is into wargames (especially card-driven games like Hannibal, Wilderness War etc) but equally enthusiastic about German Games. In fact very similar to my own taste in games, but he has a lot of interesting things to say about them.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

With only a couple of weeks to go possibly until I leave Salisbury, our game sessions are taking on a valedictory feel. We're being nicer to one another, being nostalgic about good times in the past, and planning how we will continue to get together in the future. Last Sunday Dave, Simon and I met up at John's place where we played Euphrat & Tigris, followed by Web of Power. No quarrelling about rules or who should have won, just a genial relaxed evening. Euphrat & Tigris: Me (8) Dave (6) John (5) Simon (2). Web of Power: John followed by Simon/Dave distantly trailed by by me.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Well I needn't have worried about "Master and Commander", it was magnificent. My default attitude towards film adaptations of much-loved books is hostility. But this film really won me over. I was worried that Russell Crowe was just going to do his moody killbot routine, but he actually managed to produce a passable impersonation of a real human being. And Paul Bettany, although not small and ugly enough for Stephen Maturin, did get his pale unnerving gaze, his social awkwardness, and his ability to inspire devotion from unlikely people. Of course a film based on 20 novels has to leave many things out, but I marvelled at how much was included - the frequent boozy dinners, Jack Aubrey's heavy-handed sense of humour, his love of clambering about the rigging, the musical evenings in the great cabin, Killick's insolence and efficiency, Stephen's manic enthusiasm for natural history, his ragings at the ceaseless hurry of naval life, and his prickly hostility to authoritarianism. And the ship, the ship.....recreated in all it's beautiful , overcrowded complexity. HMS Surprise was the real star of the film.....

And I have to mention the superb soundtrack, with it's incredibly evocative use of water and wind sounds - huge windy silences as the camera soars away from the ship to take in the immensity of the twilight ocean.

Yes, I liked it. Give me a week and I will probably be back in the cinema to see it again.....

Friday, November 28, 2003

Jacob Davenport, the designer of Gnostica, has a Home Page with some interesting articles including: "Extreme Game Design", "Demoing Zendo", "Icehouse List Frequently Asked Questions" etc
Top 10 Dangers of Living in the Blog Space:

1. You think everyone cares about your opinions: They don't. They care about mine.

2. You stop having normal experiences: Every event you participate following your initial blog post will be constantly interrupted as you simultaneously live the adventure and write the corresponding blog post in your head.......

(via jonny baker)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Today is my birthday! 45 years, but I would rather not think about that....

I celebrated yesterday with a day in London, exploring the Great Court at the British Museum, happily pottering in "Playin Games" on Museum Street, where I eventually bought myself Zendo, then lunching in a wonderfully old-fashioned pub called the Sun on Arne Street, then more shopping on Long Acre, including Stanfords, and finally The Twilight of the Gods (how appropriate is that?) at the Barbican.

I'm very pleased with Zendo - I've had a paper IceHouse set for a few years, but it's great to have the proper shiny colourful plastic and above all stacking set at last. Even if you don't want to play Zendo (which I do) this is a good purchase because of the rich inventory of other games which can be played with IceHouse pieces. You never know, perhaps the nice shiny stashes will help me persuade my benighted friends to give IceHouse games another try.

Monday, November 24, 2003

My son Phil has started a new weblog (again) called Phil's Brains (limited subject matter, obviously). I'm happy to post a link to it, but it's not going on my blogroll until he has shown us a few weeks of regular posting.....

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I probably will go and see "Master and Commander" inspite of naysayers like those quoted below. Russell Crowe will almost certainly make a complete hash of Jack Aubrey, but I can't resist the lure of seeing life on board HMS Surprise lovingly recreated with a big Hollywood budget. And I will probably regret it, just like I did with "The Lord of the Rings" movies (the other literary love of my life). With an adaptation of a much-loved book, a 95% effort is in some ways more upsetting than a 50% would have been. "The Lord of the Rings" came so very very close to perfection, so many people put so much creativity and talent and time and money into the project - which is why it still baffles and infuriates me that they decided to muck about with the plot at critical points in a way that very nearly makes a nonsense of the whole story. For example Aragorn's encounter with Frodo at the breaking of the Fellowship, or Frodo and Sam's pointless detour to Osgiliath where they are detected by a RingWraith with no discernible consequences. Still makes me cross, but..........

I probably will go and see "Master and Commander".

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

How 'Master and Commander' gets Patrick O'Brian wrong. By Christopher Hitchens:

The summa of O'Brian's genius was the invention of Dr. Stephen Maturin. He is the ship's gifted surgeon, but he is also a scientist, an espionage agent for the Admiralty, a man of part Irish and part Catalan birth—and a revolutionary. He joins the British side, having earlier fought against it, because of his hatred for Bonaparte's betrayal of the principles of 1789—principles that are perfectly obscure to bluff Capt. Jack Aubrey. Any cinematic adaptation of O'Brian must stand or fall by its success in representing this figure. On this the film doesn't even fall, let alone stand. It skips the whole project.
What would O'Brian have thought of 'Commander'?:

Most writers, of course, cringe at the way their books are adapted for the screen. But O'Brian, whose series of 20 novels were the inspiration for the box-office blockbuster, would have taken 'Master and Commander' as a personal affront. He would have felt, in a deeply visceral way, that his characters -- his friends -- had been short-changed, misunderstood, misused by the moviemakers. And he along with them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Last night I had the worst night's sleep I have had for several years. Every time I arranged myself in anything but a vertical position I was kept awake by my own violent coughing. The worst of it was, whenever I did manage to fall asleep I dreamed exclusively about the iPod. Now what does that mean? Have Apple reverse engineered the flu virus to carry marketing messages?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Harnham Free Church in Salisbury has been my Christian community for the last 18 years or so. Yesterday afternoon they laid on a farewell tea for me and for Mike and Kath Hitchings who are also planning to move away in the near future. A lot of people turned out. After sandwiches and piles of home-made cake Cliff (one of the elders) made a little speech about my contribution to HFC. This felt weird, it was a bit like attending my own funeral! Then they gave me a card and a gift of books. It was a touching occasion and I did feel a bit choked by the end.

Harnham is quite a staid church, conservative evangelical, averse to charismatic display, light on men, and quite elderly - at 44 I'm one of the youngsters! They've been through rough times in the last few years, but things are looking up at the moment, with a steady trickle of new people quietly coming to faith. I'm fairly optimistic about their future.

I've heard several times recently that divorced Christian men often feel marginalized and left out of church life. This was not my experience at Harnham. To their credit they continued to make use of me and ask me to serve in various ways, they even invited me onto the leadership team a mere year after my divorce. I'll always be grateful for their support and continued belief in me through those difficult years.
Looking back at previous entries I see that my cold started on the 4th. 13 days later and I am still waking up feeling awful, coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose. Am I ever going to get better??

Still, diseased or not I managed to beat Dave at Wilderness War on Saturday evening. We were playing the Annus Mirabilis scenario, billed as 2 or 3 hours long, which nevertheless took us two full evenings. Dave came within one point of a sudden death victory for the French at the end the first year, but I managed to slowly claw things back. A big amphibious landing at Louisburg distracted his attention from the West, and in year 3 Bradstreet finally captured Fort Duqesne after several disasters. At the same time Johnson made a lightning strike on Niagara and took the fort with the Surrender card. The French were just not able to recover from that before the winter.

