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November 30, 2003

TurkeyCon 2003: The Saga Continues

Quick trip to snag a few more post-T'day bargains (for me, just a few DVDs and a very low cost stick blender) with nowhere near the trauma of yesterday.

We played a bit more Flea Circus (ohh! I won both games!), then all relaxed as we let Grant work on a D&D scenario.

Dinner at the local chinese buffet, then it was time to see what Grant had created for us. Gevrok got a chance to show off his divinely provided strength by wrestling a Red Slaad to immobility. Two more steps in the quest remain to be completed, and we have a boardgame or three we want to fit into the day as well (New England, Apples to Apples, and Mare Nostrum). Then, sadly, we must pack and prepare for the drive home on Monday.

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November 29, 2003

Return of the Bride of TurkeyCon 2003

Fun continued. More guests arrived, and so larger games were brought out, and PitchCar was again played, with 7 players to crowd the field. Lou is quite good at this game, and I need to learn to stop trying to be fancy and just take the straightforward shot when it's available.

Warcraft didn't quite make the grade... Not a bad game, but the bits are insufficiently evocative of the source and play needs to go on too long past the point where the eventual winner is obvious. Some rather odd things happened to all but collapse the Human/Elf alliance and let the Orc/Undead side pretty much dominate the board. A few house rules (lowering the VP requirement and/or making home-region resources more durable, perhaps by requiring them to deplete 4 times before emptying rather than 2 or even making them immune to depletion, as is done in several scenarios) would probably patch things a bit, as would an expansion set that further differentiates the 4 armies. Also, while the icons used on all play pieces and cards are nicely evocative of the Warcraft look, they aren't always clear and are pretty much never intuitive. A half-dozen words to summarize the rules effects would prevent constant references to the back page of the rulebook.

Puerto Rico, though, was every bit as good to play as it looked on paper. All players are constantly involved, and player choice determines the order of phases, so one part of the game is trying to manipulate the situation so someone else will select the phase you need. Multiple strategies can work (and limited copies of each building force players to adopt unique strategies anyway). There's a lot to learn before you start, but it's mostly a bunch of fairly simple individual rules and so not too overwhelming (and the rules cues on the player mats are excellent). It won't appeal to non-gamers much at all due to its very mechanical abstractions, but it's replay value is fantastic for those who love games.

We also managed some time to make the damn fool mistake of going shopping on "Black Friday". This was available at a 20% discount, and I really did want the old-school Zelda games, so made a deal to split the price with Lou and Julia, who didn't already own a GameCube. What we failed to account for is just how frightening a Wal*Mart can be at 7 AM the day after Thanksgiving.

Also, Julia finished Paladin of Souls, so discussing it is now allowed. I suspect that may take up a bit of the drive back on Monday.

Today, there are more games on tap, including (I hope) this year's Games 100 top choice, New England.

Posted by ghoul at 07:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 28, 2003

And Yet More From TurkeyCon 2003

Much PitchCar was played before the table had to be cleared for the big feast. Amazing bank shots were made (pulled me off a slip from 6th place to a 3rd place finish around a crowded final turn!), much fun was had.

We still have a list of 5 games to try to get to, but the young'n's have insisted more PitchCar as well. And some D&D as well. So we'll see how time goes.

Dinner was as it always is, yummy and yummy again.

Then we watched The Two Towers: Special Edition. Oh, yeah, Farimir comes across so much better with all his scenes back. And Denethor is now quite established as deserving all that falls on his head in the next film. But, as much as I like the extra scenes, I do pretty much agree with the editorial choices made in the theatrical release. Still, I'm looking forward to Trilogy Day in just a bit...

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November 27, 2003

More From TurkeyCon 2003

No game store visit today, but we broke out and played a couple new titles that have been lurking high on my lists for a while.

Balloon Cup proved to be surprisingly strong and strategic for as simple a game as it is. Players place numbered cards, trying to create the highest or lowest sum in various groups. But you can place on either side of the table (yours or your opponent's), so things can shift fairly quickly and sabotage is frequently the order of the day. I was able to barely squeeze out both games we played, though in the second it required quite a bit of late-game card luck. I suspect this one will get pulled out again, as it's very quick to play (less than 30 minutes) and easy to teach. Certainly a winner for two-player fun! (We did not encounter the "rules flaw" mentioned in the comments at FunAgain, but I can see the value of the patch and will remember it in the future.)

We pulled out some white glue and tacked down the railings on PitchCar at last! The adults among us were edging toward a well fed comatose state when we returned from Ruth's Chris (mmmmm.... steak!), but Lou and I tried a few turns around the track, and it's all set up for tomorrow. This is a very interesting mix of F1 racing and carooms, wooden discs are finger-flicked around the track, trying to ricochet around the other cars and use the rails to maximize their speed.

Also, time was found to punch out and sandwich-bag the bits from several games, getting us prepared for later in the week. We also made a list, so we'll be more likely to not forget something important. Of course, the kids want to keep playing Flea Circus, and as a Knizia junkie, I'm hard-pressed to say "no".

