June 30, 2004

Bluff and Crokinole

Ended up playing only two different games last night but had a really good time with both of them. We started off with Bluff and it came down to 3 of us all with 1 die left (largely due to a bunch of exact bids) before I and then Matt exited giving Greg the win. I exited in a situation where no move I could make could save me as the highest possible bid had already been made when it came to me. We also had a case at the start where a 19 bid was challenged (obviously after much showing and rerolling) and there ended up being like 21 (of 30) I think.

Greg, Alex, Matt and I then switched to Crokinole with the plan being to play 1 game and then see. However, for various reasons we ended up playing FOUR straight games with Greg (with whom I had my regular $1 wager on each game) and Alex taking the 1st and 4th and Matt and I taking the middle two games. Greg and I then decided to play a final mano-a-mano game to end the night which turned out to be an epic battle and probably my favorite playing ever. Both of us were consistently shooting well with only a couple big blunders over the entire course of the contest which went something like 15 rounds (or 180 discs shot each) as neither of us could gain a big edge ever and so only like 5 or 10 points were scored most rounds. Finally, in the last game with the score 80 to 80 and me having a puck off (scoring 20) I had a final free shot. If I sank it, I would guarantee the win but if I didn't I would probably only end up scoring like 5 points as Greg would boot it and score 15. The pressure was on but I dropped it in and Greg conceded as his last shot couldn't do enough to save him. Great game!

Posted by aarondf at 11:27 AM | Games | Comments (0)

June 29, 2004

Link: Origins Review

Very interesting Origins review by Greg Costikyan, who's often interesting blog I read. Some things were making me think I should have gone to Origins but this report certainly doesn't encourage me. It really is amazing just how badly the Origins Awards are handled - mostly bad games nominated in bad and nonsensical categories and apparently they don't even credit the game designers - lame and tacky in the extreme. If I had known that Knizia would be there, however, it definitely would have helped encourage me to go. I'll see how I feel about things next year. Apparently CABS runs a Titan tournament too which is at least a bit of incentive although I doubt the level of play is anywhere near that at WBC.

Posted by aarondf at 04:34 PM | Games | Comments (0)


Matt's regular TrashCon party was over the weekend and I made it on Friday evening and Saturday. I had a nice time with the board games and a bunch of close Tichu games with comeback wins but the party games (Celebrities on Friday evening and Rob's Haste Worte game on Saturday) I didn't think went great. This turns out to be a quite long commentary about why; sorry about that.

For Celebrities, the same problems as usual come up: 1) The game result is almost completely determined by the random team selction - I got two partners who knew very little and we did poorly every round as expected. 2) The 'theme decks' people put in do NOT help the game. Jerry put in 6 baseball players and it isn't much fun trying to distinguish between them. People also put in obscure people that almost nobody has ever heard of (and not uncommonly make it worse by getting their names wrong) so that drawing these people is a disaster and hugely benefits the person who put it in since he is the only person in the game with any real chance of guessing it. 3) The crowd at this event has a few people who really want to engage in petty rule arguments that drive 90% of the people absolutely crazy and unfortunately as I know the game best I often get drawn into these arguments despite my hate for them. This time I at least avoided that. I think with this group a moderator with total authority is the only solution to this. The difference between the quick, laid back, no rules arguments game of this (well, Time's Up) the prior week in Atlanta and this was like night and day - the Atlanata play I'd rate a 9 and this one like a 4.

Rob's Haste Worte game unfortunately also had some issues, some of which were problems Rob could avoid and others probably not. First off, for every category Rob needs to be really clear about the rules, particularly the IMHO stupid rule about shared words between answers eliminating ALL of those answers. I would suggest just tossing this rule but Rob does the worst thing of all and sometimes applies it and sometimes doesn't. I understand why he does this but if he is going to do this, he needs to be incredibly clear when announcing the category what the ruling on this issue for this category will be. He also needs to be incredibly clear how specific answers must be and then consistently apply that ruling; both of these things turned out to be a huge issue for the Olympic Events category. Another issue is that he needs to have arranged all the possible answers into a listing where he can check answers incredibly quickly as the answering part of the game massively slows the game down. For the Olympics question, he claimed at first the USA didn't win a medal in Sydney in the Decathlon which I knew was wrong but despite an objection, he didn't find this and fix it until several teams later. Eliminating the duplicate word rule would also speed this up. He also needs to accept answers not on his list if a large group of people on multiple teams agree they are a legitimate answer - with a good category this shouldn't be any issue as he should have a definitive list. In a 150+ minute game, teams spent like 24 minutes thinking of answers and this just won't do.