One thing I would have done differently in Dave's shoes would be to use the Indians for raiding. Dave didn't do any raiding - instead he used his Indians in piecemeal attacks on Bradstreet's force. This was very effective in the short-term, but threw away his Indians for any longer term use in raiding operations.

This is a terrific game, just the right level of rules complexity, loads of historical flavour, and a dynamic and unscripted strategic situation. Excellent stuff.

Friday, November 14, 2003

This is a slightly girlie thing to say, I know, but...My Bloginality is INFJ!!!

As a weblogger, you are a perfectionist. Even though you have artistic thoughts, you may change designs frequently because of this perfectionistic insticts. You appreciate order and systems, and so you may stay with the same weblog program for a long time to keep things constant. Your personality type is rare, and so you are very special!

(via Sashinka)

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Phil took delivery of his new iBook about an hour ago. Here is the first of several text messages in the same vein that I have received:

Oh wow oh wow oh wow! It's life changing. Why hasn't the world woken up to Apple yet?

And so another Mac bigot is born......
Bruno Faidutti's new game Terra is a semi-cooperative game with a worthy (if not very subtle) message. But I wonder if it's any good as a game? Interestingly, it is sponsored by Barcelona Forum, the big eco-peace-fest planned for 2004: Terra puts the players in front of ecological, socio-economical and diplomatic-military crises where all must collaborate to save the Earth's fragile equilibrium while moving their own interests forward. Players score points for solving a crisis for the common good, but at the same time keeping as many scarce resources to themselves as they can.

(via Terminal City Gamers)
Trying to maintain the illusion that my life revolves around games, perhaps I should describe a great game of Euphrat & Tigris I had with Simon last Sunday. This classic comes up fresh every time, there's always a different flavour to each game, and it is just as much fun two-player as multi-player. Last Sunday my plan was to dig in on the edge of the board and build a little monopoly for myself. Simon immediately discerned my intentions and completely disrupted them with a constant stream of internal conficts. He also built three, yes three, monuments and generally had the initiative for the first half of the game. By the time I had got things under control and started to produce a decent income it was too late. Final score was 14/10. Simon is developing a very aggressive style of play which makes for quick, violent games with lots of exciting swings of fortune!

More gaming is planned tonight: Wilderness War against Dave, who hasn't killed me yet, but then tonight will be his first opportunity to do so in person since the infamous poll. Scary....

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Another cynical attempt to recruit new hobby members from the most vulnerable members of society - my boss mentioned that his boys are interested in D-Day so I lent him my copy of Breakout Normandy for them to have a look at. Maybe they will get sucked into this toxic, addictive, homework-postponing pastime of ours, in which case I will have alienated my boss big time......oops, maybe I haven't thought this through properly.

Talking of Breakout Normandy, I've just found this excellent website with copies of every article/scenario ever written for the game. Rats, now I'm getting all interested again, just when I've lent my copy out for a few weeks.

Monday, November 10, 2003

An amusing look at how chess might have been handled by a computer game company: We'd like to thank all our fans for making Chess the success it is - can't do it without you, guys! Anyway, we're having a few game balance issues, so we're issuing another patch to Chess. Please see details inside.

Friday, November 07, 2003

It's not many days that you can say: I nearly got burned alive today!

My colleague Nick and I were planning to head down to Newport for the day in a company van with a Compaq server in the back. The van didn't look cared for but I thought - I have to trust the fleet department to maintain their vehicles properly. First stop was the garage where I filled up with diesel. After paying I went back to the van where my colleague was in the back seat chatting on his mobile. He looked up from his conversation to say "I think there's a problem mate." Yes there was - the forecourt was flooding with litres of fuel pouring rapidly from the bottom of the van. Pausing only to admire Nick's cool, I ran back to warn the forecourt staff who rapidly got everyone to switch off engines and mobiles while they spread sand over the spill. Dangerous situation. I'm just thankful it was diesel not petrol.

But I swear I am never using a company pool car again.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Just played my first ever game of RA on BrettSpielWelt, and I won 54,40,28! It was really good fun. Now to crawl under my quilt and watch some more cable TV....
Sick Leave Diary: Day 2

I don't know how much longer I can hold out like this, surviving on LemSips and Cable TV. Soon I will have to leave my shelter and go looking for chocolate. Does the sudden chocolate craving mean I am getting better, or that death is imminent?

Cable TV - I've heard people say how great Babylon 5 is. But it's not, is it? I mean, how come every alien looks just like a human with a big lump of latex glued to its head? And there is only one word for the barrage of "Equity Release" adverts in the all too frequent breaks - evil.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Well it's one thing to be stood up by a woman - you get used to that - but it's another thing to be stood up by your own flesh and blood. I was supposed to be introducing Gavin to Ceroc at the club in Clapham last night, but he got an attack of the vapours at the last moment, so I ended up going on my own. It was a good evening though, a friendly bunch of people, and enough dancers worse than me so that I felt comfortable.

I've woken up with a fresh cold this morning, and decided to take a sick day. It's well over a year since my last sickie. I am sneezing a lot - which would be unpleasant for my colleagues - and I feel ill - which is unpleasant for me! Now I need to muster the self-discipline to actually rest properly today, and not attempt to clean the house/put my administrative affairs in order/play games on BrettSpielWelt all day.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I picked up my new VW Polo this morning (with 5.8 miles on the clock, sheesh) handing in my horrible old Vectra in return (about 137500 miles on the clock). The feeling of sitting in a brand new car for the first time is almost up there with tearing the shrink wrap off a new game - almost but not quite. And the new game buzz is a lot cheaper, so can be repeated more frequently. So I think that's the way forward then.....

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Monday, October 27, 2003

I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!

I posted some suggestions for Greg Costikyan's upcoming book about seminal game designs - and he posted a reply. Witness my moment of glory here.
New Scientist: Popular computer games like Half-Life and Unreal Tournament could provide a cheap and effective treatment for people with debilitating phobias, say Canadian computer scientists.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Not only is iTunes the coolest looking software I can ever remember using on Windows, it sounds about 100% better than WinAmp too. Not sure what Apple's motives are for giving this sexy thing away for free, but it's certainly putting me in the mood for spending money on Apple products.....
Today I will visit the Affirmation Bullshit Generator (via Relapsed Catholic)

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Well I guess it's time to close the "Why don't you like Dave?" poll. On balance the results show that many of you actually think Dave is a nice guy. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste. All that remains is for me to think of a way to tell Dave about the poll without him killing me.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The checklist in my nice "To Pastures New: Moving without the Hassle" booklet says I should be getting the following tasks done this week:-

Wait for your buyer's surveyor to find 20 expensive reasons why he should drop out

Wait for your own surveyor to find 20 expensive reasons why you should drop out

Carefully investigate the mortgage market until you get so confused that you give up and settle for a mortgage that is: too expensive/ties you in with massive penalty clauses/won't be paid off until your 90th birthday

Take a long break from cleaning the house to make up for all the cleaning you did while selling it

Show around the man from the removals company who almost manages to conceal his disgust at the amount of dust in your house