Posted by ghoul at 08:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 26, 2003

Gaming Stores of TurkeyCon 2003 (Day Two)

A simpler day for Game Store trip two. We got a late start and had a time limit, so we just hit the new store near the house.

And I found the Warcraft board game! That and Puerto Rico are currently high on the "play me!" stack, once we shift to a more serious mood.

Until then, sillier games dominated. We played some of Knizia's Flea Circus (a game of repeated "steal points from the other guys" fun), then our traditional Knizia's Formula Motor Racing. Much fun was had, and much silliness occurred, particularly when Lou, who loves FMR but never, ever wins, finished with the maximum 16 points after the first race. He didn't know how to react.

Posted by ghoul at 08:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2003

Gaming Stores of TurkeyCon 2003 (Day One)

Raleigh, NC is home to several excellent gaming stores, and we've made our first trek out, hitting two of them. Of course, such trips are a weakness of mine...

Yesterday, I picked up the following:

From Discount Racks: Starchildren Velvet Generation (a glam rock inspired SF RPG); a very nice reference book on Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars; and Sketch (an RPG based on doodles and sketches drawn by the players).

New RPG Material: Redhurst Academy of Magic Student Handbook (a clearly Harry Potter inspired d20 setting, with very high production values and, so a quick reading, excellent content) and the Heroquest Hero's Book (a player's guide to the HQ rules).

Board and Card Games: Dwarven Dig (dwarves mining for treasure and hoping to avoid the worst dangers of such activities); Senjutsu (a samurai-theamed Stratego-like game, but with the added idea of equipment for each piece, so it can be strongly customized); The Penguin Ultimatum (card game of creating entertainment for the Emperor Penguin); Torches and Pitchforks (cardgame of leading the townsfolk to eliminate the monsters terrorizing them); Zombies! 3.5 (expansion event cards for the Zombies! tile game); and a few D&D Miniatures (got a Dire Boar, which was one of my still-missing rares).

All-in-all, a good day. And we're going to another store or two today. I'm still looking to find the Warcraft board game...

Posted by ghoul at 07:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 24, 2003

You See a 20' x 20' Room Containing...

Thanks, Bryant, for the invite to participate!

And now, everyone can see just what I've been invited to participate in...

Additional Note: The article on the desirable shape of RPG dice distributions I mentioned earlier ended up becoming my first entry at the 20' by 20' Room. So please go there if you're interested.

Posted by ghoul at 05:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2003

All Arrived and Even Online

We managed the drive last night in excellent time. (No, I'm quite sure Julia and Lou never once sped. They're good people and would never do such a thing.)

And now, after a bit of wrestling with wireless hubs, I'm even online!

And so, the relaxing vacation week begins. We'll probably get to the first new boardgame sometime soon.

Posted by ghoul at 09:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2003

Off To TurkeyCon

As of a few hours from now (hours that will be spent trying to close off open issues at work, running to bank and post office for last-minute stuff, setting up the cats for my absence, and doing the last bit of packing), I'll be heading to my week+ in Raleigh, NC.

Actually, as I'm taking my PowerBook along and the big tubs o' games, some of which I will be playing for the first time, I may well still post one or two things from there. But in case I don't, consider this 'fair warning'.

Posted by ghoul at 09:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2003

It Tastes Like What?

No, I'm sorry, Thanksgiving may nearly be upon us, but this is just plain wrong.

Posted by ghoul at 06:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 12, 2003

Packing, Packing, Packing

All right, it's almost time for the annual trek south, and that means I need to pack up a tub or two of board games...

So, this is more a post for those who will also be with us in Raleigh come T-day. But I'm open for kibitzing from almost anyone.

No, these aren't necessarily "favorite games"... I have to pack for what I know others want to play, and I tend to bias toward interesting new games that I hope for a chance to try out.

So, here's the current list...

Already in NC...

Currently being packed...

So... anyone who'll be there want to make comments or requests? This all doesn't even fill my two tubs, really... barely one and a half! So there's room to request some old favorites or what have you.

Posted by ghoul at 06:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 11, 2003

More About Dice

No, the entry about probability distribution shapes and such isn't here yet, but I did find and clean up (a bit) my early-1996 dTable 2.0 file (with a bit of editing, so call it 2.0a now).

This file is a very raw dump of data, containing many, many probability tables for die-rolling schemes in numerous RPGs. Of course, as it is over 7 years old, it's a bit stale. And it could use some HTML work to turn it from raw text into something more useful. But now it's here, at least I won't lose it again.

Posted by ghoul at 10:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2003

Consolation Prize

One good thing that came out of my stop at the movies yesterday...

I got to see this trailer spread wide over the screen, and without even knowing it was coming. (The trailer, I mean... the movie is one I've been following news about for a while now.)


I’ve seen lots of attempts at this story that fail for being half-assed and unwilling to even attempt the epic scope necessary to do it right. This trailer shows me that, no matter what else might happen, this film will not be insufficiently epic.

Now, I suspect it still won’t approach this comic in providing the depth and detail this story demands… But it simply doesn’t have the time for that.