I was personally also pretty annoyed with my team over the bidding. On the very first answer I, who was definitely the most experienced at the game and who best understood the bidding scheme, told them that we should go 4 as we would definitely get it but 5 would be quite risky (and this is an all or nothing game). They decided to go 5 and we got only 4 (and would have trivially gotten 4 if we had bid that as would have gone much earlier). However, having messed this one up, they then wanted to be conservative which is the wrong approach as we are now in last place and need to catch up. I was fortunately able to convince enough people to make a reasonable bid most times although sometimes had to guarantee in advance we would make it (which was always correct, although sometimes very close). However, when it came to the WorldCon Guests of Honor question, a question which I was almost certainly the most knowledgable person in the room about, a majority of the team refused to bid more than 3 when I had no doubts whatever about 4 and felt we could go 5 with little risk. We of course made our 3. However, after ALL teams had scored their points, I looked at Rob's list and it turned out we had 5 more answers nobody had said so we could have gone 8, not that even I wanted to do that.

Posted by aarondf at 02:40 PM | Games | Comments (0)

Movies: The Terminal

Saw this over the weekend in a surprisingly almost empty theatre but thought it was very good. Hanks again gives an amazing performance, a performance particularly difficult because he is so well known so trying a play a character who can't speak English is a difficult thing for the audience to believe. I didn't find the relationship with Catherine Zeta-Jones's character to work very well but the rest of the movie was extremely good. The way Hanks's motivation for being in New York is slowly revealed is interestingly done. The airport terminal sets (and they are sets) are exquisitely detailed and massive and completely believable. ***1/2

Posted by aarondf at 02:10 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

Movies: The Station Agent

Watched this last night and really enjoyed it. The movie seems primarily to be an exploration of introversion (and silence) vs extroversion (and talking) and of friendship across the gap. All three of the main characters are excellent and their unusual 3-way friendship is very believable, despite their differences. ****

Also saw earlier this week Spartan (***), which has very good writing by Mamet but a few too many twists too it, and the Brazilian City of God (****) which was excellent.

Posted by aarondf at 02:08 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

Clinton and his book

I can't stand Bill Clinton (personally that is, not over policy) and it is physically painful for me to see him speaking about his book that will make him another ton of money. I strongly feel that he should have resigned over the Monica scandal (again, over his lying to his Cabinet and the American people, not over his actions with Monica which I don't give a damn about) and am convinced that had he done so Al Gore would be our president right now by a wide margin. Not that I agree with all of it, but there's a post here titled "No One Died When Clinton Lied" expressing many of my feelings.

Shortened to a single statement, my primary objection to Clinton is that in every situation where he had to make a choice between himself and his country (and his party), he chose himself. This level of selfishness in that position sickens me. Fortunately, over policy he didn't have to make this choice.

Posted by aarondf at 03:44 PM | Books | Comments (0)

Links: Bruce Schneier's Cryptogram newsletter

Excellent article by the brilliant Bruce Schneier on the complexities of codebreaking, even once it succeeds. Schneier commonly writes incredibly sensible and practical articles on all aspects of security (physical, electronic, ...), so much more sane than almost anything we hear from officialdom.

Posted by aarondf at 03:14 PM | Links | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Beach and Volleyball

Went to a party over the weekend on Plum Island where I only went in knowing a couple of people but ended up having a really nice time, particularly playing a ton of Volleyball (at least 7 games) on the beach. I jammed my thumb which was mildy annoying but it is almost recovered now and was well worth the fun. The host, Joe, has a really nice 3-story place right on the Plum Island beach and was really generous to invite all of us over.

Posted by aarondf at 11:31 AM | Events | Comments (0)

Books: Kitchen Confidential

This is a non-fiction book about the life of cooks inside major restaurant kitchens, written by a NYC restaurant chef. Oddly enough, I did not much enjoy the first 60% of the book but had gotten far enough that I decided to finish it and ended up being glad I did. The book turned around for me as of the chapter A Day in the Life describing a typical day of the author and then stayed better for most of the rest of the book. The author is a self-described asshole and in large parts of book seems to be revelling in this in a manner I just didn't enjoy but when he gets beyond himself to talk about the kitchen and the people there and stuff his comments are quite interesting. Mildly recommended in the end for people who are at all foodies.

Posted by aarondf at 11:28 AM | Books | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

Link: How Websites Learn

There's an interesting blog entry titled How Websites Learn. This is based on (and heavily quotes from) the excellent Stewart Brand book How Buildings Learn. I am not sure the added value of Steven's points is that great but he does an excellent job of quoting some of the very best pieces of Brand's book. I was particularly happy, although not surprised, that he quoted the Oxford College Hall story which I also found very powerful.