Get sacked from your job because you are lying awake every night visualizing the horror the day after you move into your new home and discover: the neighbour's drumkit/ the adjacent nuclear waste facility/ you got your sums wrong and you can't afford to eat
Complaints have been heard that I am not blogging often enough or long enough. Well I don't feel too bad about my performance compared with stats recently posted on LivingRoom:

* 4.12 million blogs in existence using the following blog clients: Blog-City, BlogSpot, Diaryland, LiveJournal, Pitas, TypePad, Weblogger and Xanga.
* 66.0% of blogs haven't been updated for at least 2 months. (thats 2.72 million abandoned blogs out of the above total)
* 1.09 million were one day blogs only with only posts on their first day
* Males are more likely to abandon blogs. Those writing long posts (on average) were less likely to abandon their blogs.
* The average active blog is updated once every 14 days.
* 92.4% of blogs were created by those under 30 years of age.
* 56% of blogs were created by females.
* Projected estimates see 5 million blogs by the end of 2003 and 10 million by the end of 2004.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Obscure opera Hamlet by Thomas at the Barcelona Liceu last night turned out to be magnificent, particularly the performance of Mary Dunleavy as Ophelie.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Barcelona is amazing, and there is no way I can even see all the highlights in a week. I was particularly knocked over by the Sagrada Familia, and the stunning work being done on the columns and vaulting in the apse at the moment.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Off to Barcelona tomorrow for a week of fino and tapas. Might get the chance to blog while I'm there, but don't bet on it.....

Thursday, October 09, 2003

A priority when moving is to find a new bunch of nimrods to play with The Alder Valley Gamers Society looks very promising - just up the road in Aldershot - three sessions a week - but the idea of paying an entry fee for a gaming session will seem a bit strange to start with.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Well last week's dream is rapidly taking a solid and rather expensive shape as a wonderful flat on the top floor of a big Victorian pile in South Farnham. This is all happening very quickly! It's exciting in a scary sleep-depriving way.....

Thursday, October 02, 2003

It looks like I have sold my house after all. By yesterday I had received two more offers, one of which was for the asking price. Meanwhile I am rushing over to Farnham whenever I can to look for a new home. On Tuesday I looked over a luxurious 3-bedroom house, just being built on the northern edge of the town, but with lots of traffic noise from a busy road. I turned it down - today the builder gets back to me with a £5K price drop and thousands of pounds worth of extras like carpets etc. I guess they are having problems shifting it. It's tempting, but what I'm really dreaming of is an old-fashioned place right in the centre of the town, a few steps away from the cobbled lanes and the interesting pubs and the arts centre and the railway to London. There's actually quite a discipline involved in listening to my own dreams rather than just going with the first "good deal" that is shoved in my face....

New Scientist: The Marsh Arabs of Iraq have given up waiting for outsiders to restore their wetlands. Local people are taking matters into their own hands by breaching dykes and shutting down pumping stations in a bid to restore the marshes drained by Saddam Hussein's regime. But some experts worry that their actions could hamper the region's recovery.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Semi-apologies for linking to David Warren so often but he's just so quotable these days:

It is not strictly necessary to prevent Iran, or North Korea for that matter, from acquiring and deploying nuclear weapons, or stop them from continuing their trade in equipment and know-how with the world's terrorists, and other thug regimes. We could just wait and see what the consequences will be. The worst that could happen is the sudden loss of a few Western cities, followed, I'd assume, by an unrestricted conflagration along the lines of Armageddon. But what's that against the danger of ruffling more feathers at the U.N.?

Monday, September 29, 2003

Humph. I don't seem to have sold my house after all. I didn't want a rest that badly....
Pretty knackered after the weekend which I spent in London, group tutoring for Workshop. I was a bit nervous about this beforehand but it went very well. I really like the group that has been allocated to me and co-tutor Michelle - nine people from all sorts of different backgrounds who started to gel together really well over the weekend. Pleasant drink with Workshop friends in the Hope at Wandsworth on Saturday evening too.

This was my second consecutive weekend being busy in London, so starting to feel in need of a rest. Sorting out a gas leak in the kitchen this morning did not help, as I was 2 hours late into work as a result which will need to be caught up some time soon. It also looks like my house is sold - only 2 weeks after I called the estate agents (H W White, highly recommended!) so next weekend which was slated as empty recuperation time, will probably be spent househunting instead! Which is brilliant of course, but I could do with a break......

Thursday, September 25, 2003

On the other hand, Joel Edwards recently pointed out that evangelicalism is not restricted to the Church of England - far from it:

Let's unravel some of this. There are about two billion Christians in the world today, and at least 700 million are evangelicals. Most of these live in non-Western countries. By comparison, the worldwide Anglican communion is small: numbering 70 million, it is dwarfed by the global evangelical movement. Of course, some Anglicans - a clear majority, in fact - are themselves part of that movement. Within the Church of England itself, about a third of communicants are evangelical, and half of the ordinands in training have an evangelical background.
Jonny Baker visits the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Blackpool, which does not have the effect on him that its organizers probably hoped for:

i was doing a seminar at NEAC - the get together of anglican evangelicals in blackpool. i can honestly say it was the most depressing day of my year so far!!!!! after 10 minutes i came out convinced that i am not an evangelical. everyone says that being evangelical is about beliefs - salvation through jesus, the bible as the word of god etc (which i have no problem with) but it's not about that. it's about a tribe and i don't belong to it and have absolutely no desire to belong to it...

Monday, September 22, 2003

The London Open House weekend was a bit less exciting than I hoped. To my mind, a building isn't really open if you are only allowed into the lobby, especially if it has big glass doors so that you are not really seeing anything you couldn't see from the street anyway! This happened to us twice - at the Daily Express building on Fleet Street, and at 100 Wood Street. City Hall on the other hand was brilliant. A fantastic view from the top, and a vertiginous walk down the extraordinary staircase that spirals slantwise down the building, with bird's eye views of the council chamber. And the basement was fascinating too - crowds of people, some on hands and knees, exploring the floor which is tiled with a huge aerial photo collage of Greater London. Well worth the queue.

David Warren on what is actually happening in Iraq (as opposed, sad to say, to what the BBC tells us is happening in Iraq): Iraq is blossoming economically and socially as it has not done in many, many decades of totalitarian rule. The infrastructure has been mostly repaired, and sabotage alone is the cause of failures. The signs of free speech and free press are everywhere. And most signally, the American and other troops trying to provide security are not merely tolerated, but popular.

The good news is that the media may not be able to sustain their 'quagmire' misreporting from Iraq much longer. The truth is beginning to get in their way.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Well they've finally decided to go for it!: For a long time (i.e. about a year and a half) we've been sitting on a ready-to-publish design for a marijuana-themed version of Fluxx. Now at last, we've decided to go ahead and release it.

We've been thinking about it more and more, and over the weekend, we decided that the time for this is now. We've been so busy worrying about the risks and downsides, that we've lost sight of a couple of important points: first, Stoner Fluxx could sell like hotcakes, and quite frankly, we need those sales right now. And secondly, if Stoner Fluxx could help, even just a little bit, in bringing about the end of prohibition, then we need to put it out there and try. The taboo on this topic is finally lifting, and having established ourselves as "That Hippie Game Company" we think we can get away with it.
So far this week I've been stuffed by two humans and three bots.

On Wednesday night Steve and Simon put me in my place over Euphrat & Tigris. Great game, as usual, and different again, with three corner kingdoms attacking each other across one central flashpoint. Scores: Steve(12) Simon(10) me(10).

