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  • Atlanta Averyfest 2010

    Went down to Atlanta this weekend.  I'll echo most of the stuff that everyone said in the dedicated thread.  Averyfest was a total riot.  Probably put this up as a blog post too.  I won't go down all the games I played because they're similar to everyone else's in the thread.  Steve "Droid Factory" Avery is awesome, Richard Launius is a complete gentleman and Dan Baden is a bastard.  Atlanta gaming is pretty awesome, you have plenty of Euro weenies but your selection of other characters is great.  Wish I had something close to it in my city.  My gaming life would be infinitely more fun.  I will mention the highlight games though.

  • ATTACK! is back, not wack, give it a crack

  • Audiobook recommendations

    This post on audiobooks is probably going to be helpful to those of us who have found ourselves struggling with more time constraints as we've grown older.   As we find ourselves devoting more time to raising children, or working on relationships, or performing more projects around the house, we lose a lot of excess leisure time that was formerly devoted to quiet reading.   At the same time many of us fall out of love with our music collection, and stop rocking out on our long car trips.   In my case these phenomena dovetailed into a situation where unrewarding music time became replaced by enjoyable "reading" time.  Consequently, I found myself in the realm where I formerly assumed that only the blind and the elderly and the functionally illiterate dwelt.   I soon became a huge audiobook nerd, and I'm hoping to pass on years of accumulated experience to the rest of you.
    A good audio book should at least employ a competent narrator.   You would think that this is obvious, but audiobooks do seem to be the bastard child of the publishing industry, and occasionally publishers hire narrators that are skin-crawlingly bad.   It seems as if the entire field is gaining in popularity and support though, and that the current crop of readers are much better than the older ones, but I can still encounter one the occasional reader that I just can't stand (see: Scott Brick, below).  Also, if a book is being read by its author, be wary.  I was familiar enough with Sarah Vowell's voice to breeze through her  Assassination Vacation, but I only managed to get a chapter or so into A Wrinkle in Timebefore the author's geriatric warbling forced me to reconsider my selection.  (It may be one of the most beloved childrens' fantasy stories out there, but I'll never know, because the experience was like trying to listen to Diane Reihm tell an overlong story).
    The other requirement that needs to be met is that the book has to be able to hold one's interest.  No one enjoys wasting their time on a crappy read, but it's also important that an audiobook not lull you to sleep while you're engaged in a long commute.   So every one of my following recommendations have been responsible for at least one "driveway moment," where the the story is so gripping that I've kept the car running in the garage, or I've found myself still sitting on the riding mower, long after the grass has been cut.  
    With those two (rather obvious) requirements in mind, I'm going to recommend the following audiobooks.   The narrators of these selection perform their work so well that I can't imagine a circumstance where I would actually take the time to read them, rather than listen to them.   They bring so much of their craft to the table, that one can't help but get more immersed into an already engaging story, and I believe that the stories themselves are also damned good, written by some of the finest authors of fiction of our time.

    So without further ado, here are my top picks:

    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Suzanne Clarke.   This book is a fantastic period piece, devoted to an alternate-history, 18th century England, where magic use is real (if virtually unknown).  It reads like a Jane Austen work, but Ms. Clarke also utilizes an imaginative (and purely fictional) biography to expand her universe, much like Frank Herbert did with Dune.  One reviewer actually wondered if their was some real history of English magic that she had been completely oblivious to.
    The narrator, Simon Prebble, does a phenomenal job giving each character a distinctive voice, and amusingly, some of the voices seem to be derived from pop culture sources.  For instance, Mr. Norrell is Ian Holm, and John Childermass isHarry Bentley (that's a Jefferson's reference for you youngins).   Like any gifted storyteller, Prebble uses his voice to expand each character's personality beyond what's written on the page, and I wasn't the least bit surprised to learn that Mr. Prebble had won two Golden Voice awards (for best audiobook narration) and had been nominated for several others.   If I was only allowed to recommend one audiobook to someone, this one would be it.

    "The Wheel of Time" series by Robert Jordan.   Quality-wise, the series as a whole is a little uneven.   It was clear that Robert Jordan was stretching this story out and milking it for all that it was worth (until his untimely death).  However, it's still a good read, and Jordan was a very good writer, capable of creating a lot of suspense and allowing small plot point buds to bloom into huge payoffs.  I think it helps if you imagine the series as an enormous fantasy campaign - there's going to be lots of side-quests that vary in quality and that don't seem to get to the essence of the big, overarching story, but they do allow for world-building and help the larger story move along.
    The voicework in the series is a shared project.  Michael Kramer does the narrating whenever the book is using a male point of view (which is most of the time), and Kate Reading does spot-duty whenever the story switches over to the females.   I feel that Kramer is a stronger reader than Reading, but it may just amount to Mr. Kramer getting much more opportunity to show off.   Regardless, they both do an amazing job.  Seemingly, each major character has his or her own distinctive manner of speaking, and each nationality has it's own accent.   If you're familiar with the enormous scope of the story, you'll realize that that adds up to a heck of a lot of different voices and accents.   Furthermore, the two narrators must have been close collaborators, because they make it a point to stay consistent on the characters.   Perrin has a slight, John Wayne drawl when either narrator is speaking, and Matt always sounds borderline exasperated.   The Seanchen always have a wonderfully odd, slight slur to their speech, and the Illianers can match expletives with Montgomery Scott any day.   I imagine that a lot of notecards were involved.