Posted by aarondf at 02:37 PM | Links | Comments (0)

June 11, 2004

Movies: Chronicles of Riddick

I went to this last night with Bill and Dave on free tickets which Bill connected us up with and am very glad I didn't pay to see it. The visual effects, fights and Diesel were all at least pretty good but the movie made no sense at so many points that it was incredible. Some people in the theatre were laughing outright at some of the most Riddickulous scenes. The one and only thing I really liked was a quote about a really hellish planet they are visiting. However, with the horrible writing of this movie I suddenly realized this morning they couldn't have come up with it on their own and I was right. I googled it and it turns out to be a stolen quote of General Philip Sheridan from the Civil War: "If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell." **

Posted by aarondf at 11:09 AM | Movies | Comments (0)

June 10, 2004

Movies: The Triplettes of Belleville

This actually oddly enough ended up taking me several days to watch even though it was only 81 minutes and I quite enjoyed it. For some reason, I found most of it preferrable in small doses (and was also back and forth to the NBA finals games Sunday and Tuesday), except the end which is faster and more connected and certainly wants to be watched as a whole. The animation and story were very cool and all the characters extremely likable but I, who am very much a cat (and not a dog) person, particularly fell in love with Bruno "I must bark at all trains" the dog. From the cute little critter running around the tricycle to the huge adult dog with tiny legs, I loved him. It was espeically nice that he was not anthromorphized that much, as often happens in animations, and maintains his dog identity throughout. ***1/2

Posted by aarondf at 02:03 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004

Games: Attika

Played Attika for the first time face-to-face 2 player and as I expected I really enjoyed it that way (I had played a few times on BrettSpielWelt and enjoyed it but the inability to see the gestalt of the game at once I found really annoying and made me make quite a few mistakes). The multiplayer game, although it hasn't happened yet in my plays, has too much potential for problems due to one player threatening a connection victory and then the other players doing a mix of not noticing, not reasonably being able to respond, choosing not to respond either to let the person have a chance to win or hope someone else does something about it. Even the possibility of this happening hurts the game. With 2 players, there's none of that. If your opponent threatens a connection, you either do something about it or give him a chance to win.

However, I am also convinced that with the basic rules, in a 2 player game the first player has a significant advantage. I think the 2nd player needs to get at least one more extra card (start with 6) and possibly even two more extra cards. We played last night with one more extra and I felt I had the advantage going first and the disadvantage second. Jung was just learning the game and played well but I still had a fair advantage in the first game. The second game was much closer and also much more vicious (as I expect the 2 player game generally will be with good players) with lots of blocking plays but I managed the win in the end. Jung would have been one or two turns behind if he hadn't tried (unsuccessfully) to block me on his last move.

The extra viciousness of the game in 2 player is probably a small negative for me but not as negative as the multi-player aspects of that version. With multiple players, you will generally not want to make a move which hurts someone else if it also hurts you. In 2 player, that move is a good one as long as it hurts you less and this leads to a much more aggressive style of play with tiles constantly next to each other over a long border.

Anyway, excellent game which as a 2 player game I can recommend to the right people unreservedly. The multiple player game is also very good but only if played with a certain style of play where players see connection threats and try to block them in a rational way, not forcing another player to fall on his sword to stop a connection (an action which such a player should in no way feel obligated to do even if the person will 100% win the game if he thinks he will almost certainly lose even if he makes the block, given the very high cost).

Posted by aarondf at 04:44 PM | Games | Comments (0)

June 08, 2004

Goa to St Petersburg and Pounce

Played three games which were new to me last night and all of them were excellent. In fact I may very well have to buy all three. I probably only buy like 1 in 10 or less of games I play so to go 3 for 3 is pretty incredible (and probably the first time it has happened in many years at least).

The first game is brand new and is called St Petersburg. It is a money management game with an interesting mechanism where the only effect players have on each other is to buy things up so that the others can't get them, but this turns out to be highly significant. I made a few mistakes and got very unlucky at the end or otherwise would have probably had a very close second and perhaps even won.