Then last night I tried online Taj Mahal at GameBox. I played against 3 bots, to get some practise with the interface before I challenge humans. I was a bit stunned by how good the bots are - I've clearly got a long way to go before I master this game. I don't even want to tell you the scores. The other surprise was how quickly the game went - it only took half an hour.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Exciting news from Terminal City Gamers:

Phalanx Games has announced a new game - Revolution by Francis Tresham (the game may be retitled). The game is is about the Eighty Year War between the Netherlands and Spain (1568 – 1648). Each player represents one of five factions: Catholics, Citizens, Nobility, Protestants and Habsburgers.

Francis Tresham (Civilization, 1830) is a game design genius in my opinion, but a very slow worker. I remember seeing him demonstrate a prototype of this game about 10 years ago at ManorCon! I'm delighted that it's finally going to see the light of day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

William Gibson says goodbye to blogging, characteristically in an interesting way: I’ve found blogging to be a low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial, but the thing I’ve most enjoyed about it is how it never fails to underline the fact that if I’m doing this I’m definitely not writing a novel – that is, if I’m still blogging, I’m definitely still on vacation. I’ve always known, somehow, that it would get in the way of writing fiction, and that I wouldn’t want to be trying to do both at once. The image that comes most readily to mind is that of a kettle failing to boil because the lid’s been left off.
The London Open House weekend is nearly here. I'm meeting up with Gavin on Sunday to visit a few buildings. Top of the list is the Lloyd's building, but I would also like to check out Ken's palace to see if the inside is as boring as the outside....
I've played two games of Blue vs Gray now, lost one and won one, both as the Union. Really enjoyed myself, as did Dave, my opponent. One of the things I greatly admire about this game is the man-management aspect. I spent a lot of my time thinking:
Is X the right man for this job?

Perhaps I should sack Y, but who would I replace him with?

Could Z's talents be better used over there?
I can't think of another wargame where you have to put this much thought into your organization and leadership. In most games I've played it's just a case of pile as many leaders as you can onto the stack for their modifiers. This design is a very clever piece of lateral thinking.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Has the hunting season started yet? I'm looking out of the bedroom window of my home in the centre of Salisbury at two refugees from the countryside - a beautiful pair of male pheasants calmly wandering along the roof-ridge of the house opposite.

I've got the week off work, so I plan to be heading in the opposite direction shortly - out into the countryside on my bike or boots.

Friday, September 05, 2003

A key insight I took away from Greenbelt was this - there isn't a secular molecule in the universe. This from Gareth Higgins, who went on to apply this to his enthusiastic appreciation of movies. (See his wonderful book for more details.) It has struck me that this could be applied to my own pet enthusiasm - the collecting and playing of boardgames. I feel a Third Way article submission coming on....

Thursday, September 04, 2003

And here's a link to BrettspielWelt where you can play Puerto Rico online - and lots of other games too.
Jim Campbell's Large Warehouse of Puerto Rico Knowledge (via Mikko Saari):

After playing Andreas Seyfarth’s Puerto Rico (hereafter called PR) for the first time, it quickly became one of my favorites. One of the only weaknesses in the game’s design (and it’s a flaw common to many multiplayer games) is that the outcome is sometimes decided by the mistakes of the weakest player. Veteran players often complained about this, but I didn’t see much effort being made to share knowledge about strategy. Most of the strategy advice available in English is comprised of comments made after just a few games. It is also clear to me that most of this information comes from people who have played PR against a small variety of relatively weak opponents.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Gameblogger is a new weblog about board games from an anonymous Dutch girl. Slightly graphics heavy, so you will need to be patient if you're on a dialup line, but interesting content so far, like her latest post about pre-Essen nerves: The whole fair is crazy. Some people buy bags and bags full of games. Some even drag around small carts to load the games on. That's because you can get lots and lots of bargains there. Last year, I saw several 'big board games' for € 15 and under. I even saw a few for under € 10.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Mark Johnson over at the Game Journal recommends a Game of the Month experiment: It's been said that the favorite boardgame for most hobbyists is whatever is new. Although there are established favorites such as Acquire, Settlers of Catan or El Grande, a look at session reports shared on websites and online discussion groups shows that many of us enjoy playing the latest new games. This steady influx of new titles means you can find yourself playing and buying new games all the time. What's wrong with that? Nothing, of course, but there's also something to be said for slowing the pace down, spending a little more 'quality time' with fewer games.

Simon and Dave and I have been trying something similar with Euphrat & Tigris although in our case it has been more like Game of the Quarter.
My legs are still aching after my weekend tramping around London. On Saturday I went to a party in Tooting hosted by friends Abi and Esther, which was great. Sunday morning I tubed over to Covent Garden and spent a happy half-hour in Playin' Games on Museum Street, purchasing Hellas because I couldn't very well go away empty-handed could I? It looks like I made a good choice, it's a sort of wargame-lite with hex tiles and lots of plastic miniature Greeks and ships, as well as a deck of cards. All for £15! Looks intriguing and fun, but couldn't persuade Gavin to play it in the pub where I met him for lunch 10 minutes later.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Spent a lazy evening with Steve and Simon on Wednesday. We went through a bottle of wine and exchanged a lot of poorly thought out opinions. Also got one game played, the wonderful Ra, which was a real brain-buster. As we get to know this game we seem to be thinking harder about it to stay competitive. Final scores: Steve (50) Me (48) Simon (43).

Thursday, August 28, 2003

CONSIMWORLD REPORT is a one-stop update on all the latest hex-wargame news. I've already learned a couple of interesting things, eg there is a reprint of Rommel in the Desert coming.

Here you will find a wealth of information and breaking news, presented in a highly-condensed, single page format. Consider it your "Drudge-like" resource to the consim gaming industry. Expect continuous updates, including coverage of member discussions of interest and other stories that may not normally be featured at our Newsdesk.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Was blown away by Cathy Burton at Greenbelt Stage 1 on Saturday and developed my crush further when she did a more acoustic set at Performance Cafe next day. She's got a really good website too...
And James (the nicest man in the world) has kindly provided an AAR for our recent Hammer of the Scots contest:

Sat down to play Peter after a gap of 18 months from our last game together (Wilderness Wars and Lost Cities I think). We had conversed by e mail and Peter suggested Hammer of the Scots, I have got Wizard Wars from the Block Game series and have never thought much of it but I got the rules from the Internet and the game looked great. Reading the rules beforehand meant we could get on and play quickly, many games have rules online and I will now always make a point of reading them beforehand rather than put my opponent through a pre game rules discussion.

I took the English and in the first two turns took most of the Southern areas while Wallace converted the North to Scottish Rule very quickly. In the first few turns I drew very few infantry but any I did draw I moved North and overwintered, in the first three turns I drew the Hobelars and used them to fight Scottish Southerly probes, destroying the Vikings in one of these Skirmishes It was not until turn 4 until I drew the King and moved him to Scone (with six units) where on the third card play of the turn we both played events thereby ending the turn early much to my horror. In the following turn I therefore pushed really hard before the king went home and there were a series of massive engagements in the Scottish Highlands. The final battle of the turn saw Wallace (and two lords) win and my forces retreat due to three combat rounds being played, I then play pillage into Wallace's space and as he is the only non-noble he takes the step losses and dies. At this stage we have played for three hours and I head off home and Peter records the positions. I feel good at Destroying Wallace but have no infantry up in the North the race is now on for me to march North before Peter can recuperate, I still hold Scone so hope not to see a Scottish King in the next few turns.

