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My parents’ anniversary

21 Nov

This summer we went to England to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of my parents. 50 years is quite an achievement!

All four of us kids were there, as were all four of their grandchildren. Doesn’t the youngest have the greatest smile?!


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It was the first time I’d been back in over 2 years, and the previous time was 4 years before that. I wish I could go back more often, but it’s really not very cheap. This time was an exception though – several international business trips, along with points from using cards meant we’d built up just enough air miles to fly business class out and first class back, which made such a huge difference! I doubt we’ll fly in such style next time.

 

Games I’m looking forward to getting or playing

20 Nov

Dominion: Hinterlands is the latest expansion for the ever popular Dominion card game. This introduces yet more cards, and the basic theme is “cards that do things when you buy or gain them”. I’m really looking forward to how they affect game play.

Glory to Rome is another card game. This one has been around a while, but a lot of people have issues with the art. There has been a recent new edition, known as the “Black Box” edition with all new art, made possible by Kickstarter, and now that’s the edition that I would like to have.

Crude is another game that’s been around a while. It was republished as McMulti some time back, and there’s some controversy in the history there, but Stronghold Games found the original designer of the game, and got the rights to republish it. It will have some rules updates, but nothing that should affect the great feel of the game. It should be published in Q1, 2012.

Kingdom Builder is a new game from Donald X. Vaccarino (designer of Dominion). This is about building your kingdom (!) on a hex terrain map. The map is made up of 4 sections out of the 8 that come with the game, which provides a wide variety of boards to play on. And while the rules for how you build the settlements to make your kingdom remain the same from game to game, the goals of how you want to place them change, by using 3 goal cards of the 8 available. This looks to be quite fun with plenty of replayability.

Nefarious is another title from Donald X. Vaccarino. In this game, you and your opponents all play evil geniuses trying to invent your evil machines. However, you’re also trying to speculate what your opponents will do this turn, and you get Bags of Money if you’re correct. This seems like it will be a relatively lightweight game, but could be a lot of fun.

Are there any games you’re looking forward to?

 

Helpful iPhone apps for board gamers

19 Nov

If you’re a board gamer, there are a number of iPhone apps available to assist you. I’m not talking about apps which implement iPhone or iPad versions of games, but ones which help you out in some way when you’re playing the real thing.

The first, and most obvious one is Board Game Geek. This gives you access to the Board Game Geek database, so you can quickly check a game’s rating and read about the game. It also lets you adjust your collection of games (a record on BGG’s website of the games you own), including games you’ve played. This makes it really easy to update your games played as you go, rather than writing them all down and remembering to transcribe that info to the website later. This free app is a must-have for any serious board game player.

Next up is Board Game Tools. This 4 screens – one to roll up to 6 standard dice, one as a timer (which I don’t think adds anything to the iPhone’s built in timer), one as a buzzer when you tap it, but most useful, one as a virtual score pad. It’s fairly simple, but it does what you need it to do, is completely generic, and the app is free.

Dominion Kingdom Deck is an app that makes randomizing the set up for Dominion a snap. You select which expansions you have and then allow it to pick a random set of ten. It has a number of options for guiding the selection, like the suggestion in Alchemy that if you have any Alchemy cards in your set up, you should have 3-5 of them. It also automatically determines if you will have Platinum and Colony, if you’re using Prosperity cards. It also allows you to add your own card sets – this means you can add “fan expansions” which aren’t official expansions for the game, or you can add new expansions that have been published but not yet been added to the app, while you wait for official support. Right now, it’s a little disappointing, because the two latest expansions haven’t been added. It’s a minor inconvenience, but the main reason (from a note by the author on BGG) is that the Young Witch card in Cornucopia causes an additional card to be added to supply, and he stil needs to work that logic in. It’s not hard to work around, but it would be nice to have it properly included. For a free app, this is great.

Tichu Tracker is an easy way to score the game of Tichu. Add the player names into the seating positions (or randomize seating if you like). It keeps track of who should be dealing, and you mark if anyone called Tichu or Grand Tichu. Then when you record scores, you select the score for one team, and it automatically selects the score for the other. You also mark if any of the called Tichus were made. You can look at the scoring history of the game, and also make adjustments if an error was made. Easy to use, and free.

7 Wonders Score is a free app for scoring the 7 Wonders game. It adds up the scores from the various categories (and can even do the Science calculation for you) to give you your total score. It’s fairly easy to use, and it keeps track of regular players so you can add them to the next game easily and it also keeps a history of old games so you can go back and look at them.