The second game played, Pounce, is an older one which I have heard recommended but hadn't had a chance to play but now there is a new edition which Sean brought. Each player in the game is either one of several Mice or the single Cat (a role which moves around) trying to catch the Mice. It is basically a reaction game all about quick reflexes based on reading a couple of dice and taking the appropriate action depending on the roll. I don't have very good reflexes so didn't expect to be very good at it, not that with this kind of a game that matters that much as long as one has fun with it, but surprisingly I was quite good. As a Mouse, there were 3 of the 5 of us reasonably equal and two very slow, ineffective mice. However, as the Cat, I was vicious to the Mice, much more effective than anyone else for some reason. Most Cats would take maybe 8 or so attacks to catch all but one of the mice which is the end condition for a 'round' with the one uncaught Mouse becoming the new Cat. I was able to catch all, or all but one of them, usually in 3 attacks or less and at least once in just 1 attack. Anyway, I thought it was very fun and am sure I wouldn't play very much but could have a really good time when I do and it only costs $12. I asked Sean to pick me up a copy from the store he got it at.

Finally, we played Goa, another brand new game which was quite long (2.5 hours or so) but very good. It has a lot in common with the good game Industrial Waste in that it is mostly multi-player solitaire except for the auctions and it also shares a number of specific mechanisms. However, both the solitaire game and the auctions are much more interesting here. The only thing that bothered me at all about the game was that the scores were incredibly close at the end, so close that it seemed pretty random who won. However, I think all the players were quite skilled gamers so that may be fine. I definitely could have improved some things I did and there were a number of different strategies to take, all of which seemed viable, as opposed to Industrial Waste where the maximum innovation/quickly reduce waste/produce and sell a lot combination is almost certainly the only good one. Sure, that is three elements to balance but here there is much more going on to think about. I couldn't even consider what others were doing as my own board demanded all my attention, at least in this first game.

I will probably give all of these ratings of 8 +/- .5 for now. I am sure I'll get a chance to play St Petersburg and Goa several times again soon and I'll see how they hold up to repeated play. I really have no worries about Goa but St Petersburg might lose its luster a bit depending on things.

Posted by aarondf at 02:31 PM | Games | Comments (0)

June 04, 2004

Emerald City and Ted Chiang

I just discovered the SF zine Emerald City by Cheryl Morgan which has a bunch of interesting articles. The review of Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others which I read a few months ago is really nicely done and I strongly agree with it - competent prose, huge ideas, way worth reading even if you don't like it as the ideas are so interesting and delved into so deeply.

Posted by aarondf at 04:57 PM | Links | Comments (0)

FCC Song

Check out this very funny MP3 file written by Eric Idle of Monty Python attacking the Bush administration.

Posted by aarondf at 03:39 PM | Links | Comments (0)

Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban

I went to see this at the midnight opening last night at the Jordan's Imax (not shot in Imax though so really just a huge screen, nice seats and small audience but still great) in Natick with a big bunch of friends (about 17 of us). I really enjoyed it, even more I think than the first two which I also really liked and I think liked it more than any of my friends who I talked to about it afterwards. Most of them hadn't read the books and I think that was really helpful, particularly for this one.

These movies are much more faithful to the books than the LotR movies (perhaps influenced by the author being alive and able to have some influence to avoid them ruining her work - I imagine Tolkien rolling over in his grave over some of the stuff in the LotR movies) and I REALLY appreciate that. This one was cut somewhat definitely and I may need to look up the differences as I haven't read the book since it first came out. I was particularly surprised that the movie did not make it clear who the authors/creators of the Marauder's map were as I thought this was a really fun connecting element between Harry and his friends and his father and his friends a generation ago at Hogwarts.

Highly recommended, and seeing it on the Imax screen was well worth the small extra expense. The scene I most enjoyed was Harry's ride on Buckbeak which I was really able to get into and find believable and bestowing an incredible sense-of-wonder. The Quidditch Broom rides OTOH do nothing at all for me. ****

Posted by aarondf at 11:29 AM | Movies | Comments (0)

June 03, 2004

Trivia last night

We continue do do trivia every couple of weeks or so and usually place 2nd or so, sometimes taking the win. Anyway, last night had a question which disgusted me at the lack of common sense some teams showed. The question was "Of the three astronomical objects, the Moon, Sun and Earth, which is between the other two at the time of a Lunar Eclipse." The answer is the Earth occulding the Moon (would be the Moon in the case of a Solar Eclipse) but what was amazing was that two teams actually submitted "The Sun" as an answer (and Matt on our team liked this too as a first impression). I just can't imagine how little common sense understanding of the Solar System you have to have to think that the Sun could ever come between the Earth and the Moon (and us alive to tell of it ;) ).

By the way, if the Sun's center of gravity was placed between that of the Earth and Moon, it would massively cover the Earth and Moon so everyone on Earth would not just be cooked by heat but actually inside the Sun. The Sun has a diameter of 1,390,000 km and the Moon orbits only 384,400 km from the Earth. Numbers from the excellent site The Nine Planets/

Posted by aarondf at 12:00 PM | Events | Comments (0)