What a great game, I now wish to try more Block Games, I will definitely purchase this. It has proved to me there are good games beyond ASL. Look forward to next time.
Andy Mallory, a founder nimrod but now sadly defunct, is selling off some wargaming stuff:

Well - the time has come to sell of all most of my collection. It has been languishing in lofts for so long now and as I am leaving the UK I want to sell what I can.

An announcement on Nimrods would be appreciated together with my e-mail. John once expressed an interest in some of it, so he may like to know it's up for offers.

I have the following stuff to go....
    Lots of 1/300th terrain. Scratchbuilt houses, trees etc.

    2 nice green felt cloths - 1 6'x4', 1 6'x6'

    My 'system' of 1/4" cork tiles that can be used to produce contours.

    Loads of late 80s vintage modern micro-armour and infantry. US and Soviet.

    Even more WW2. British, Russians, Germans.

    Many other bits and pieces that could probably be sold at a Bring and Buy.

    Only 1 intersting board game - Scratch one Flat Top from 3W.

    Much out of print ASL stuff is also for sale.

All this stuff needs to be collected/posted from Exeter before the end of September.
Well I'm back from Greenbelt, with my head completely rewired. Lots of thinking to do to process everything I saw heard and got excited about over the weekend. In the meantime here's some content from other contributors.....

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Walter Kirn of GQ sypathetically but damningly explores American Christian subculture:

Ark culture is mall Christianity. It's been malled. It's the upshot of some dumb decision that to compete with them–to compete with N'Sync and Friends and Stephen King and Matt and Katie and Abercrombie & Fitch and Jackie Chan and AOL and Sesame Street–the faithful should turn from their centuries-old tradition of fashioning transcendent art and literature and passionate folk forms such as gospel music and those outsider paintings in which Jesus has lime green bat wings and is hovering lovingly above the Pentagon flanked by exactly thirteen flying saucers, and instead of all that head down to Tower or Blockbuster and check out what's selling, then try to rip it off on a budget if possible and by employing artists who are either so devout or so plain desperate that they'll work for scale.

(via Jonny Baker)
No gaming activity to report since last week (unless you count a bit of Final Fantasy on the PS2). I've been doing things like cooking for friends, going to church, drawing in the Close, dozing in the sun....... Next weekend I'm off to Greenbelt for 4 days. I've never been to Greenbelt before, but I suspect there will not be much boardgaming activity there. So by this time next week I anticipate that the gaming craving will be starting to build up to unbearable levels again. Expect a phone call.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Game report from the "New Nimrods of London"

Last night I rediscovered the simple joys of the boardgame - learning new rules, drinking booze, arguing and cheating! I achieved all of these when I played "Escape from Colditz" for the first time with James, Mark, Martha, Rachel and Richard (who played the part of the Germans). The game immediately became more interesting when Richard announced that we were allowed to cheat - with the proviso that if we got caught, we'd be thrown into the cooler! Before he managed to finish his sentence I had "acquired" six more opportunity cards which got quickly shoved behind the stereo. Unfortunately I got caught out three times in the middle of various nefarious acts - passing cards, stuffing them in Pringles tubes and liaising with Mark about the next escape. Martha was even more blatant - she was busily walking straight out of a tunnel, without any of the correct cards, before Richard apprehended her. Apparently this kind of cheating was not allowed! The girls - being in their very nature irrational - immediately started a heated argument about why we were allowed secretly trade cards but they weren't allowed to just walk out of the place. Suffice to say, they didn't play for the duration. But the remaining men soldiered on! James made two daring, but unsuccessful snap escapes - one man shot, one man caught at the wire. Mark and I planned to tunnel out of the chapel in a combined Dutch-Polish attempt. We had four men in the tunnel when suddenly our time ran out and the "Do or Die" rule came into play. Like a sort of "POW sudden death", each player has a limited number of dice roles to get their men out. The tunnel escape got into full swing as a result, but only one of Mark's escapers made it. I also went for a snap escape out of a 30ft window, but I got caught miles from my goal. The Swiss border was but a distant dream! It's a great game that captures the spirit of the escapes very well, although some extra cards relating to things like weather, time of day and so on would not go amiss. That said, I would definitely like to devote a day to play it through to the bitter end - the theatre tunnel beckons!

(from Gavin)
I had another enjoyable game of Euphrat & Tigris with Simon, Dave and Steve on Wednesday evening - two games in fact! This is one of the benefits of playing the same game repeatedly, you don't waste time explaining the rules to everyone, and the players are more confident about choosing their moves, so the game whizzes along nicely. And of course more aggressive play in E&T shortens the game. We started play after 8pm and finished the second game at about 10:30pm. A few weeks ago we would have barely completed one game in that time. Simon and I got completely stuffed in the first one, scoring 1 and 2 to Dave's 9. In the second game I shamelessly copied Dave's tactics from the first (early monument, try for a monopoly kingdom, don't save catastrophes for a rainy day) and just beat him on a tie-breaker with 10 points each.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

William describes last weekend's replay of the Napoleonic Wars:

On Saturday we joined John and his cat sitting inside his cool house eating choc ices and had a game of Napoleonic Wars. We started with a quick game of Falling but as William didn't understand the rules himself it didn't really work when he tried to explain them (badly) to us. We then wrote a preference list for countries and Peter lost to get France, John won to get Britain unopposed, Steve won Russia, leaving William with Austria and Robin with Prussia. The game started well for France with Napoleon surviving an early assassination and retaliating by erasing the Tyrolean army of Austria and forcing their Venetian army to make a quick dash for the hills. The British then sunk the French and Spanish fleets in quick succession while the Russians sat in the east admiring the size of their own army but not wishing to involve it in the little local conflict in the west. The following year the Prussians revealed that while nobody had been looking they had raised a few armies themselves and quite frankly didn't much like the look of Napoleon. While the conquered Austrians buttered up the Ali Pasha the British were repelled from the Vendee and the Russians were persuaded to come west and get their hands dirty. From there on in it was all downhill for poor Napoleon, Wellington landed in Calais and took Paris, and although a Swedish led Grand Armee was repelled from Brussels and another Austrian army vanished without trace while trying to retake Venice the Prussians and Russians had too many brave boys willing to die (and this they did in large numbers). The Ali Pasha raised his own Grand Armee in Bulgaria, half a board away from any conflict but it was enough to inspire the recapture of Venice which allowed his own army to slip through and sack Rome. Napoleon recaptured Paris but the game was over, chunks of Germany were in the hands of the Austrians and the low countries were now ruled from Berlin.