    The "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R. R. Martin.     Like "The Wheel of Time," the audio version grants each character it's own distinctive voice.   The reader, Roy Dotrice, does a great job of giving each character his or her own flavor and depth.  One can actually hear the extra weight that has settled on Robert Berathian over the years.   Tyrian's excellent cackle has the pain of unappreciation and bitterness behind it.   Just top-notch work all around by Mr.  Dotrice.
    Audibly, I would rank it just a hair below "The Wheel of Time" because of Michael Kramer's rich voice, but make no mistake, George Martin is a better writer than Robert Jordan and "A Song of Ice and Fire" is a better series.  

    The Terror by Dan Simmons.   Read by Simon Vance.  Great story and great narration.   An account of the ill-fated Franklin expedition's attempt to find the northwest passage that is fictional, but still realistic.  Dan Simmons does a remarkable job of including just the right kind of details, so that one feels that one is there, stuck in the ice-locked ship, along with the rest of the crew.  I found it a lot of fun, imagining that the  expedition was being stalked by Ithiqua, and in a case of art imitating art, these gentlemen already thought the same thing.

    The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.  (Outside of North America the novel is titled, Northern Lights). This book was a nice surprise for me, since I wasn't expecting much from a CD that I picked up in the young adult section in my local library, but I'm damned glad that I gave it a shot.   Despite being published in 1995, Philip Pullman is such an interesting writer that it feels as if the book was written during the Golden Age of science fiction.    The story is read by a complete cast, each one doing one or more characters, and they all do a commendable job.  I especially liked the voices of Lyra and Lord Asriel.  I feel that the next two books in the series, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, aren't nearly as good as the original, so I can't give them a full recommendation, but once the character of Will is introduced, you do get to hear his actor give a spot-on Daniel Radcliff impersonation.   
    Speaking of Harry Potter, I'm guessing that with all of the money backing up the franchise, that the production values of its audio versions would be outstanding, but I never cared enough for the written versions (or the movies) to give them a shot.   Perhaps someone else could enlighten us.   

    The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.   Read by Davina Porter.  Bradley's feminine take on the Arthurian legend is incredibly creative, and Davina Porter reads the books with a rich, emotional depth.   I could fall in love with that voice.   Not surprisingly, Ms. Porter has also been the recipient of a Golden Voice award.

    The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon.   Jewish noir at its finest.  Though I'm not sure if anyone else has ever attempted to write a Jewish noir novel.   The novel takes place in an alternate history America, where a real plan to settle Jewish refugees on the island of Sitka in Alaska actually game to fruition.   Narrator Peter Riegert captures the grim detective feel really well, and I especially like his work on the character of Berko Shemets, who reminds me of the tough, gruff uncle that everyone seems to have.

    Honorable Mentions:

    Just about anything by Cormac McCarthy.  So far I've worked my way through The Road, No Country for Old Men, and Blood Meridian.  McCarthy might be the best author writing today, but his books seem to be narrated by readers like Tom Stechschulte, who only have a one-note voice.   However, that best word to describe that one note is "weathered," and that happens to be the perfect kind of voice to narrate a Cormac McCarthy novel, so the end result works out really well.

    World War Z by Max Brooks.  This work is read by an large, all-star cast which includes such noteworthies as Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Rob and Carl Reiner, John Turturro, and Henry Rollins.   According to Wikipedia,  it won the 2007 Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance and was nominated for Audiobook of the Year.   Not surprising, considering the powerhouses that it had working on it.  However, there is a warning attached to this one:  for whatever reason, this book was abridged when converted to audiobook.   You are getting an incomplete experience and may find that some of your favorite stories are missing.

    Haunted by Chuck Palahnuik.  Haunted is a collection of horrific short stories  (important:  these stories are horrific not  horrorstories), seemingly designed to make you squirm uncomfortably while reading.   Each story is read by a separate performer, and the stories vary quite a bit in written quality and narration.  The stand-out work from the collection is "Guts."  An ex-girlfriend of mine made it a point to sit me down in her house and play this for me, ensuring that I wouldn't accidentally listen to it in public or while driving, and I will always love her for it.  Not only is "Guts" borderline self-flagellation to listen to, but it's narrator, Arthur Morey, reads it with a Christopher Walken-like cadence that propels the work to a level of mind-breaking absurdity.  "Guts" occurs early on in the book, so feel free to ignore the rest of the collection if it's not to your liking (I admit that the entire thing is definitely an acquired taste, though I did enjoy it immensely).   Even if you don't care for his work, you should try to sit through Chuck's first nightmare.

    Some things that I've learned the hard way:

    Keep an eye out for certain narrators when picking up an audiobook.  There are some readers that use the same, distinctive voice no matter what kind of book they are narrating.   For instance, George Guidell has the warm, soothing speaking manner of an older father-figure.   While that usually translates into an enjoyable experience, that type of voice definitely has it's niche and doesn't work well with certain kinds of stories.    On the other end of the annoyance spectrum is Scott Brick.  Now I think that Mr. Brick's voice is fair enough, and I can only wish that I was capable of speaking with similar clarity.  However, he apparently insists on overemphasizing every fourth word for no apparent reason.  Listening to him is like listening to someone overact while LARPing Vampire: The Masquarade.  I keep running into him because I don't always remember to check the narrator on the cover, or he happens to be reading a book that I'm really interested in (The Passage), but I'm passing on a fair warning to the rest of you.  

    Stephen King books suck.   When it comes to Mr. King, I have acquired the bitterness that only dwells within the disillusioned disciple.  I enjoyed him so much, back when he was young, hungry, and apparently willing to be edited, but every time I've given him another chance, the man has broken my heart and made me hate myself for going back to him.  I've forced myself to listen to Black House,I've slogged my way through the mammoth-sized Bag of Bones, which King narrated himself (remember:  stay away from authors reading their own books), and, despite my better judgement, I finished The Colorado Kid, which may be one of the worst audiobooks I have ever subjected myself to.   Now I think I get was King was trying to do with The Colorado Kid - he wanted to put the felling that one gets, living among the oldtimers in Maine, into words.   He's trying to convey their code of honor and their storytelling that he's grown to admire, but listening to it for hours was like listening to two old men fuck each other, slowly and incompetently.    

    This next one is probably obvious, but it gives me a chance to relate my worst audiobook experience ever:  Stay away from any book that has a religious agenda.  One day I was rushed for time at the library, and I grabbed a book titled, A Pagan's Nightmare,without closely examining it. I like pagans.   I like nightmares.   Putting the two together should have been as synergistic as combining peanut butter and chocolate, right?       Anyway, it turned out to be a book about a book, wherein a writer is showing off his new manuscript to his editor.  The writer's new book involves a post-rapture Earth where the last few "neutrals" are on the run from those left behind, who are trying to convert them to evil or eat them or something.   (It a fit of creativity, the author has even named one of the protagonists "Ned Neutral").   It doesn't really help that the editor keeps going on about what a gripping, addictive story the writer has brought him.  Not only is the book a complete piece of shit, but I suspect that the narrator realized it and decided to give the characters voices that simply parodies of themselves.  For instance, one character has an over-the-top redneck accent that probably doesn't occur in nature and Ned Neutral keeps his radio DJ voice constantly "on." Despite its train-wreck appeal, I just couldn't finish it.  I'm guessing someone got converted at the end or something.   If you're one of those sadists that loves watching terrible movies, you might enjoy this,  but keep in mind that life is short.

    So are there any recommendations anyone else wants to make?   Anything that you were curious about?  I've been a dedicated listener for over ten years, so I might have already listened to something that you're considering.

  • Automation and long days

    One of the things we try to do is automate as much of the backend work as possible.  We recently managed to automate our order entry into Quickbooks (i.e. the orders from our site download direct into QB - thus reducing the punch in time which was getting significant).  We've also got shipping 90% automated, with only the packing and weighing of the boxes and box sizes being the last bits we have to do.

     One thing we haven't done - which was brought to mind by 3 hours of work today - is the updating of stock levels.  That is, when new stock comes in, we still have to manually edit each product to show the new stock quantities.

  • Avast Ye Gamers - Merchants & Marauders Review

    The smell of the salt breeze. The creak of rigging in the air. You’re in sight of the port of Tobago, when you see a ship off in the distance, on an intercept course. Word from the crows-nest is that the ship has run up the fleur-de-lis. The French Navy! You order the crew to man their stations and load the cannons. As the larger ship draws closer, volleys of fire are exchanged, shattering masts and shredding sails. All at once, grappling hooks sail from the enemy ship. They’re trying to board! As the enemy pours onto your ship, your crew fights to the last man. Will you survive long enough to protect your precious gold and valuable cargo?

  • Avengers Rocks... Does it Matter?

    So on Friday night I hooked up with a couple of buddies of mine. We picked up some beer and headed on down to the beach. Guy’s night out. We sat there and discussed past Super Hero movies debating exactly how much it matters if Batman talks in a voice like Gomer Pyle and how it's odd that some people find it completely irrelevant whether or not his voice was comical to you. We discussed why X2, a movie with very little fireworks after the opening scene and with a pointless fight using X23, still managed to be the best of the bunch somehow (we left Incredible off the table believing it was unfair to the other movies). We discussed how Superman failed so miserably and what we liked and didn’t like about the series of movies leading up this new Avengers flick.

    We enjoyed the beers, watched the boats sit in the harbor, looked at the mountains and threw a ball for some guys dog since his owner didn't seem to care and we were suckers. We even lit up a spliff to get us into the appropriate 16 year old boy frame of mind needed to really enjoy this latest super hero blockbuster in all it's 3D glory.


    It was an excellent night.


    We then made our way down to the Cineplex, waited in an obscenely long line for 45 minutes just to get good seats, bought some over priced garbage food and sat down to wait for the film still arguing about past efforts but trying to be as polite about it as three 30 something (barely) guys half drunk/high can be in a quiet theatre. Everything was going great.


    Then the movie came on. It was fast, bombastic, funny, and generally pretty well done. The scenes for the evil dudes in evil dimension were perfectly set and felt utterly appropriate. The characters were all just how they should be (but get rid of Iron Man’s girlfriend already) and the movie couldn’t have been more by the numbers. He goes through a little re-introduction to all the characters pre build up and it’s all very much formula. I loved it. The movie does an excellent job of bringing unashamed comic book glory to the big screen. Finally movie goers can see what we comic book fans have been seeing for decades. Finally. But is that a good thing? Am I giving away my answer by asking the question? I remember watching Sin City in the theatre and that’s when I first realized that as well done as the film was putting a comic book on screen exactly as is, is the most pointless waste of celluloid out there.. I’m including porno. It accomplishes nothing except to insult the comic medium by assuming that simply because it’s a O MY GOD movie that you need to see it. I hate that mentality. That process should be treated the exact same way the novelization of Star Wars is treated. Not the spin off books, the novelization of the films. Avengers doesn’t do that, it is not the Ultimates no matter how many similarities it has. It’s just another take on the same stories we’ve heard a hundred times before. It’s one of the things I like about comic books. People get to take the characters out for a spin and put an individual touch on them. That can be a lot of fun and it’s amazing how different the stories can feel when new writers are brought on board.

    The Avengers gets this right. It’s not the same as any other Marvel story, not exactly anyway. It’s a Whedon stamped story, maybe even too much so at times. minor spoiler – there’s a scene where Captain America approaches the public during a major catastrophe and quickly gives some orders out to a cop. The cop looks at him incredulously and says: “Why should I listen to you” then three evil ass aliens show up and he makes quick and stylistic work of them. Instantly the cop turns around barking the orders Cap asked him to… it’s the same joke he used in the train episode of Firefly only it was better in Firefly. If you’ve seen that series, it’s the scene where they try to return the money and the first tough dude will not listen so they kick him into the engine - dead... and the second tough dude just agrees as quickly as possible. It was funny once Josh, your audience will recognize it. Not your new audience but your fans will. Spoiler over –

    It did feel like a hodge podge of things Whedon has done in the past put into a super hero film. That’s fine if you don’t know his work already but for the rest of us it might be irritating. There is a little too much nudge nudge wink wink going on in the film but none of these are things that bother me. No. What bothered me was not in the movie, it was the slow realization that I just like these characters better in a comic. You need the silly Whedon comedy in a movie. Its tough enough to take seriously as is, without the levity it would be a slog. You don’t need it in the comic, you can accept these ridiculous things at face value in a comic. Super Heroes are ideally suited to the comic format. They fit that world. In movie world things are too real, the costumes seem sillier, the dialogue laughable, the plot ludicrous but comics have relied on that for too long. I enjoy the Grant Morrison Justice League comics as impossibly stupid as they are but I only would enjoy them as a comic. You can go as over the top as you like and I will still find a way to read more into it and never feel stupid for doing so. The comic book is an incredible medium. I love looking at a double page spread and I love seeing all the panels laid out in front of me. I love figuring out how an image got from one still to the next. I don’t want it done for me, I don’t want to hear Cap America’s voice or see Loki’s insufferably shiny armour in real life. It looks stupid in real life.


    I’m not saying I don’t want more super hero movies, I do want more superhero movies. I’ve seen more Kung Fu flicks, Samurai flicks, Westerns, Romantic Comedies, Zombie flicks, War movies etc… then I have supers and I have more room for supers still. I am sick of every second reviewer saying enough with the super hero movies already. There isn’t that many, calm down. I will still watch them. Besides, like any producer can resist making more supers films now anyway. This thing is making obscene buckets of cash and all the greedy money grubbing producers will do anything they can to repeat that success. Plus all the comics I read now seem more and more like movie treatments, practically beggining some producer to turn them into films. Even the artists in the medium seem ashamed of their job as they instantly flock to any other medium that will have them.


    But even though I will still watch them they will never be as good as the comics for me. The Avengers is about as good as it could be and the Ultimates (it’s closest comic neighbor) still beats it in every way imaginable. I can’t shake the feeling that movies are sillier… in this setting, than comic books are. Movies make everything seem sillier, less realistic because you can see the cracks in the armour, you can tell the bolder is paper mache, and you know Hawkeye makes no sense in this world firing one arrow every ten seconds while his enemies fire off hundreds of bullets in the same time all missing him while he stand out in the open. You can buy that in a comic for some reason, the medium speaks to you differently.


    I’ll probably watch the Avengers again before I decide if it’s better than X2 or not. It’s not better than the Incredibles so just forget about that but it might be better than X2 and it certainly would be if X2 didn’t have those two voices saving line after line of dialogue that just wouldn’t work in the hands of mortals. Avengers doesn’t have those voices, but it is so unashamed and proud of it’s origins, stupid and silly as they are, that it’s impossible for me to not admire it. Not even the Spiderman movies are as unashamed of their origins as this one.


    So yes, the Avengers rocked. But it can never be as good as the Ultimates. I’ve read that book more times than I can count, I don’t know how many times I’ll watch the Avengers, but I’ll be able to count that high. I think movies, as much as I love them, are just as limited a medium as any other.


  • Averyfest: A Pictoral Guide

    Yes, I am so incredibly lame for waiting so long to post this but since the FatCast came out I was shamed into getting off my lazy ass to do it. This was the third year and I tried some news things. The most notable of which was sending my family packing. It made for a very easy time, but I dropped the ball on a few details that my wife would have been on top of.
    I am incredibly thankful to all those that participated and came down. THANK YOU!!!

    I also want to thank the Mystery benefactor who sent down a box of games.
    John Clowdus who brought a copy of Hemlock and Omen (two outstanding games) to everyone.
    And most of all, Richard Launius who lent out his clubhouse and helps me coordinate all the details.

    Left to Right
    Chris Tandimeyer (a strange Aeon) -ave-osrell (going incognito) and Dair

    Coming back from the airport, we decided to stop at The Varisty which is an Atlanta landmark: home of overpriced and incredibly greasy food.  It is definately between  somewhere 10th and 14th...NOT!  I circled 3 times. Duh.

    -ave will shortly thereafter suffer a Gran Mal heart attack after eating some unspecified fried food.

    Left to Right Dair, Bernie(Bstyles), Mjl(foreground), Zev, JoshLook(Foreground),Frank

    Morning BS session. There was a lot lot lot of BSing...

    Left to right ??, Jeremy(milliondollarMimring), Ian(gloocose), KenB

    More BSing and playing...Something.

    Left to Right   JoshLook and John Clowdus

    Drunk or concentrating. I can't tell which.  Playing Sentinals of the Universe.

    Frank with the very first copy of Battle Beyond Space.  I still can't get over him with short hair and beard.

    Left to Right Clowdus(Maybe?), Zev, MattLoter, Dair

    We kicked Loters ass in Fury of Dracula. He was a wiley one though...

    Left to Right MJL, aStrangeAeon,Frank,JoshLook

    Frank teaches Intrusion. Apparently it is much better with only 4...

    Left To Right Zev, RichardLaunius, JohnClowdus, Rilyen(Scott)

    The group tries out the latest incarnation of Richard's Spy game prototype at the clubhouse.

    Left to right KenB, -ave-oswell,Evilgit(Darric), MillionDollarMimring(Jeremy), Gloocose (Ian)
    The group slugs it out in Chaos in the Old World

    Left to right MattLoter, ??, BStyles, WillKenyon(Foreground), Dair

    Day2 The group fired up a day long game of TwilightImperium 3 (along with JoshLook and ?) On Day three the scene was exactly the same but with Game of Thrones instead.

    Left to Right, Chris, Zev, MJL, and Frank

    War of 1812. Chris, Zev and Mjl play the Canadian French/Indian agaist Frank and I americans. This game looks like a dry euro but plays GREAT. We pulled off a hard fought win for the Americans.

    That is about 1/2 of the photos that I took. Typically in the evenings  I would be a bit too buzzy to remember to take photos so many of them are in the mornings. Also I forgot ot take one with everyone wearing their F:ATtie shirt. Ah well.

    More photos to come in Part Deux


  • Axis of Allies: My problem with Allies in Magic: The Gathering


    The Allies mechanic in Magic: The Gathering seemed like a boon for me, since creatures of the similar type could team together and create special ability effects. Too bad in practice that rule is terrible.

    It's terrible because in the Zendikar block of cards Ally decks experience the worst of multicolour decks - because if you can't get a decent mana base you're screwed even if you do get an Ally ability triggered on your Highland Berserker, he'll be dead before you can cast another one to follow on. Out of all the decks I've played, the Ally deck mechanic has been even worse than my two Kamigawa decks I have from back in the day. There, I said it. Kamigawa as a block is less broken than the Allies mechanic - because if you don't have block exclusive abilities like Ninjutsu to worry about - then what's the problem with just using a straight out Kamigawa deck in a casual game? I've never had problems with the Kamigawa decks I have, good LORD - why is the Allies ability so broken?

    No matter how much I tweaked my Zendikar Allies deck, it just couldn't win a victory. To use an Australian analogy that doesn't even involve Mad Max for you to understand the context, it's like the New South Wales team in the past three State of Origin NRL series.

    Other decks in the Zendikar block like Kor and Vampire decks I've experienced fare much better. With a well built mana base and a good set of creatures that are both defensive and offensive with things like the much better designed Artifact Equipment mechanic and the Landfall mechanic, you can't go far wrong with either of these sorts of decks if you do what Queensland does every year at Origin time, good selection of players and good defense base as well as offensive. Each player in the team is there for a reason, not one of them should be weak or just there to throw away. Kor and Vampires are so far some of my favourite decks in the whole of the Magic game - you can identify what they are - they stand out and are intimidating. When you look at a Kor or a Vampires deck in Magic, you know they mean business just by looking at 'em, just like the Queensland Origin team every year.

    The Allies are more like the mess of players New South Wales selects every year, and even the best coach can't score a win if the players don't fit well together and they don't know what they're doing. The Allies just feel like they don't belong together - even decks which attack with non-Ally or similar special abilities do better in combat against them because by the time you get an Ally on the field, they're just smacked down and you can't get up again because your mana defense base is all broken up into two separate teams when really it should be working as a whole. Kamigawa on the other hand did multicolour decks really, really well because it felt like the two colours for each deck could really belong together.

    Don't get me started on the mess that is being a Blue colour Planeswalker - I tried to go down that road long ago and failed miserably because the decks I play against are both offensive and defensive. Also, I didn't even bother getting a Blue/Green Allies deck because I knew from playing a Green/Red deck, formerly a surefire Alastatian-like attack hound force when I was playing Kamigawa in casual games, Allies just bumble along getting knocked about before they can even trigger their abilities. The summoning sickness is what gets them, they've lost the fight before they even get stuck in! While the Allies are bumbling around with summoning sickness, a much more powerful Caravan Hurda with Trusty Machete equipped not only kills the puny Highland Berserker while it has summoning sickness, but it gains even more life while doing so!

    Allies in Magic no longer seemed like the hope they were when I picked up the game again this year. They're like the New South Wales Origin team's repeated failures to launch any sign of victory - throwing up the while flag before the fighting even got good. Sure you may score one goal against the other team, but they're slaughtering you in points anyway.

  • Aye, Dark Master!

    Min, Mok, and Kop lay in an obsequious fashion before Rigor Mortis’ throne.  The Overlord had not entered the chamber as of yet.  But, his appearance was inevitable.

    A swash of cloth on the flagstones heralded their master’s arrival.  A slight grunt issued as he sat down.  There was a long moment before he spoke, but when he did, it sounded like a voice from a sepulcher.  “Face me.”

    All three goblins sat up with fearful eyes as they regarded their master.  They all noted that he was in one of his moods, and more than likely, one of them would not be leaving this room alive. Or, at least, with the same amount of body parts.

    “My map for an eldritch sword, which I was planning to use to cement my supremacy, was carried off by the wind.  I sent you three: Min, Mok, and Kop to find it.  Seeing that you do not have it in your possession, I want to know why!”  Rigor Mortis’s head barely moved as he scanned the trio of horrified faces. He pointed at a goblin.  “You, Mok, where is my scroll!?”

    Mok gulped and began, “My lord, we were on our way to get the map you earnestly desired but we were attacked by a DRAGON on the way!”

    Min scoffed, “NO, WE WEREN’T! We were attacked by Mucilage, O embroiderer of tall tales!”

    Kop huffed, “Actually, it was –“

    “SILENCE!!!!”  Mortis’ voice echoed of the stone walls, magnifying the sound to a horrible pitch.  All three goblins prostrated themselves.  Another long moment passed before their lord spoke again.  “Face me.”

    They did so.

    “Now then,” Rigor Mortis queried. “Min, how were you going to deal with the Mucilage?”

    Min brightened. “Well, I just so happened to have the Howling Book!” he said, proudly.

    “WHAT!?  MY BOOK?” Rigor Mortis roared. “You don’t know how to read, much less cast, chucklehead!”

    Min’s pride evaporated just as quickly as it came.  “I, - I- I realized that when I opened it, Illustrious Lord of Doom.  So, I thought to lure it out into the sun, thereby destroying it.”

    Kop cackled at the reply.  “That totally didn’t work!  You’re just lucky a tornado scooped up the monster and turned it into puree!”  The goblin laughed conspiratorially to Rigor Mortis, but when he noticed his master’s taciturn stare remain unchanged, Kop lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.

    Rigor Mortis regarded his minions with disdain.  “So, Kop…”

    Kop blanched.

    “What happened after the ‘monster’ was dealt with?”

    Gulping loudly, Kop replied, “We – we kept the map in sight as it fluttered away from us and we came to a bridge straddling a deep river.  I was ready to go across, my lord, but the others,” Kop pointed at the shocked duo, “refused to follow me over.”

    Rigor Mortis leaned closer to Kop, eyes locked on his. “So?  Why didn’t you cross??”


    Rigor Mortis’ eye brow arched with a hard stare.

    Kop knew that look.  “MERCY, MY LORD!! I was afraid of heights and if I were to die, who would lead those nincompoops?”

    Mortis leaned back and chuckled darkly.  “True, Kop.”  He glanced at Mok and asked, “Why didn’t you cross?”

    Mok bowed his head.  “There was a huge flesh golem in the way!”

    “So?”  Mortis returned, standing up from his throne, “You’ve fought those mindless automatons before!  They are intrinsically stupid!!  Is there something you are not telling me?”

    Mok licked his cracked lips slowly before replying.  “Does it matter if the thing was holding a tree the size of a house and seemed intent on destroying the bridge should anyone tried to cross it??”

    Rigor Mortis frowned, but sat down, mollified.

    Mok continued, “I thought it best that we leave the area and asked our fearless ‘leader’ where we should go to get to the other side.”

    The necromancer turned an expectant gaze to Kop, who shrank under it.

    “I- , I- I knew there was a calmer place down river so we could cross!”

    “Really?” Mortis spat. “You would waste time trying to go a roundabout route to get to my precious map?!”


    Rigor Mortis’ face glowered further.  “Give me one good reason why I don’t caramelize you right now.”

    “I- I’m sorry, Lord of the Deadliest Dead! I thought-“

    His hand wreathed in a crackling nimbus of energy, Rigor Mortis casually flicked it at Kop, flambéing him.  As the body flailed and yipped, the necromancer bellowed, “You are a GOBLIN!!!  You are NOT SUPPOSED to think!  You are supposed to FOLLOW ORDERS!!!”  His eyes fell upon the remaining goblins who cowered together in terror.

    “LEAVE ME!!!”

    The only response that the Overlord received was a rush of wind from the goblins’ expeditious retreat.

  • B.O.B.

    I'm doing the B.O.B. on T.O.S. It's not Christmas themed, and sounded like a Yankee Swap, where the idea is to send people stupid crap, so I decided it would be fun. When I signed up, however, I was only thinking that I would get to send someone some crazy shit. I totally wasn't thinking that someone would be sending me some crazy shit.

    So now it looks like whomever pulled my name found his way over here to F:AT, and now knows just about all anyone needs to know if their intention were to send someone some crazy shit. 

    I, on the other hand, get some dude that owns like 700 games, but is totally invisible on the internets.  He doesn't even have an Amazon wish list for goodness sake. I like trying to find people's amazon lists. 



  • Back In Time - Innovation: Echoes of the Past Review

    For my money, no game released in 2010 was as excellent as Carl Chudyk's Innovation. It took the fascinating tactical card play from classics like San Juan and paired it with the bracing chaos of a game like Cosmic Encounter. For me, that's an intoxicating blend. For other people, it really isn't. My first game of Innovation was so off the wall that two players quit in disgust before the end of the game. Their loss, I say. Innovation feels different every time, and those who stick it out will find a real treat.

    But I confess, I was a little skeptical about Echoes of the Past. Innovation is a very dynamic game, and it was able to pull that dynamism off because at its core, the rules were simple. If they cluttered that up, the game might completely collapse. Any expansion to this already chaotic game could overload the whole thing, like putting too much Tobasco on your food. And indeed, Echoes of the Past does increase the insanity of Innovation. But it does so in the best way it possibly could. Instead of making the whole thing too intense, it deepens and fills out the experience. Innovation was already terrific, but Echoes of the Past makes it even better. 

    Three main things are added to the game. The first is the ability to "forecast." Essentially, some cards let you draw a card and store it in on your player mat. When you use a meld action later on, you can also meld a forecasted card of equal or lesser value, and then immediately take its dogma effect. This is the strangest rule to understand, but if you time it right, you can do some serious damage. An "I Demand" action that is suddenly sprung on your opponents is pretty devastating. It's also nice to have a little more knowledge of what you have coming up. You can "tech up" faster if you fall behind on icons. 

    The second addition is one of bonuses. These take the place of an icon on some expansion cards, and they count towards your score for all purposes, mostly claiming achievements. That means if you get the right splay, you can reveal more points. This sounds pretty powerful, but only the highest visible bonus counts for its full amount. The other bonuses just bring one point each. I am a big fan of this addition, because it evens out a lot of the clumpiness of scoring. There are now far more cards that can give you a boost in points. There's still some luck of the draw, as there should be, but it's now a rare time when I am unable to get any points at all. 

     The third and best addition is echo effects. These are, in essence, mini-dogmas. Like bonuses, they also occupy an icon's slot. If they are revealed in a splay, they add onto the dogma effect of the top card. If you use that action, you occupy all of the echo effects, bottom to top, before resolving the top one. They are treated exactly like dogma effects, so if you are a fan of sharing effects, you could end up helping your opponent a lot. I can't overstate how much I enjoy this effect. It increases the "Innovation-ness" of the game by resolving a huge string of effects. That means more wild synergies, more dynamism, and more considerations when using a dogma effect. 

    In fact, the whole expansion adds to the "Innovation-ness" of the game. Innovation, at its best, goes to the 9th or 10th age, and the card combinations become highly unpredictable. That happens more often with Echoes of the Past. I've only had one game end from the achievement rush in age 6 or 7, and that was largely from some careless effect-sharing. I now find it easier to push the ages forward when I get behind on achievements. But the push isn't too far in that direction. There are also many more ways to achieve, so what it really does is allow you a little more flexibility in your game. 

     This sounds like it adds a lot to the game, and that's sort of true. But if you've played, say, five games of the base game, this shouldn't be a tough adjustment. In fact, all of the additions feel very organic to the experience as a whole. But I should warn, this is definitely "advanced" Innovation. I wouldn't introdue this to new players right off the bat under any circumstances. But I would recommend that ANYONE who enjoys this game buy the expansion. It adds a lot of meat to the game, but the effect is similar to playing Agricola with or without Occupations and Minor Improvements. It's easier to teach without the expansion, but when someone is ready, you move them to the full game. 

    More annoying is the increased setup time, which is a little obnoxious with the expansion. Each age uses a certain number of base game cards, and a certain number of expansion cards. So you need to sort a lot of cards before and after each game. It'd be a bigger problem if the game was a shorter affair. But with Echoes thrown in, the game edges closer to an hour long, even with just 2 or 3 players. You can now play with up to five people, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. The game supports it, but it's clearly not committed to the idea, since there are only 4 expansion player aids in the box. 

     That's a very small trade-off, however. The truth is, Echoes of the Past feels like the "full version" of Innovation. I've played a few games without it, and the base game alone feels thin now. I would even venture to say that this is one of the best expansions I've played for any game ever. It does everything an expansion should do. It makes the gameplay better in almost every facet, and it does so without forcing you to forget old rules. Nothing feels bolted on or forced. It could have been a cluttered mess, but instead it's a masterpiece of an expansion for what was already a pretty terrific game.

    Holy crap! This review is posted on my blog, The Rumpus Room. Check it out, leave some comments.

  • Backlog Attack 2015 -- Update

    I noted on the VIDEO GAME thread that I was participating in a Backlog Attack--an effort to get through some of the games that have been building up in my inventory. With Humble Bundles, sick multiple platforms, and an actual job that people pay me money for; I am officially spoiled for choice with respect to my gaming hobby. 

  • Bad Battlestar

  • Bad Game Art (The Cracked LCD "Lost Episode")

    Back during E3, the folks at Gameshark were just too busy to fool with board games.  Abner was living it up on some kind of press junket at E3 and the surrogate editor didn't have an opportunity to get my article up.  So the "Lost Episode" was born.

  • Bad loser

    First thing you notice when entering this hobby, is that this is a social hobby, sure there are some solitary games but that's not the forté of this hobby. 

    At the heart of the hobby lies the social interaction between the different players and that can significantly affect your experiences with games, the same game played with different game groups can result in vastly different experiences.

    For me it's one of the great things of this hobby, you get pitted against other people (usually with better A.I. than is currently programmed in your video-games), you get to meet a diverse crowd of people and make some friends amongst them.

    Surely this provides no shortage of annoying things to put up with, but as long as you're having fun you can overlook most of them.  However, there's somethings that I just don't like and will kill my experience and discourage me from playing that person again.

     I've discovered that a bad loser annoys me, this hobby is a social one that emphasizes the use of the mind not brute force, thus one would expect to play with gentlemen and grown up men but that's not always the case when:

    -the player says he was unlucky, he would've beat you if that die roll had turned out differently, really?  I mean a game is full with decisions and a win can be pretty narrow at times, but trust me if you've played it differently from the beggining maybe the game would've been different and the score would have reflected it.  Having a bad roll can hurt but you're playing a game with dice so already knew from before that you'd have to accept the results of the dice.

    -the player says you won because you got a card that granted you the win, really?  Well, unless some bizarre M:TG card that might or not exist, I don't think there's a card that really hands you a win, most of the time you have to make them work but please learn that sometimes no matter how well prepared you are life will throw you unexpected obstacles, it's ok if you complain the first time but if you're already an experienced player then don't complain, if it's such a ruiner for you then don't play the game anymore.

    -they curse you, well most certainly this isn't what I came for, so just turn around and go before the punches start flying.

    -the player lectures you and how you got lucky and won not because you were better, but because some error he made or something he missed.  Well, you can talk all you can but actions speak for themselves, so deal with it.

    When playing please be nice and if you lose make sure you congratulate your fellow gamer as he just earned it, if you're bitter don't take it out on the guy, let some steam off and think of the mistakes you made and how you could've won, maybe next time you'll win and you'll appreciate playing a well mannered gamer.

  • Bakugan: The Ultimate Option for your "Trashers-In-Training"

  • Balancing My Fun and My Family

    I assumed that as The Spawn got older I would have more time for my own personal interests. It makes sense, doesn't it? At 13, she doesn't require constant supervision. She can entertain herself. I can leave her alone in the house without being arrested for child neglect. She spends most of her evenings doing homework anyway. Unfortunately, I have found that I seem to have less free time and am generally more exhausted than when she was 8 - 10 years old.

  • Banditos in Review

    Banditos, a new and rather under-the-radar game from Baksha games, isn’t going to win any awards for its design. It’s a disorganized, somewhat sloppy game plagued with a badly written and confusing set of rules that fail to convey the relative simplicity of its gameplay. The enormous card deck which drives the game is ridiculously bloated with redundant cards. It’s an amateurish mistake- throwing in the kitchen sink instead of brandishing the editor’s machete. The first third of it tends to be oddly paced and hesitant, with players waiting to fish multiple cards out of that giant deck to really get the game started. There are a couple of errors and the card backs are poorly printed with indistinguishable markings between decks. Banditos, a game about robbing banks, looks like a heist gone wrong at the outset.

  • Barnes on Film - Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)

    Nicholas Cage is...good again?

  • Barnes on Games - Armada Ships/Marrakesch/Falling Sky in Review, Lord of the Ice Garden, Deadzone

    Yay, new Armada ships.