Lastly is Score. This app, which costs 99c can be used as a basic score keeping app. The real gem with this is that it had scoring modules for around 30 games, some of which have complex scoring calculations, like Agricola. This means that it’s much easier to score for those games. These modules are downloadable, which makes the app extensible if a new game comes along for which scoring is not so simple, as long as someone takes the time to write the module.

One quick extra. Not directly game related, but I use it a lot for my board game meetup group is the Meetup app. This is great in particular for checking the RSVP list once you’ve arrived in order to see if there are any last minute changes so you know if you should wait for someone to turn up. Very useful free app.

Are there any other iPhone apps you use to help out when playing board games?

 

Quarriors – a board game review

18 Nov

Quarriors is another game I got recently. This was one that I’d been expecting and looking forward to. It’s another “deck” building game in the style of Dominion but with dice instead of cards. The rules are online.

This, I have to say, has left me wanting. I like the basic idea – collecting dice representing spells to be cast and creatures to be summoned. I like the execution of each set of dice having different abilities depending on the card that gets used with it. However, there are a few things that bug me a bit. It’s a lot more random than Dominion. Yes, I know, it’s a dice game, and randomness comes with that territory. But many other games allow you to use the different results in different ways. With Quarriors there didn’t seem to be many meaningful decisions. You roll your dice, hope at least one came up as a creature to summon, and the others had enough quiddity to summon it. If you get a bad role, you’re done, no matter how well tuned your “deck” of dice might be. And as for purchasing new dice, it seems to simply be “get the one you can afford” – again, no real decision making.

And there lies the next problem. If I can’t guarantee I can use the power of a particular die when it’s in my hand because of the luck of the roll, then I’d like to be able to make sure the better dice come up more often so I’m rolling them more often, in order to better my chances of getting the roll I want. With the exception of the abilities of I think maybe one or two of the spells or creatures (which therefore rely on a good roll), the only way to trim your “deck” of dice is to have creatures survive the round from opponents attack, so that you can “cull” weaker dice from your deck. That means you’re already doing relatively well, what with good die rolls for yourself, and perhaps poor ones from your opponents, plus you’ve just scored. So as a reward for doing well enough to score, you get to trim your deck, improving your position further. And, the better dice available are going to improve your score and be powerful against your opponents, which can result in a runaway leader problem.

Compare these problems with Dominion. I may not have any method of trimming available to me. But if that’s the case, at least I know that I can use the ability of the card if it’s in my hand at the start of my turn. As for purchasing cards, because Victory cards (normally) hurt me in regards to the power of the deck, it can sometimes be a difficult decision – do I get the Victory card because I can and dilute my deck a little? Or do I get a different card to improve my deck, hoping I can make back the opportunity cost at a later time?

Lastly, the rules didn’t go into detail about some of the creatures, and there are some timing issues which are really not clear. I think in our group we made what are sensible decisions, but it would be nice to have official word from the publisher. Again, it almost seems unfair to compare to Dominion, but the nature of the game almost forces you to. The designer and developers for Dominion have been so thorough in making sure timing issues are understood, and that card interactions are clearly explained, that they’ve set a high standard, one which Quarriors unfortunately doesn’t meet.

It’s certainly an interesting concept, one which I was excited about, but ultimately disappointed me.

6/10

 
 

Eminent Domain – a board game review.

17 Nov

Eminent Domain is a new game from Seth Jaffee, and published by Tasty Minstrel Games.

As game comparisons almost always happen, it’s sort of a cross between Race for the Galaxy, Glory to Rome and Dominion.

I’m not going to explain the rules in detail, because they are available online. Having said that, I will say that there are three basic ways to score points – discovering and conquering planets either through colonization or warfare; producing and trading goods on previously conquered planets; and acquiring higher level technologies. All three are valid approaches, and you’ll probably have to do at least a little of each.

Like Dominion, it is a deck building game. However, I think it’s the first game since Dominion to put a really new spin on that mechanism. Dominion-like games are the same basic formula – play cards from your hand, then acquire a new card which goes into your deck. With Eminent Domain, you acquire basic cards by selecting the role, which you perform, and then everyone else has the option to perform that role as well. The tech cards can also be added to your deck through the research role, and the research action allows you to remove cards from your deck. Anyone who’s familiar with the Chapel card in Dominion will understand how important trimming ones deck is.

This is the first game in a long time, probably since Dominion or maybe Innovation, where after my first play, my brain was running on full steam, analyzing my play, thinking about what could have been done differently, thinking about the different possible strategies.

I’ve been focussing on one basic strategy type in the dozen or so games I’ve played, trying out slight variations on the theme. The strategies are affected by the planet you start with and the ones you survey, as that affects which techs are available to you. It is clear that there are multiple paths to victory, and it’s largely a case of travelling along your path more quickly and efficiently than your opponents.

The game is so simple at its core, and yet feels so rich in the possibilities – it has quickly become a firm favourite.

10/10

Eminent Domain at Tasty Minstrel Games

 
 

Feedback time

16 Nov

Feedback is important. It was nice to have several responses to my recent post about sleep apnoea, but I would have preferred them to be on my blog rather than as comments to my FaceBook page linking to the blog post. Why? Because it’s possible someone could search for the topic online and find this post, and then be encouraged by the other posts. They won’t see those comments on FaceBook, and that won’t engender further discussion. Additionally if someone mentions the topic in another context, I could direct them to that specific post here. Again, something not possible with FaceBook.

Anyway, we’re halfway through the month, and I’d be interested to hear if there are any particular topics you’d like me to post about. Also, if you’re a regular reader, I’d love to hear from you. I can tell I have some regular readers, as my stats show they are using an RSS reader; it would be nice to see who you are!

So, if you have any topic suggestions, please let me know in a comment here (rather than on FaceBook). Thanks!

 
 

Good sleep, and the elusive 100%

15 Nov

A while back, I was experiencing some heart palpitations, and I learnt that there can be a correlation between that and Sleep Apnoea. So, I had a couple of sleep studies. It was confirmed that I did indeed have sleep apnoea, and that I was stopping breathing up to 60 times an hour, but only during REM sleep.

Some people have sleep apnoea during their entire sleep cycle, and if that’s diagnosed early in the sleep study, there’s plenty of time to try a CPAP machine to see if that helps, and get appropriate pressure levels. As my apnoea was only during REM sleep, it took a second study to try out a CPAP machine.

A CPAP (Constant Positive Airway Pressure) machine basically pushes air into my airway, which had been collapsing during REM sleep. That means I get constant sleep through the night.

I was able to be a part of a medical device study. Many devices have a timed ramp up – they start at a low pressure, and then 30 minutes later, ramp up to the pressure that the professionals have determined is right for you. That larger pressure can be uncomfortable if you’re still trying to fall asleep. A new device was coming on to the market that used your breathing patterns to detect when you had fallen asleep. I tried it, and it seemed fairly good. There were a few user interface issues but nothing too terrible.

Now it’s officially on the market, I’m on a newer device, and the interface issues were resolved.

I’m struggling with it a bit – I will sometimes wake up very early in the morning, only to discover that I must have woken up earlier, removed the mask, and turned off the machine, without having any memory of it! It’s possible that because my apnoea issues are resolved that other sleep issues are showing up that the apnoea was hiding.

I have an overall target of 70% usage – that means that 70% of nights I use the machine for 4 hours or more. I’m currently at 66% for the past 30 days, but a couple of nights ago, I managed to get to 100% for the past 7 days.


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It’s really useful being able to see the stats so I can tell how well I’m doing. Seeing the 100% for 7 days is encouraging me to keep going.

 
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Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 1997 Snooker Maximum Break in just over 5 minutes.

14 Nov

I watched a lot of snooker with my dad when I was young. I recently came upon this video of a very quick maximum break, and it brought back a lot of happy memories of watching the game with family.

For those of you not familiar with the game, in snooker, there are 7 colours of balls that you can pot. 15 are red, and the others are collectively known as the “coloured” balls. Reds are worth 1, then Yellow, Green, Brown, Blue, Pink and Black are 2 through 7.

Barring any fouls/penalties, when you approach the table, you must hit the cue ball so it strikes a red. If you successfully pot a red, you then attempt to pot a colour, and the colour is returned to its spot if you were successful. If you fail to pot a ball (but the cue ball strikes a legal ball, either red, or colour, depending on if you had previously potted a red), then your turn is over and the other person gets a turn. The score on your turn is referred to as the break. So if you potted a red, a black, a red, and a pink, your break would be 15. The person who scores the higher score for the frame, wins the frame. The numbers in the middle of the score show that it’s a best of 19 frames contest, and O’Sullivan is leading Price 8 frames to 5.

The difficulty is that the reds are closely packed together, and if you open them up too widely too early, if you miss a pot, you give your opponent a chance to make a good score for the frame, possibly enough to beat you.
So you have to open the pack of reds up a little bit, pot those reds (with a coloured ball between), and then carefully open up the reds again, leaving them open for you to pot one. Hopefully.

Once all the reds are gone, the coloureds are potted in turn, and this time, remain potted.
Usually on a high break, if the difference between your score and your opponent’s score is larger than the number of points available on the table, then when you’ve completed your turn the opponent will concede the frame. This is why the commentator referred to the frame as being “safe” partway through.

If you pot Red then Black, 15 times, then all six coloured balls in sequence, you get 147 points, the maximum break. It’s a very rare occurrence.

It is theoretically possible to score more than 147 if your opponent fouls (either by sinking the cue ball, or striking a coloured ball before striking a red). If the position of the cue ball subsequent to such a foul means that the cue ball cannot see both sides of any single red, then the referee declares that the player has a free ball. That means he can strike and pot a colour as if it were a red. It will score 1 point, but because it is actually a colour, it will get replaced on its spot. The player could then pot the black, and then go on to pot the 15 reds as in a regular maximum break. The theoretical maximum break is thus 155. However, in professional play, to have a foul before a single red has been potted, leaving the reds closed enough for there to be a free ball, but open enough to follow through for a maximum break is much, much rarer. There are some video clips that include such a situation on youtube, but they were exhibition play – the foul a deliberate set up to see if the player could succeed in doing the 155 break. The pressure is much less than in tournament play where there are often high valued prizes for the highest breaks of the tournament. In the clip above, £147,000 was referenced as the prize for a maximum break, a considerable sum, particularly when you adjust for inflation since 1997.

 

Steamed pear in ginger syrup

13 Nov


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This was a really simple dessert to make.

I took 6 bosc pears that were still very firm, peeled, halved and cored them. Then using my new rice cooker/steamer, I steamed them for about 11 minutes, adding a little fresh ginger to the water.

While they were steaming, I made a simple sugar syrup, by heating 3 cups of sugar with some water in a pan, adding some more cubed fresh ginger to the syrup. Stirring continuously, I allowed it to boil, then gently stirred for a while. Tasting carefully (sugar syrup is hot! I dropped some onto the bowl of a cold spoon, and waited a little for it to cool), I checked to see if it was gingery enough for me. Once it was, I turned off the heat to let it cool some.

I took the pear halves and sliced them, going almost to the tip, then gently splayed out the “leaves” created, before transferring to the dish. Once I had 6 halves in there, covering the bottom, I poured about half of the syrup over the pears. I then repeated with the remaining pear halves, and the rest of the syrup.

The dish was then kept warm in an insulated container, and served around an hour later. The juices from the pears increased the amount of the syrup somewhat.

To serve, carefully transfer a couple of fanned pear halves to a plate or dish, and pour a little syrup on top.

It was very tasty!

 
 

Running a board game group isn’t easy.

12 Nov

I run the St Louis Board Game Meetup Group. It’s been actively meeting for approaching 7 years now, and it’s quite successful.

But it’s not always easy to run such a group. This year has had some interesting challenges – and lots of things go on behind the scenes.

I think our biggest challenge this year was Borders’ closing. Of the 16 or so regular events each month, four were held at the cafe of a local Borders store. There had been a round of closures earlier in the year, but our Borders had escaped that. It actually looked like things were going to be OK. Then, suddenly, in July, Borders announced it was closing all its stores. The next day, the cafe was closed, chairs and tables put aside, as the liquidators moved in to sell everything in the store off.

This brought up immediate issues – where to hold the already scheduled events, and finding places to hold events on a regular basis.

In the first instance, a couple of events were moved to one of our other venues that we regularly held events at, as a very short notice resolution to the problem. Once that was taken care of, the hunt was on for new venues.

Firstly we had an easy solution for our Last Thursday event. The group had started once a month on the Last Thursday. The other Thursdays had events at a local game store. How this came to be has quite a long history, including a flooded basement, some other stores opening and closing, and finally finding a location that seemed fairly stable. But the Last Thursdays were special. They were right at the foundation of the group, with that first event in the Borders store. Now that store was no longer an option, there was no reason to keep the Last Thursday events any different from the other Thursdays. So, those events moved so every Thursday was at the game store. That was the simplest of the solutions.

My goal was to try, if possible, to keep events reasonably close to the Borders that had closed. If that wasn’t possible, I wanted to move the events to venues that were in parts of the St Louis metro area that we weren’t already catering to. We asked members to make suggestions. Several people also asked people outside the group about places that might be suitable.

Then came the leg work. I tried to visit potential locations before having an event there. If the venue simply wasn’t suitable, then there was no need to have an event there to prove it. Also, by visiting, I could talk with the manager or owner, and make sure we would be welcome, or discuss any difficulties that might arise. I also wanted to be sure we weren’t being burdensome, so wanted to limit the events at any of the new locations to once a month. With the Thursdays going to an existing location, that left three more events, and thus three new venues to try and find.

Our next easiest venue replacement was the Tuesday night. A member who lived close to a small independent coffee shop suggested we try it. I had a look and it was spacious, had reasonable lighting, and although they officially closed at 8, they were willing to extend their hours until 10 once a month, so that we could have a reasonable amount of time to play. They were available Tuesdays, the other days they had regular things happening, so we tried them out one Tuesday, and it was a success. We’ve been meeting there since.

Next up was the Wednesday event. I tried a restaurant very near to the closed venue that had an upstairs space that got little use during the week. I went and spoke to a shift manager who assured me that the general manager would give me a call to discuss the possibility. Despite my calling and leaving messages subsequent to my initial visit, I never had a call back. I guess they just weren’t that interested in the idea. The next possibility was a local bar, that again had an upstairs that got little use during the week. Meeting the manager, the venue looked promising – good tables, and reasonable lighting. When our test event on the Wednesday came around, though, the bar was packed downstairs, and the noise (both from the loud music, and the people talking loudly so they could be heard over the music) was simply too much. We played some good games that evening, but it was clear that it was not the venue for us. With places in the neighbourhood of the old Borders looking scarce, we once again looked elsewhere. There is a small local chain of coffee shops in St Louis area. Two of them are in locations that aren’t very close to any of our other venues, so we decided to try them out. The first one was OK. The space inside was reasonable. It had a few larger tables. The parking was not at all the best, but it was near a MetroLink station. People seemed to enjoy it, including a few people who, while they’d been group members for a while, hadn’t come before because there wasn’t a location very close to them. It was great to see people come out of the wood work as we found a location that was better for them. We’d already committed to looking at their sister location, which wasn’t very far. So the next month we tried that. The parking was much better, but the tables were small and the space was a bit cramped. So we decided to go with the former of these two, and this month we start meeting there regularly.

Lastly, the Sunday. A venue had been suggested by an acquaintance. It was in an area of St Louis that we’d not got very much presence at all in. This could be good, or bad. Good, in that it could be a venue that people who felt our other venues were too far could come to. Bad, in that it was possible that some regulars would think it too far for them to come. However, when I went to look at the venue, it seemed great. Spacious, not too busy on a Sunday afternoon, and the tables were square, and easy to move together to make a larger gaming surface if needed. It looked like we’d found a great space. The location was a little problematic, and attendance at the first few events was a little low, but I’d expected that somewhat, and decided that we would keep trying there, and seeing if we could encourage people from that area of town to join us. Then, last month, as we sat down to play, one of the employees told us that they would be closing at 3pm instead of the normal 6pm. It turned out that the owner was out on medical leave, and a business decision had been made to cut the hours at the weekends. While understandable, and I am sympathetic towards the owner and his unexpected illness, it was nevertheless somewhat frustrating. So, I looked back at other places that had been suggested during the search, and thought that a cafe attached to a grocery store looked like a reasonable contender. It was also in the neighbourhood of the Borders, so would likely appeal to those who had liked that part of town. I checked out the place, and then spoke to the store manager, who said he was trying to encourage groups to use that space. He confirmed that Sunday afternoons were not typically busy and that we would be welcome. We will try out the location later this month, and it will, I hope, be suitable. With the 4th Sunday in December being Christmas Day, we won’t be meeting then, so it will hopefully officially become a regular location in January, a full six months after Borders shut its doors. If it’s not suitable, the hunt will be on again.

I hope that all our new venues continue to work out. It’s an exhausting process finding new places, making sure we’re not a problem (in fact, we’re typically extra business for them, as most people at least by a drink and many people buy food).

This hasn’t been an easy process, not least because every other time we’ve looked for a location, we’ve been fortunate and found suitable places on first try. That meant my expectations for finding great locations very quickly were much higher than they probably should have been.

I could not have done this on my own. I am thankful for the members and friends who suggested locations. Even though some of the suggestions were outside of the target geographical area, it’s nice to have them as possibilities in the future, and it’s also nice to know these members care enough about the group to want to make the suggestions. I am also thankful for the Assistant Organizers I have in the group. They checked out locations that I’d visited to make sure they really did seem suitable. They gave honest opinions on the venues we tried. They even helped calm me down when the frustrations of the whole process was getting the better of me.

Hopefully, we have come to an end of this particular problem, and we can get on with the business of just playing games.