The game started off slowly and after the first round few of us were really having fun but as the fighting kicked off and we all had things to do, plus a better grasp of how the game worked it grew on us. There were some lucky dice rolls by all involved (John: 18 dice for attrition and no sixes!, Peter: 6,6,5,5 on 4 dice in the final Napoleon vs. Wellington showdown) and some well played cards (e.g. the Spanish and Ottoman allies both removed at key moments by having Royal Weddings played on them). In the end Prussia and Austria drew for first place. A big thankyou goes out from all involved to Peter for running this game and to John for hosting it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Daniel Karp on Spielfrieks reviews Zendo, the new Icehouse game from Looney Labs:

The game is quite excellent right out of the box, assuming you like the sort of reasoning it demands. And speaking of the box, I have to give credit to the people at Looney Labs for recognizing that this game deserved it's own boxed version. I never would have noticed it had it not come out in this form. Zendo is, I think, the Icehouse 'killer app', that is, the one game that makes it worth buying the whole set, whether or not you ever used it for anything else. The sense that I get as a player when the rule finally clicks for me, and I realize what common characteristic all of the 'correct' koans share, is unlike anything I have found in any other game.

(via Terminal City Gamers)

Friday, August 08, 2003

An interesting article from Greg Costikyan on "grognard capure":

All game styles run the risk of what I term 'grognard capture.'

'Grognard' was a slang term for members of Napoleon's Old Guard. Hardcore board wargamers adopted it as a term for themselves. By extention, grognard capture means capture of a game style by the hardest-core and most experienced players--to the ultimate exclusion of others.

The most extreme example I can think of is what happened to the Squad Leader series. Originally a relatively simple, accessible game of infantry combat in World War II, the publishers released supplement after supplement, each with new rules adding to the complexity of the game. Finally, they revamped it as 'Advanced Squad Leader,' publishing it in a loose-leaf binder so you could insert new rules as they were published, with systems as obscure and silly as the 'Sewer Emergence Table' and the 'Kindling Availability Table.'

I can think of other examples of 'grognard capture'. Card-driven wargames for example - compare the simplicity of We the People with the exception-fest that is Barbarossa to Berlin.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Last Sunday Dave John and Simon came over for a go at Taj Mahal. In spite of being wrecked from an overnight flight from the States, John showed his usual scary ability to quickly learn and then dominate a new game. It was an exciting finish as Dave held him to a draw. Final scores: Dave (51) John (51) me (45) Simon (26). We finished off with a very close game of Ra which was great fun as usual: Simon (52) me (50) Dave (49). I'm glad Simon won this one - he needed a morale boost after losing his way a bit in his first ever game of Taj Mahal.

Monday, August 04, 2003

The Space Hulk Saga: Every now and then I'll get obsessed with a game related project. Not necessarily playing the game but working on some aspect of it. More often than not this will be in creating a player aid or a translation. Sometimes it goes further than this and that's been the case with my latest pre-occupation: Space Hulk.

I can't believe he cut the arms off his genestealers! Barbarian!

Friday, August 01, 2003

Columbia have announced a new block game - Liberty: American Revolution: Liberty is a fast-playing game covering the American Revolution from 1775-1783. British, American, and French forces are included and the role of the Indians and Navies is depicted. The unique problems faced by each side become clear in this playable game.

Note that the only place you can get Columbia games now is by online order off their website. You won't see this one in the game shops. (via Terminal City Gamers)
The Stella Artois Screen Tour shows classic films in interesting locations. You can submit suggestions too!
Marcus Stumptner has redrawn the Barbarossa to Berlin map to use areas instead of point-to-point. Talk about a labour of love!

Thursday, July 31, 2003

An excellent one page quick start for The Napoleonic Wars: The purpose is not to be a player aid during the game, but simply a quick summary of the key rules, something an experienced player can use to teach a newbie. Details can be filled in during the game.
London Open House Weekend: a unique event that takes place across the capital over one weekend each September, providing free public access to hundreds of buildings of architectural and community interest to Londoners. (via Sashinka)
Just when I thought I had Euphrat & Tigris taped, I got wiped out last night by Simon, Dave, and a complete newbie Michael (Simon's boyfriend-in-law.... no wait that gives the wrong impression.... Simon's daughter's boyfriend). Dave seemed to win by going for a robust monopoly game - he constructed a wholly owned kingdom in the corner with its own monument (he was playing the bulls so we called it "Donkeytown") and when we smashed that up he went over to the other end of the board and rebuilt Donkeytown all over again. I don't quite understand what went wrong with my game but I lost too many conflicts and my leaders spent too much time off the board. Final scores: Dave (10) Simon (9) Michael (8) me (7).

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Phil has news of Gavin, who is so obsessive about his favourite band he has gone to America to see them play:

Got a message from Gaz, he managed to blag his way into a free Supergrass acoustic set in Boston the night after the main performance. How long before Supergrass's security start to realise the danger he presents?
After doing lots of admin last night I rewarded myself by playing Final Fantasy for a while. (Yes I know - I have an overactive superego.) Had this cool fight with a giant robot on a ship. Finally managed to activate a crane which pulled the robot's head off and dropped it into the sea! The poor thing didn't last long after that....

Monday, July 28, 2003

Dave and Steve came over Sunday afternoon to try out Taj Mahal. I've been itching to play this for weeks, and that itch was fully justified. This is a superb game, tense and clever and interesting - like a cross between Settlers and Poker! Final scores: me (68) Dave (57) Steve (47).

Then we went onto Ra, another Knizia masterpiece, and an ideal end-of-session game. Dave played very well, further refining his repeated-early-Ra-calling tactics, which irritate the heck out of everyone else but produced a victory for him this time: Dave (45) me (38) Steve (28).

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Phil has just filed this wildlife report from Exeter:

Just saw the coolest thing ever on the way back from town. On the lawn of the old people's home I saw a sparrowhawk killing a pigeon. There was another pigeon trying to fight the sparrowhawk away (fool!). It failed naturally, and ran off. The dying pigeon seemed to give up after about five minutes, and the hawk started to pick at it and eat it. It had been tearing little bits off the pigeon's chest for another five minutes when some stupid woman came out of the home, and without seeing the bird, walked right past it and scared it off. The sparrowhawk tried to fly off with the pigeon, but it was too heavy and he dropped it. The pigeon miraculously stood up, looking dazed and confused. The sparrowhawk tried to swoop down and get it again but missed, and the pigeon rather worse for the wear flew away. Pigeon 1 - Sparrowhawk 0.

I really couldn't believe my eyes. It was such an impressive little bird, very pretty with the most amazing amber eyes. It looked truly gutted when the pigeon went. It sat in a tree, doubtless waiting for another victim. The most incredible part is that all this occured not 5 yards from a busy city road. Birds of prey are back!

Friday, July 25, 2003

The Literature Network: Online classic literature, poems, and quotes. Essays & Summaries: "We offer searchable online literature for the student, educator, or enthusiast. We currently have over 300 full books and over 1000 short stories and poems by over 90 authors. "
Only 33 left now: Last post for Great War veterans
I finally received Blue vs Gray yesterday, which I pre-ordered from GMT 11 months ago. That's so long ago that it seems like an unexpected present that someone else paid for. And it will be appearing in the game shops for about twice what I paid for it, so I think I will continue to support GMT's P500 program for a while in spite of the delays.

It looks nice too - a repackaged "deluxe" version of a game that was originally very innovative - a fairly serious strategic treatment of the American Civil War that you could fit in your pocket. Just a couple of decks of cards, with rules, map, play-aids, as well as leaders, units and special events all provided as cards within the deck. It comes at the wargame/simulation game from a very different angle to what we're used to. I've become a bit jaded with wargames recently, this elegant little game could be just the refresher I need.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Too much dreaming is bad for you? New Scientist interview with Joe Griffin:

The important thing is to know how depression is manufactured in the brain. Once you understand that, you can correct the maladaptive cycle incredibly fast. For 40 years it’s been known that depressed people have excessive REM sleep. They dream far more than healthy people. What we realised – and proved – is that the negative introspection, or ruminations, that depressed people engage in actually causes the excessive dreaming. So depression is being generated on a 24-hour cycle and we can make a difference within 24 hours to how a person feels.

(via Sashinka)
Had an excellent game of Euphrat & Tigris with Simon last night. A real tussle, both of us play more aggressively than we used to, which makes the game shorter as the tiles get used more quickly. Simon succeeded in pushing me off the board altogether at one point, and I spent the final third of the game struggling to reestablish my red and black leaders, while Simon was quietly pulling in the points unmolested. Final score: Simon (11), me (10).
Cheapass Games - Kill Doctor Lucky Variants: William pointed these out to me. The "Kill Your Cohorts" variant looks interesting, last time we played I wanted to literally kill my fellow-players so this might help me feel better.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Some new strategy articles have been posted by Avalon Hill recently, including good stuff about Civilization, Turning Point Stalingrad and Diplomacy. (via Terminal City Gamers)
Well I don't feel tired today. But you probably don't really want a daily update on my energy levels. I did indeed fiddle with Napoleonic Wars yesterday evening. Also, because I was home early, I was able to watch Buffy (for the first, no second time ever) - and I enjoyed it! I've even set the video to record the concluding part of the episode today (Episode 55: Graduation). Worrying this, I think I'm turning into a geek - I've probably been reading too much PvP and Dork Tower lately.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Gosh I thought I was tired yesterday but now I'm really tired. I had to get up at 5:30 to come into work for a maintenance slot. The colleague who insisted we do it so early turned up 45 minutes late! Still at least I can leave at 3 this afternoon. I'll go home, fiddle with Napoleonic Wars for a couple of hours (I'm trying to absorb the new rules) then get a very early night I think.
America is a mystery to any good Englishman.
G K Chesterton, "Charles Dickens"

Monday, July 21, 2003

Long tiring but really good weekend in London.

High point: breaking bread for the last time with the folks at the Workshop course. "Next year in Jerusalem...."

Low point: karaoke night at The Gregorian deep in darkest Bermondsey, listening to Gavin and friends murder "Wuthering Heights".

Friday, July 18, 2003

Cheapass Games: Diceland: Deep White Sea: "Diceland is a completely new kind of tabletop game, featuring unique combat mechanics and colorful paper dice. Each player takes one army of five dice (there are five armies in the set). Players take turns throwing dice into play and manipulating their dice in play. "

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Had a great Euphrat & Tigris session last night. This is such a lovely lovely game - as much fun and interest crammed into an hour and a half as you get in 6 hours of say 1830. The more we play it the more depths it reveals. Nick and Simon played "monopoly" strategies, each with a wholly-owned empire on the margins of the board peacefully collecting points every turn, whereas Dave and I slugged it out with multiple conflicts in the centre. I was helped out critically at one point by Simon pushing me into an unlooked-for conflict with Dave which completely solved my problem in black. Final scores: me(8), Simon(6), Dave(5), Nick(5).

We finished off the evening with a game of Ra, which was also great fun, especially after Dave decided that calling Ra early is a good way to mess up people's plans. I'm afraid I won this one too (not very hospitable of me): me(61), Simon(44), Dave(38), Nick(2).

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Mikko Saari has been playing Go online: "For some reason my rating has crept up while I haven't played"
Gary Steven's offers 4 historical boardgames, downloadable for free from his website. Henry VIII and Bloody Mary are political intrigue games with no map, Mesopotamia is a simple variation on the History of the World theme, and Richard III (not available yet) seems to be heavily influenced by Kingmaker and looks like it will be the most interesting of the lot. They all look very nicely done, I shall have to print one off and make it up soon.
The Bag N Box Man Ltd - Bags, Boxes, Tubes, Envelopes, Labels and more!: aimed at crafty types, but they sell stuff that might be useful to a gamer, like A4 or A5 boxes, and drawstring bags. Not very exciting I know, but it's the best I can manage this morning - I was out late Cerocing last night....

Monday, July 14, 2003

So how did I get on with my weekend list?
    GoKarting on Sunday - this was great fun, if rather scary. I was really pleased that I got into the final, but Nick did even better, coming in third for a place on the podium!

    Wargame show at Devizes on Saturday - went to this. Found it slightly boring. Surely I'm not growing out of toy soldiers?

    Paint my front door and fit door-knocker - not done. Simon advised against painting in this heat. Good excuse.

    Plant stuff in the garden - not done. Can't think of an excuse.

    Finish large piece of coursework for Workshop next weekend - made good progress on this on Sunday morning.

    Go to church - skipped church to do my course work. It made a very pleasant change to stay at home.

    Sit around chatting in a coffee shop - done. Very pleasant too.
A pretty enjoyable weekend, especially as it was rounded off with a few pints in the Wyndham Arms playing Chrononauts with Nick and Simon. I won two out of the three games!

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbour. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me and strengthen my faith and trust in you.

Martin Luther

Friday, July 11, 2003

Things I want to do this weekend:
    GoKarting on Sunday (already booked)
    Wargame show at Devizes on Saturday
    Paint my front door and fit door-knocker
    Plant stuff in the garden
    Finish large piece of coursework for Workshop next weekend
    Go to church
    Sit around chatting in a coffee shop
I need to face facts - it's not all going to fit into 48 hours.....

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Yuk, I was up at 5:30 this morning to take Phil to Heathrow (he's off to Rumania for two weeks). It's an uncanny time of day, very light, blue skies, it could be midday apart from the silence and lack of movement on the streets.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Terminal City Gamers made me aware or Reiner Knizia's website which includes articles, variants and free games, but sadly no weblog.
The latest Dork Tower collection is called Understanding Gamers.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Inspired by bidding games like Ra and Taj Mahal, I ran a little auction game in church yesterday morning. I gave three volunteers £10,000,000 each (play money from Game of Nations) and auctioned off three Mona Lisa's (scanned and blown up from the Chrononauts deck). It worked well, with two of the three players carelessly buying obvious forgeries for large sums of money. It was meant to illustrate the importance of choosing genuine not fake life goals, based on Jesus' parable of the hidden treasure.
Mikko Saari has brought Spielboy to my attention - a rather strange new webzine about boardgames featuring glamour shots of a slightly undressed model draped across a copy of Mare Nostrum, and also an "Am I Hot or Not" contest with pictures of girls taken from various game components, interspersed with some game designers (no Reiner you are not hot). A clear and present moral danger to the game geek community?

Friday, July 04, 2003

Zendo is finally available! Looks nice, and seems like a bargain at $40 especially as it includes 4 Icehouse stashes which retail at $8 each. I wonder when we'll see it in the game shops over here?

Zendo is a game of logic in which the Master creates a rule and the students attempt to discover it. They do this by building and studying configurations of pyramids. The first person to correctly state the rule wins! - for Magic the Gathering singles, UK based - good grief, £12 for a single card! Just as well I'm not attracted to this game/lifestyle. I'm not. I'm not.....
London Bloggers Tube Map - doesn't reach out as far as Salisbury.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Last night I finally got over to one of Scott's evening sessions. For starters I foisted Ra on them, which I have been longing to play since it arrived a couple of weeks ago. Seemed to go well, Robin won (46) even though he didn't really seem to have much of a clue what was going on. The rest of us - me (36) Scott (32) and John (31) - were well behind him. I got the feeling that there are tactical depths to this game that I haven't even started to grasp yet. Hopefully it won't be long before its next outing.