Posted by ghoul at 10:16 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 09, 2003

It Could Have Been Worse...

... if they'd been actively trying to make it so.

There will be spoilers here because... well, who cares? Either you've already seen this and they spoil nothing or... well, they spoil something already completely spoiled by its makers.

The Matrix: Revolutions continues the textbook example of how to watch a work stumble down chapter by chapter. The first was original, hip, smart, and, above all, carefully structured. The second was dull and empty, repeating the first in ways that ensured lack of originality. It failed to update itself to stay hip. It was full of characters too dumb to let the movie be smart. And it meandered pointlessly from set piece to set piece in defiance of storytelling structure.

And now the third and (if fate smiles upon us) final chapter.

Nothing original. The same SFX, and now steals from other movies... The Zion battle armor is lifted directly from Aliens (a film it is foolish to invite yourself to be compared to)... but at least in Aliens the driver was exposed because it was a cargo hauler forced into military duty. Here, the driver is exposed because... well, I suppose because the people of Zion are idiots. It certainly wasn't to let us see the faces of characters we knew and wanted to cheer on, because no character we knew from chapters 1 or 2 donned a suit.

Nothing hip. Zion is still the land of the unwashed, despite all the cool tech they have. The Merovingian's techno-goth-leather club was embarrassing in its "we're still hip, see?" desperation.

Nothing smart. The character's actions were dumb, dumb, DUMB! It takes no study of strategy to know that a "hopeless last stand" made with 2/3rds of your forces just means both it and the hopeless stand-after-the-last-stand will both fail. And what kind of general has a perfect weapon that instantly destroys all of his enemies and designs his strategy not only without using that weapon, but in such a way that using that weapon when someone else brings it to save the day costs him significantly? And let's not even get into the fact that Neo still seems to have forgotten all the abilities he learned at the end of the first film and reverted to brain-dead punch'em'up as his best option.

And structurally? After the crazy-quilt final action scene of the second part, here we see the perils of the other extreme. Here, a pair of sequences that happened simultaneously and begged to be edited together to provide tension for both (the "next-to-last" stand of Zion and Neo/Trinity's race to the machine city) are allowed to run back-to-back, unmixed, turning both into monotony.

And the great, deep questions of "what is real"? Abandoned. Worse than abandoned, turned into jokes as the miscellaneous "programs" (the one faction in the series we know isn't real) are given center-stage in the conclusion.

Yes, there are a good number of visually spectacular bits, but they are in service of nothing at all. This is a glitzy, big-bucks, and no doubt destined to be hugely successful bad movie in every significant way.

Posted by ghoul at 05:27 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 05, 2003

Rolling Dice

I'm moving my reply over here from Bryant's thread, as I've wandered a bit from his original points.

The essential topic here started as how many times you need to roll dice to resolve an action (usually a combat action) in an RPG, but my focus is more on the complexity of the resolution process as a whole.

On the UI front, there are a few simple rules beyond "number of rolls" to keep in mind (though a low number of rolls obeys most of the rules)...

I'd also say that I don't completely discount the "involve him in the game" idea for having players roll a couple dice... Keeping all players attentive during the heavily phased nature of RPG combat is an admirable goal, and while one approach is to make each player's phase go very quickly so you move through the players rapidly, an alternative is to make the process more all-involving. This tends to lead to more broad, abstract resolution schemes like Maelstrom or HeroQuest simple contests. Here, a long time is spent by everyone describing their goals, each of which is turned into a modifier to a single resolution roll, from which the overall result is determined. d20 can be shifted this way by use of lots of "aid another" actions (particularly once the aiding PCs have +9 or better total skill mods), though some parts of the game get a bit weird if you do so.

Another alternative, even more interesting, is the Dust Devils idea. Here, there are two sorts of "winner" in any one round... One (the player who generates the best poker hand) is the one whose action succeeds. Another (the player who played the highest card) becomes narrator of the result, taking on a sub-GM roll to determine the exact details of the successes and failures. As with the abstracted all-in-one resolution ideas, this creates additional involvement in every round.

Okay... that's enough rambling for one morning, I think.

Posted by ghoul at 08:14 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 01, 2003

Just What Is He Up To?

More silence here at the Staircase of late...

Mostly, I've been enjoying the very nice New England autumn, which I fear will turn nasty very soon. Of course, today it's supposed to be in the seventies, so I'll probably head out for a while to enjoy it. Soon, all this color will be sticks and snow.

Work's been... well, work. I have a big new product rolling out Monday, and the last couple of weeks have been full of people wanting early sample calculations. So far, the results have been quite well received, and I may well have another big hit to my credit.

Meanwhile, I've been making my way through a huge stockpile of DVDs and books, plus a few new games. I'll try to get some reviews together when I scrape up some moments.

Also, I've returned to work on my HeroQuest-based original fantasy world (mentioned back here), updating it to the new rules edition where needed, polishing up some rough spots, with an eye toward perhaps starting some play with it (likely on Dreamlyrics) early in 2004.

So... that's what I'm doing rather than typing blog entries.

Posted by ghoul at 09:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack