May 30, 2003
Basketball: Spurs win
I actually missed the game last night and a bunch of the other games as well due to being out playing games but it is really too bad that two of the most important series this year were significantly effected by injury, with both the Kings and Mavericks losing their best player early in the series. Anyway, congratulations to the Spurs and to Steve Kerr, who I've always liked even from back when he was in college at Arizona, for having a great game. I hope and expect the Spurs will run over the Nets and Duncan and Robinson will get their well-deserved championship.
May 29, 2003
World Poker Tour in LA
I've been watching the World Poker Tour for a while on the Travel Channel and its been quite interesting but last night's episode at the Commerce Casino was definitely the best I've seen. I am not surprised that Gus won for a second time (I didn't see the first one) as his aggression clearly had the other players terrified, even very good players like Andy Bloch. Having watched Gus bet and showdown terrible hands, clearly trying to later set up traps, the other players seemed terrified of betting into him and thus possibly walking into a trap. Interestingly, Gus even seemed to benefit from being in early position, totally against the norm, as it allowed him to dictate the play and nobody was daring to raise him, even when he checked. I could never play anything like his style but it seemed damn effective last night. His bluffs also successfully bought him a bunch of calls of bigger bets later, just as he wanted. He really did get screwed in the hand where the player getting kicked out hit QQ on the Turn and announced it, causing Daniel to bail when otherwise Gus might have taken him for a bunch and still went on to win. Well played, Gus.
May 28, 2003
This is a game which in theory I quite like but there often seem to be problems in playing it. The basic idea of the game is that players make little clay sculptures which the other players then try to guess what they are which is a very neat idea. Unfortunately, I think the scoring system is quite problematic and encourages various behaviors which are not helpful to the game. I therefore take the principal that I will do my best but I will ignore the scoring system as far as trying to 'game the system'. Others, however, are not bound by this and do things like misorienting a figure during the early stages when guesses of it would cost them points and then reorienting it correctly when guesses start to result in positive points which to me is just plain not cool. Also, people seem to have a lot of trouble answering the simplest questions, either to be intentionally misleading or to be incredibly pedantic. Last night, a person made a 'dolphin' sculpture and was asked 'Does this animal [we already knew it was an animal] mostly live in the water?' He answered 'No' because it always lives in the water and was not trying to screw around, but just being ridiculously pedantic. The last time I played, someone made a 'pencil' and was asked 'Is this object used for writing?' and answered 'it can be' to intentionally confuse people when 'Yes' was assuredly the only reasonable answer (all unspecified questions are assumed in this game to have a 'predominantly' modifier on them).
There was also a funny and sad thing in that one person had made a shape that looked much like a 'bullet' but two of us guessed that and it was wrong. We later learned it was made mostly of metal, was found in a home but not a kitchen, and was around 1-2 inches long. In addition, three of us had 3 letters for it: I knew it was B*RY and two others knew it was BAT* and yet it remained unguessed. I finally figured out it was a battery but by then (5 minutes late) was out of guessing cubes and couldn't guess that and win. I don't know why we all had so much trouble with it.
May 27, 2003
Memorial Day Gaming
Played games at two different locations yesterday. First up was Mare Nostrum which was very pretty and had some neat elements but the diplomacy factor was just too high for me and I think there are a few other difficulties as well. I won with the Pyramids sudden-death victory which also significantly shortened the game.
I then played Amun-Re and made quite a few mistakes, definitely my worst played game of this. I surpirisingly came back to be only a few points off the lead as I played an 'all or nothing' strategy at the end which paid off.
At Nick's, I taught two people Carcassonne and enjoyed it more than usual. We then played Celebrities but I realize more and more that I vastly prefer to play with the set names of Time's Up, particularly since one person I regularly play with consistently puts in names that basically none of the other players have ever heard of. This is both no fun for the other players and a significant advantage for his team as he is the only person who could reasonably figure out these names. We regularly throw out more than half the names he puts in after the first round (often by a 6-2 or 7-1 vote as well) but the damage is done and, despite strenuous objections and his names being thrown out, he keeps doing this. Unfortunately for me, pretty much everyone else prefers Celebrities. In addition, as usual the winning team was quite predictable from the beginning (although with a different randomizing, it could have been a complete blowout). This is not a big deal to me for this game but certainly isn't a good thing. I finally ended the evening with two games of Tichu during which I got terrible cards (no Tichu calls by me in either game which may be a record) and we lost both pretty convincingly with very little we could have done about it. I love this game but once players are all of a certain skill level, it does get to be pretty random, based on which team gets the cards.
May 22, 2003
This whole thing is pretty bizarre. A week ago Sunday, I had a bunch of games in my car to be taken to MIT SGS and a neighbor of mine noticed them and put a note on my car with his email address and noting that he also played German games at his house. I emailed him back and he turns out to literally be my next door-neighbor. Apparently we have both been to at least one even together but that event had 100+ people and I didn't recognize him when we met last night. Interestingly, I din't recognize any of his group. I guess this just goes to show that there are a lot of German gamers in the Boston area!
Well, turns out they play at his house every other week on Wednesday so I went last night and had a nice time. I will probably start going semi-regularly on these every-other Wednesdays.
Played You're Bluffing/Kuhhandel last night for the first time. Bluff trading game of a type I am not a big fan of but I liked this one pretty well. I got blasted in two trades but in most of the others did pretty well and won.
We then closed with Wizard which I used to play all the time and now only rarely but I still really like it. I made every bid in a 6 player game but only ended up 3rd even though I was the only one to do this. I don't think I have ever before seen that happen. There were two reasons for this I think. One was that I just didn't have good cards and so made very low bids and one player kept getting incredible cards so beat me despite missing at least two bids as he was often bidding 3 to my 0 the rest of the time. The other is that I think in general a few more bids than I am used to were made as players weren't quite as nasty as my regular Wizard group used to be. Well played game, however.
Movies: Star Trek: Nemesis
I didn't go see this in theaters and am now glad I didn't. This was one of the worst ST movies yet. The plot made no sense. The regular Romulans were far more interesting than Shinzon and the Remans. The Shinzon-Picard thing did nothing for me. And then there were the particular technical things. Why, if this personal transporter thing is so effective, doesn't everyone have one? Why does this ship with a massive advantage in the battle waltz up so close to be able to be rammed (if that is an effective move which it damn well shouldn't be)? Why does Picard beam over alone rather than sending over a bomb or at least your best fighter (Worf?). Why in the battle are they shooting randomly at the cloaked ship rather than tracking where the weapons fired at them are coming from and targeting the source (admittedly moving)? Nothing in this movie worked for me and almost nothing made any sense. Cool visuals and fight scenes were all it had going for it. **
May 21, 2003
Game: Balloon Cup
Finally played this last night and liked it much better than I expected. This is the first published game designed by Stephen Glenn, who is a friend of mine and all-around nice guy. However, he and I for the most part like somewhat different games and I thought this one would be too light for me. However, it turns out to, at least on first play, be much deeper than I expected, even heavily encouraging card-counting. The object of the game is to get 3 of the 5 available trophies and I kept hearing that the game always ended 3-2 which suggested to me that it was likely pretty random and just a matter of who got lucky to get the last one. I now think that the 3-2 outcomes, while likely very common, are due to quite a bit of skill in choosing the right battles, taking the right chances and of course some card luck. Recommended after one play. Initial rating: 7.5 and I will definitely buy it. Congratulations, Stephen!
Well, this episode really didn't work for me. Way too much happened way too fast. Mrs. Palmer switches to the good side even though she thinks it will get her killed. Kingsley and all his guys are pretty much single-handedly killed by Jack, despite him barely being able to move. Palmer is restored. And finally, an assassin gets to him with trivial ease, kind of a joke on the plot of the prior season, don't you think. It seems clear that next season will start immediately after this one (or perhaps a few days or weeks delayed to give people a chance to sleep is more likely) ended which doesn't seem a good choice but then, this show has made all sorts of bad choices IMHO and still kept working based on its amazing action/suspense.
TV: Buffy Finale
Well, quite an impressive episode although a bunch of things seemed to be kind of out of nowhere, particularly the slayer empowering. Still, a bunch of really nice individual moments (Willow + her squeeze, Buffy + Spike, D&D game with Giles, Faith + Wood) for all the main players to shine. I wonder how they are going to bring Spike back for Angel and what the effects on Angel and any future spinoffs will be of the empowerment thing? How many girls are now Slayers?
Congratulations to Joss Whedon and all the cast on a wonderful run. Both the writing and acting were consistently first-rate.
May 20, 2003
This is a really fun series! I am now halfway though after getting Disc 1 from Netflix and then, when I enjoyed it, borrowing the whole series form Bill. The characters are all interesting and likable and the world they inhabit even more so. I keep waiting for them to learn what is special about Ein, the 'data dog', set up from the beginning. My favorite little scene so far is the shot of VT the space trucker's cat in freefall.
Sports: Mavs-Spurs Game 1
Well, it certainly was a very good game as expected. An amazing comeback by the Mavs and even better display of freethrow shooting. 49 for 50 (98%) and the one they missed was the first one taken so 49 in a row. This may be quite a good series. I worry that the Spurs just don't have the necessary killer-instinct to finish teams off however.
May 19, 2003
Sports: NBA Playoffs
Well, I am pretty happy with the NBA playoffs so far. The Celtics lost but truthfully made it farther than I expected they would. Getting swept is pretty depressing but they just don't have the overall talent level to compete at this point. The Nets and Pistons are both pretty uninteresting teams but do have a fair amount of talent. I won't be watching much of their series however.
In the West, I was rooting for the both the Spurs and Mavs. I have been for the Lakers the last couple of years but they have had enough time at the top and Duncan deserves a shot for the title. The Mavs have a style that is just really fun to watch with great shooting and Nash's incredible drives into the middle which seem to get him in trouble surprisingly little - somehow he always manages to dribble back out or make a pass to an open shooter. I expect they won't be able to handle Duncan or the open shots he will get his teammates but we'll see. Should be fun one way or the other. I of course do feel bad for Chris Webber who has become a vastly better player (and passer) than he was when he entered the league and played in Washington. It does seem very likely the Kings would have won the series with Webber playing.
May 16, 2003
Richard Stallman, founder of GNU and the Free Software Foundation, came here to BU to talk yesterday. I had heard him talk on the radio, video and read some of his writings but this was my first time seeing him speak in person. He turned out to be an excellent speaker, with lots of humor; somewhat unexpected from my previous knowledge of him and how radical and abrasive his reputation is. At the end of the talk, he did put on a Gnu (the animal) smock and a disc Halo to become the Saint Ignutius which really is pretty appropriate given his unswerving vision and devotion to his cause. This was my favorite line from his talk (paraphrased):
There came a point where the Free Software Foundation had enough money to hire a full-time developer. I [Stallman], as president of the FSF, had to decide whether to hire Stallman [me] or someone else. I realized, though, that hiring Stallman would be like throwing the money away as we could get him to work for free so we hired the other person.
At the end of the talk, however, his abrasiveness came through when it came time for questions. He handled questions possibly worse than any speaker I have ever seen, despite all the questions being pro-FSF. He interrupted questions to make a point and then, once the question was asked, basically completely ignored it to say something else. He also was horrible at accepting thank-yous for his work. Still, a very interesting talk and I was quite glad I went.
I also imagine his speaking skills, which really were good, are entirely learned and not at all natural and think of this as a positive sign. Thanks, RMS, for your great work. You really are a modern day Saint.
May 15, 2003
Movies: Finding Forrester
Well, I enjoyed this movie and thought the characters of Jamal and Forrester were both exceedingly likable and well-done by Brown and Connery. However, I really just don't find Jamal believable - superstar basketball player, genius writer liked by everyone who reads his stuff, able to fit in well as if he was an average guy with his Bronx public school friends and with most of the elite at the prep school he transfers to, well-adjusted with a great brother and mother despite his father leaving the family over drug and alcohol abuse, etc.... No single thing is a problem but in combination I just don't buy it so could never really get into this movie, despite liking the characters. ***1/2
TV: West Wing finale
Well, the finale makes me even more worried about this show. The last few episodes have definitely had that jumping the shark feeling. It is now clear that getting rid of Hoines so suddenly was just to set this episode up. None of this has been what this show has been about for me in the past or why I liked it so much. This show has not been about action or cliffhangers or major shake-ups. It has been about a group of intelligent, real people trying to do their best to run a country and be faithful to their ideals. The events they have had to deal with have been believable and often reflective of real events. None of the recent events (Hoines, kidnapping, 25th amendment) have met that standard and bunched together they are a major and almost certainly bad sign. I will keep watching at the start of next season but I have a really bad feeling that the best times for this show are over and won't return.
May 13, 2003
TV: Survivor Amazon Finale
Well, Jenna won and in an amazing 6-1 vote which I find incredible. Why did Kristy and Deena vote for her? She did almost no work around camp, relied almost entirely on her alliance with Heidi and Alex and whined all the time. Yes, she did win the 2nd to last immunity challenge where her head was on the block to survive, but is this enough? I don't count the last challenge as worth much given that Matthew threw it and Rob was something of a loser at all the physical challenges. I understand although don't agree with why Rob voted against Matthew as he never had any respect for him, treating him as his dupe the whole way, not realizing that Matthew had done a pretty amazing job of learning the game and was playing quite well at the end, such as his semi-alliance with Jenna to get her vote against Butch and realizing he had a better chance against her in the final two than against Rob. Going into the reading of the votes, I had expected Matthew to definitely have Butch, Kristy and Deena and Jenna to have Heidi and Alex (and Rob only because of what he said as he cast his vote) and I thought it would be 4-3 based on Dave's vote. Oh well, what a disappointing surprise. I think Matthew definitely deserved to win far more based on his survival skills, his contributions to the tribe and his amazing ability to learn the game on the fly from starting at nothing.
Obviously, though, the most interesting character this year was Rob. Immature and wimpy, he was the ultimate schemer and really did understand the game and the players better than anyone else. I think he did have one major weakness however: he schemed just too much, never able to leave things be when they were going well for him. He made two great moves in the game of getting rid of Dave who was probably the strongest of the players and who Rob was super-jealous of and of betraying the AHJ alliance at just the right moment. However, his move to get rid of Kristy was a bad one, even when it worked and could have backfired. Despite Kristy's stupid indecisiveness, he always had 3 of the 6 votes and probably 4 and was in a position to just coast to the final 4 so why fuck with that? I guess Rob in a way had the same problem as Kristy although for a very different reason; nobody was likely to want to take him into the final two and he wasn't likely to win the final challenge to take himself. Kristy nobody wanted because it seemed like she would get a sympathy vote as a very likable, deaf woman who played well. Rob wasn't wanted because everybody respected his ability at the Game and in the past that has been rewarded by juries (Richard and Brian to name two), even overlooking past betrayals. Anyway, quite a good season, particularly the second half with the tribes merged.
May 12, 2003
Went to play games at D's place on Sunday for a while but left early to cook dinner for my Mom. She had gone to the Opera with a friend in the afternoon and ended up getting to my place a bit later than first anticipated but that was fine and I had a chance to prepare more in advance. At her request, I made cheese Fondue and we had a couple of bottles of wine, salad and the last part of a loaf of bread I had gotten from Henretta's Kitchen (which is delicious and huge but super-expensive). Everything was excellent if I do say so myself and after dinner we watched Amelie (below) although I took a break in the middle in order to cook up K's recipe for Creme de la Provence, a wonderful French mini chocolate upside down cake, served with ice cream and strawberries. Very nice day.
After dinner, I was feeling the wine so took a walk in the wonderfully cool evening air by the Charles and said hi a couple of times to a pair of geese who were a little upriver from their usual location.
I saw it in the theater last year and Amelie DVD a while ago but finally found a chance to watch it yesterday with Mom after dinner. What an absolutely wonderful movie. It is currently #18 on IMDB's list of the all-time best movies and rightly so. All of the characters are absolutely perfect for their parts, particularly Audrey Tautou with her amazing ability to convey information just using facial expressions. One of my all-time favorite movies and massively recommended to everyone who can handle subtitles (the movie is French). *****
May 08, 2003
After one of the worst ever episodes of Buffy last week, this episode was absolutely excellent. I don't object to the group deposing Buffy as leader last week but Dawn throwing her out of the house just made no sense at all, 100% out of character. This week, all of the 'hook ups' were wonderfully handled and then Buffy using her brains and speed to get around Caleb's strength was an excellent scene. I have high hopes for the show's finale.
Oh, as I mentioned Two Cathedrals earlier, Buffy's Once More, With Feeling is another of my favorite hours of television ever, and particularly memorable as it was such a departure from the normal episodes. BTW, this is from someone who generally hates musicals but the writing and performances in this episode were unbelievably good.
Well, the Angel season finale was a major 'shake things up' episode and I'm glad. Lila was one of my favorite characters and I am very glad she is back and I have never been able to stand Connor so losing him is also all good. This show has been kind of coasting and needed some change to liven it up.
Not a great show, but better than Voyager at least. The episode last night, however, while in a way a good one, really pushed my anti-Trek buttons however. How are they meeting the Borg now and getting lots of data on them now and in the future the Next Generation crew will not know anything about them. This doesn't make any sense and they may do some time-travel shit to erase it but things like that are just incredibly annoying. One of the main points of science fiction is building on past discoveries and this show almost NEVER does this, making advances for a single show that are completely forgotten the next week. Compare this to Babylon 5 where everything they learn they build on, sometimes a season or more later.
The second button this episode pushed is my 'Transporter as Weapon' button. The Captain beams over (using a not completely safe transporter) to the Borg ship to walk around and then plant some explosive charges. This is just INSANE, dangerous and ineffective. Beam over a bomb and just blow them to hell: safe, fast and easy.
TV: The West Wing
This has probably been my favorite show for the past several years and is about the only one I reliably watch live. However, the last two episodes have not been great and I hear Aaron Sorkin is leaving the show after this season which may ruin it. I sincerely hope this doesn't happen. Thanks, Aaron, for a great show and a great run so far.
The 2nd season episode Two Cathedrals is IMHO one of the best things ever done on series television.
Movies: X2: X-Men United
Significantly better than the first one and probably one of the best sequels ever. Also definitely the best group superhero movie ever (I think I still like the original Batman better). Focus was on the action and plot much more than character development and with this many characters I think this was an excellent choice, particularly when so many people have read the comics and already know far more about the characters than you could show anyway.
The Magneto escaping prison scene was spectacular and by far my favorite of the movie. The only scene which really struck me as wrong is why Magneto didn't kill Stryker when leaving in the helicopter rather than just chaining him up. Strongly recommended, particularly if you read the comic book. ****
Took the day off yesterday to get my hair cut, see X2 and do a few other things. Was a really nice day and I quite enjoyed it. Also caught up on some TiVo'd stuff and, as I walked by an EMS, continue to think more and more seriously about getting a kayak for on the Charles and some light coastal paddling. I want something light enough I can carry it from my house to the river (about 3 blocks) but that still is reasonably quick and tracks well and of course is comfortable. I have seen a couple of possiblities but would really like to try them before buying and am not sure how I can do that.
May 06, 2003
Games: Mystery of the Abbey
I just sent this to a couple of games mailing lists but figured to also post it here.
Kudos to Bruno's Mystery of the Abbey site
I just want to express admiration for Bruno Faidutti's web site supporting the new release of Murder in the Abbey (now called Mystery of the Abbey) at http://faidutti.free.fr/jeux/mystere/mystere.html This is probably the best web site by a designer supporting his game I have ever seen. I hope others follow suit in the future!
He provides great information on the history of the game, the graphic design (I also much prefer the Delval cover design), a few FAQ answers, and my favorite of all, the 'Tactical Hints' page at
http://faidutti.free.fr/jeux/mystere/mysteremoines.html .html This is kind of a strategy guide but from the perspective of four different monks with very different personalities and plans. In my first game of the original where I was totally lost, I won playing the "Novice Severin" strategy ;) :
Freshly settled in the Abbey, Novice Severin still carries with him the enthusiasm and naive demeanor of his youth. Watching his brethren with bemused benevolence; he finds it hard to believe that a murder was committed in so sacred a place. Trusting in the judgment of others and his lucky star, he's eager to help and is often the first to run to Chapter Hall.
Try to guess what the other players are thinking, what they are looking for, taking the risk of following them onto wrong leads. Make revelations early and often (assume the culprit is bearded the minute you?ve crossed out more shaved monks, for instance) and do not hesitate to accuse monks that others seem to suspect ? even if you have no proof of your own.
Kudos to Bruno!
ps. I also quite recommend the game although it won't be for everyone as it is a chaotic deduction game which is almost an oxymoron but very well done. I don't yet have my copy of the new version in hand but will soon.
Games: Amun-Re, Ikarus and Cubus
Played the newest Knizia, Amun-Re, over the weekend at Joe's. As usual with Knizia, the number of elements and scoring methods is very large but they are each pretty straightforward. I made a mistake at the beginning and paid the most for what was one of the less good provinces. Still, I managed to recover and only lost by virtue of having 2 dollars less than the winner in what turned out to be a very close game. I definitely like this one the most of the bunch of new stuff I have played recently (New England, Queen's Necklace, ?) and have decided to give it an initial 8 which is also generally my buy point (and I will order it in the next few days). Hopefully it will not lose its luster on further plays. I'd, as usual, be surprised if my rating ever drifts more than a point.
I also played several other games that were new to me. Ikarus was a competitive puzzle solving game but, like Flickwerk, IMHO just doesn't work as a game. The person best at it basically wins every card and others don't stand a chance unless they start taking random shots or other tricks and those things just aren't any fun to me. After two cards, I realized this one really wasn't for me. Brian crushed everyone with 16 while Joe was 2nd with 5. Ricochet Robot remains for me by far the best of these types of games as it isn't just about simple speed and the minute after a solution is found lets other players still find the solution and enjoy the game even if they don't win the chip.
Cubus, a 1986 Reinhold Wittig game, was utterly unique as a puzzle game of stacking abstract boxes, all of which are viewed from a single angle as composites of 2D pieces representing a box left side, right side and top. Boxes which you can't see but which must be there for the boxes you do see to be held up are assumed to be there and one is trying to increase the number of boxes which either are there or must be there. Sound confusing? It is!!! An extreme brain burner puzzle game of spatial visualization. I just didn't really get it and am not 100% I would after a bunch more games. The components also left a lot to be desired as there were only 3 types of pieces but the design was so poor it was unclear which was which. Still, while I may never play again, a very interesting game and a very good group to play it with, all of us semi-grasping it and to a large degree working together to make the best moves and better grasp the game.