Next John got his copy of Illuminati out. He always seems to have the dratted thing with him these days. This game is quite amusing I suppose in a cynical way, but I find the mechanics clunky and not very interesting really. It always carries on well beyond the point where I am still enjoying it. And I always get completely stuffed at it, which I suppose colours my reaction to the game. Had to cut it short at 10:15 but John was romping away with his Gnomes of Zurich.
The Haslehurst family movie review cooperative. From recent emails:

Peter: Saw Matrix Reloaded on Saturday - what a load of tosh.

Gavin: You're right about the Matrix Reloaded - very poor I thought. They could've done so much more with it!

Phil: Can't believe you even bothered watching the matrix re-hashed or whatever it's called. It is a pile of bollocks.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Inspired by OddPost, which as well as successfully catching 100% of my incoming spam since I subscribed, can also function as an RSS aggregator, I have finally added an RSS feed to nimrods. Scroll down to the blogrss icon on the right hand side. Now you no longer have to breathlessly check back here every few minutes to see if I've posted anything else exciting, you can have my pearls of wisdom fed to your desktop automatically!

Monday, June 30, 2003

Plus I've finally been migrated over to the slick new Blogger interface. And it works (so far). My cup runs over....
I don't know about you but I am getting really sick of getting twenty emails a day telling me how to make my penis larger. But thanks to Nick Denton I have found the antidote to Spam - OddPost. It really works. It's slick. You don't even have to change your email address. OK it's not free, but it's worth it!

Oddpost features a peerless junk mail filtering system that blocks up to 99% of all spam. As you send and receive messages, Oddpost automatically learns what you personally consider valid mail and what you consider garbage, and uses this fingerprint to quickly attain a nearly perfect filtering accuracy rate (yes fellow nerds, it’s Bayesian content-based filtering, and it works like a charm!). On the rare occasions that Oddpost misses a piece of spam, just click the nuke button to both delete the message and make the filter smarter the next time around.

Friday, June 20, 2003

William Gibson reminds us of George Orwell's Six Rules
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Iran doesn't need external opposition groups. There are good and brave people aplenty in Iran. There are the ones you can see, in the streets. And there are the ones you can't see, who have been fighting the mullahs while the rest of us were going about our business. They are in the jails and this is their revolution.
I'm getting really tired of Blogger. As everyone knows, permalinks don't work unless you regularly do "Republish all" on the archives screen. Latest news - "Republish all" fails with a Java error.
Seven days of hard studying coming up for me. Firstly a weekend of hardcore theology at Workshop, then a week at "Oracle University" learning how to become an Oracle DBA. I've also been promised a Sun Solaris course later this year - is this my opportunity to escape the wonderful world of Microsoft and become a Unix geek?
I've just started playing Blogshares and I'm making money already! This is so easy, maybe I should try the real stock market....

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Iran va Jahan:
A few thousand University of Tehran students have shaken the Islamic Republic of Iran to the core. Teary-eyed veterans of the student movements of the 1960s celebrated by dusting up their situationist slogans and their Bob Dylan anthems: could this be the first revolution of the 21st century?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

David Warren on the prospects for Iran:
The live question is, What will the mullahs do to hold power? Will they abandon all reserve, and plunge their country into a true reign of terror? Or will they, like Soviets and others before them, crack in the realization that they are unloved, especially by their own children?

It may not matter. The mullahs may be running the world's largest terrorist operation (Hizbullah), and be well on their way to acquiring nuclear weapons with Russian, Pakistani, and North Korean help. But the Iranian people may be about to overwhelm them.
The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation (via Textism)
The car service saga continues - on the way home yesterday the grotty Rover courtesy car that the garage had given me broke down. Steam pouring from the bonnet. I spent an hour and a half at the side of the A30 waiting for the recovery vehicle, which arrived with an even grottier Rover ("Whatever you do, don't open the back door sir!") for me to transfer into. As a result of which I once again failed to show up for Scott's weekly gaming session where I was hoping to force everyone to play Ra. And my Vectra isn't ready yet so I'm still in the Rover today. I just hope it gets me home tonight....

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Hope on the streets of Tehran
A lot of women have gathered around the front gate of the Tehran University and they've taken off their scarves in the demonstration.

They've been severely beaten by chains, you know the old chains and locks they use here for motorcycles? Do you know how thick they are? I broke down in tears when I heard this.

When the time is right we will all join. I can smell it in the air. This time is different.

I despise Islam and the mullahs even though I am officially a Muslim now. I don't have the right to change my religion in Iran.

I despise the regime and so do 90% of the Iranians. All the people who elected Khatami despise the regime and they thought he'd bring change.
Drive a Rover at the Mars Stations!
Mars Stations are designed to give everyone the experience of exploring an unknown world through the eyes of a robotic rover. The Planetary Society and LEGO Company have teamed together to establish a network of Mars Stations around the world. Each station contains a LEGO® rover equipped with a Web camera that you can drive over the Internet!
(via Rebecca's Pocket)
The first rule of car servicing: it always costs more than you budgeted.

I just got the "I'm sorry sir but you need new brake pads" call from the garage. The choice is fairly simple - pay up or die. Looks like I will have to stop buying games for a few weeks....

Monday, June 16, 2003

Amazing emails from some very brave kids in Tehran. BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Iranian protesters remain resolute
I read your comments about the Iranian students and their protests against the regime of the mullahs. I was in Teheran at the weekend, some policemen hit me, but I fought for Iran. I wish that Mr Bush would help us in our fight for freedom. I have a dream! Maybe one day, every Iranian man and woman will be free. In a country without Mullahs, without radical groups. Until this day has come, we'll fight for our right to live freely. Freedom for Iran.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Trinity Sunday

We confess neither a solitary nor a diverse God.

St Hilary: Of the Trinity

Friday, June 13, 2003

Ra arrived yesterday, it looks fantastic. It's out of print but I tracked down possibly the last shrink-wrapped copy in England, thanks to ex-Esdevium in Aldershot. But this game-buying habit must stop soon. Right after the next one.
Andrew Looney has redone his game designer page, including a good article on playing Magic without two full decks.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

My heart was warmed to get a Father's Day present from Phil in the post yesterday. He got me a Batman and Robin card, and a copy of "1984". But I did worry that perhaps Phil sees a connection between my parenting style and Orwell's story of 24hr surveillance, authoritarian control, and forbidden furtive sex.
Architecture Week 2003 June 20 - June 29 Organised and Managed by Arts Council England: Celebrated architects will be inviting you to visit them during Open Practice and you'll get the chance to have an architect come and help sort out your own home as part of RIBA Architect in the House

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Philadelphia Inquirer | U.S. has gained little if Bush lied about reason for war
I trusted Bush, and unless something big develops on the weapons front in Iraq soon, it appears as though I was fooled by him. Perhaps he himself was taken in by his intelligence and military advisers. If so, he ought to be angry as hell, because ultimately he bears the responsibility.
(via Rebecca's Pocket)