August 29, 2007

Books: Bad Monkeys

Have a bunch of books at hand I really want to read. Still haven't gotten to Children of Hurin, Founders at Work, the new Thursday Next novel or a bunch of others, all of which I really want to read. Did just read Matt Ruff's new book Bad Monkeys however. Unfortunately, I can't say I liked it nearly as much as I have any of his other novels. Of course I thought all three of those absolutely excellent so was a high standard and each of his books is so different that it isn't surprising he did one I didn't really care for. I actually did quite enjoy the first half but once all the convoluted psychology and confusion made it to center stage (sure it was in the first part but I could ignore it), I really lost most of my interest. Still, read Matt's other books!

Posted by aarondf at 04:04 PM | Books | Comments (1)

Pretty Amazing Image Editing Technology

Check out the video here. The general ability seems pretty cool but the ease with which it erases portions of images is pretty scary really.

Posted by aarondf at 02:49 PM | Links | Comments (3)

August 13, 2007

Movies: Once

Saw this at the Capitol in Arlington with a tiny audience but really is a wonderful movie. The acting (particularly Alaistair Foley in the lead who has a wonderfully expressive face), writing, cinematography and visuals of Dublin are all just absolutely great. The only negative was that some of the Irish accents were quite difficult to follow and if I had been watching at home on DVD, I definitely would have turned on subtitles. Still, a beautiful small movie and highly recommended. ****1/2

Also watched Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock, a documentary on the 2003 Burning Man festival which I also thought was excellent, with the caveat that I have never been (would like to go but worry about all the dust and all making it too uncomfortable). ****

Posted by aarondf at 04:07 PM | Movies | Comments (1)

August 08, 2007

Games: Notre Dame

Played Notre Dame last night for the first time and actually played a 3 and a 5 player game. Have to say that I was quite surprised at how much I liked it. This may not actually be so true but it seemed like there really were a bunch of viable paths to at least do well, and hopefully win. I won both games doing quite different things in each. I am intentionally not going to read any strategies for the game as am worried it might ruin the 'lots of reasonable strategies' I see right now in the game. Initial rating (which could definitely change): 8. If this holds up, I'll buy it later.

Also played Vikings (Wikinger) and If Wishes Were Fishes for the first time recently and reasonably liked both of them. Vikings of course has more strategy to it and is probably just below my buying threshold. Kind of felt in Fishes that was bound by the card draws. Winner won by a lot and certainly can't say I think he did anything particularly brilliant to deserve it - however, also didn't do anything bad. Free boat as start player certainly didn't hurt him. Worms are cute and I even more liked the art for each fish (Swordfish holding a sword and such). Probably a buy for more casual gamers or if playing with kids a lot.

Still haven't played the released version of Phoenicia (played a prototype many years ago). There were copies at WBC but selling for $50 and figured I could get it for like 30-35 (just checked - Boulder has it for $30) online if willing to wait a bit. Hopefully I'll get a chance to play it this weekend.

Posted by aarondf at 05:41 PM | Games | Comments (1)

August 06, 2007

World Boardgaming Championships 2007

For the 11th straight year (counting the AvalonCons), I attended the WBC, now in Lancaster, PA. This might have been my most successful year ever in terms of the tournaments I care about, taking 1sts in multiplayer Titan and Euphrat & Tigris and 2nd in 2 player Titan. Also played a bunch of other things, winning some and losing some, but not really even trying to progress in them.

A bunch of the German games really do just have too much luck to them. I lost in an Ingenious game (which I am quite good at but that only gives a slight edge, at least in the 4 player game) to probably the worst player at the table due to a bunch of luck for him including an incredibly lucky last turn to just get ahead of me. I also probably played the best I ever have in one St Petersburg game only to lose to a good but even more lucky player by 2 points. After that I ran into a friend who had won his St Petersburg game, despite making several just absolutely horrendous mistakes that really should have been game-costing. Just too much luck and very little way to deal with it when goes against you.

In the 2 player Titan tournament, I had a relatively easy run to the final where I lost to Sean McCulloch. My first game I just outrolled my opponent on both the Masterboard and the Battle Boards to win. My second game I should have lost to an opponent who outrolled me but risked his Titan in two consecutive fights WAY more than he needed to - got lucky to survive the first one but died in the second. My 3rd game was against an extremely tough opponent but I won on turn 3 with 2 Warlocks. My 4th game (the semifinal) was against a Japanese player who had come over mostly for this 2 player Titan tournament. He was a good player although I think made a few strange plays and I managed to catch his Titan in the Marsh 5 on 5 with him having no natives and beat him there easily. In the final, Sean recruited a ton of Brush/Jungle stacks but interestingly won the game with about his only non-Brush stack. I had to make a very dangerous attack on him and in the first round I engaged his two trolls with my Titan Ranger and 2 Ranger range strikes hoping my Ranger would live. This should have been a close battle until my pieces (rolling 14 dice and needing anything but 1s) rolled 8 total hits (my 6 Titan getting 2! - combined a 2% chance) while he also rolled 8 hits (with 16 dice needing only 6s - a 0.214% chance). Dice then turned against Sean and amazingly I almost came out of the battle in quite good shape but was not to be and congratulations to Sean!

In the multiplayer Titan event, I got wins in my first two games to easily make the semifinals and give me time to play in more other events than usual and also to get more sleep than usual (which really helped me I think). I then had a pretty good draw for the semifinal game and was basically leading the whole game, although certainly could have gone to one of the other players, but on the whole a pretty easy game for me. The final turned out to be a very tough group of all former champions (David desJardins, me, Dan Strock and Dave Finberg), respectively rated #1, #4, #9 and #11 (ratings before 2007 WBC data entered). Interesting to note that Dave was also my Team Tournament teammate and multiplayer Titan was MY event, not that he gave me any slack at all for this ;) Nobody got eliminated early and the game went fairly evenly until David dJ killed Dan's Angel stack in a good attack that also went very well for him leaving him with a deadly kill stack that included his Titan and 2 Angels. I meanwhile got a Giant and Dave F. a Hydra in our Titan stacks. David ended up tower teleporting to go after Dave who, on the left side of the tower David ported into, made an incredibly dangerous split desperately hoping to roll a 1 which amazingly he did. David then rolled another 6 and switched targets to a tower just behind me. After a number of interesting decisions and a battle where David decided to take a low percentage chance of killing my Titan with a secondary stack he was mostly just blocking me with that ended up backfiring and improving my stack (not by a huge amount but given the battle to come VERY significant). David needed to roll a 4+ to go Titan on Titan against me in an incredibly even battle and got it. The battle was Ttn9 Ang Ang Ran Ran Gor Gor attacking Ttn9 Ang Gia Ran Ran Wbe Wbe in the Marsh with no Angel call. I found a pretty good defensive position and David took a very long time (didn't time it but probably nearly 30 minutes) to decide on his opening move (which I thought but am not sure was probably not the best of moves). We then both proceeded to roll significantly low in the battle but I managed to win it but be completely stripped (but getting an Ang for the battle). Given that Dave F. already had Hydras in his Titan stack and was just getting a Serpent in another stack, this seemed to be the end for me, despite getting Titan teleport and going over 500 points on half-points. Masterboard luck however really started to go my way, rolling an immediate 1 to get into a Tower and pick up an Ogre to recruit with. With a 6 two turns later, I went after Dan's Titan stack, picking up a Warlock in the tower by him. Trapped, he however did what Dave had done a bit earlier and rolled the perfect roll to recruit and make sure I could not attack him. I instead picked up another Ogre and two Trolls. Dan then moved into a Marsh 5 high (a terrible terrain to fight in but an excellent space in terms of later recruiting as long as I didn't roll a 6 to teleport onto him). For the 2nd time since being stripped, I had a perfectly timed roll to attack him in a great terrain for me and easily win and pick up another 150 points or so. Things then progressed for a while with Dave getting up to 5 hydras in his Titan stack and 2 Serpents in his other stack while I also got a Serpent in my outside stack and got up to two Wyverns (an odd path for me to go with Dave having Hydras but dictated by the dice) in my Titan stack. Dave at this point had my Titan trapped with his Titan in front and no way I could beat it and his Serpent stack behind me although I had two split-off blockers in the way. I was in the Swamp so actually might have done OK if his Serpents attacked 7 on 6 but I still didn't like the idea of that and he was definitely going to do it if I didn't roll the 6 I needed to get away before he killed off my blockers. I now had my 3rd perfectly timed roll as I got the 6 just after he killed my last blocker (my Angel splitoff) which let me beam away to the other side of the board and seemed like it actually put me in the lead of the game for the first time. However, Dave managed to quickly get behind me and force my Angel stack to split off blockers to slow him down although I did manage to pick up one Hydra in my Titan stack. Him killing my Angel stack would at this point have probably been nearly as bad as killing my Titan as would have given him Teleport. Just as he got pretty close to me, I rolled my 4th perfectly timed roll of the endgame to both get my Angel stack out of danger AND to teleport on his Dragon stack which had just moved into the plains below the outer ring and had no choice but to flee and now I seemed to definitely be ahead in the game. If I could just get away and pick up another Hydra or so, it seemed I would probably have the game in hand. Dave, however, now immediately rolled his best roll to threaten my Titan stack and force it to go into the center (his Serpent stack blocked me going forward). Still, I would escape on any number other than a 1. In this game of extreme rolls, I of course rolled the 1. This pretty much guaranteed the Titan battle within a few turns would be Dave forcing me to attack him rather than be attacked by going into the plains below me 1/3rd of the time. This happened as expected about two turns later and I didn't even bother to roll to move and just lived with the very close final Titan on Titan attack.

The attack was me as Ttn15 Hyd Wlo Wlo Wyv Wyv Tro (Ang call) attacking Dave as Ttn8 Hyd Hyd Hyd Hyd Hyd Lio in the plains [the Lio is actually another oddity of the game - Dave accidentally illegally recruited it but by the time we noticed this it would have actually benefited him to lose it as the rules called for so we mutually agreed he would be forced to keep it]. Dave put 4 Hydras in the front line and in order to make sure I got my Angel call and not take too much damage from his massive amount of rangestriking, I felt forced to engage with the Titan and both Warlocks. This seemed to me a almost sure winning strategy if either Warlock lived (an around 45% chance) and a not necessarily losing (although would be very bad for me) if both Warlocks died. Rolls started out favoring Dave as my Titan killed his Hydra (probably actually bad for me) and then his first Hydra on the end rolled 6 hits (double average but one was wasted since no placed for this Hydra to spill) and his second 4 hits (above average). It seemed at this point that he was almost sure to win as not only would he kill both Warlocks but he would also amazingly spill several hits on my Titan. However, his last Hydra rolled and completely missed (a less than 2% chance), made even more exciting by the fact that he had to reroll 1 of the 10 dice as it missed the rolling box. At this point, it was going to be extremely hard for him to win and the dice stayed uncooperative and I eventually got to engage his 6 wounded 8 Titan with my unwounded 15 Titan and of course kill it for the tournament win and a bunch of team points to at least make our score respectable.

I also won the Euphrat & Tigris tournament, winning my heat and advancing to the semifinals which only 8 winners showed up for causing there to be 2 4 player games where 1st and 2nd would advance. I went 3rd in the game but it turned out the players going 1st and 2nd were relatively inexperienced and I won relatively easily with another good player advancing from the 4th spot. This game took about 45 minutes which I think of as about average for this game. Amazingly, the other semifinal took over two hours, probably the longest game of E&T I have ever seen and apparently featured a bunch of acrimonious table-talk and players aiming to screw up others as much as help themselves. FINALLY it was over (and the defending champion eliminated) and the final started. I went first and took about 5 seconds for my play. The player going second turned out to be a bit of an odd guy (the other guy from their table was also a bit odd but less so) and took a ton of time for every one of his turns for the first 2/3 of the game, driving me a bit crazy. This also turned out to a very aggressive game at the beginning, with lots of early attacks and catastrophes. I generally took a beating for the 1st third of the game but then managed to seriously turn it around in the 2nd third with a bunch of monument points and a few good attacks. I probably at this point was ahead but the game was still close. At this point, though, the slow player in 2nd position seemed to suddenly fail a 'morale check' (term from wargamming referring to soldiers who fail a roll and are forced to run away from the fight). He spent an entire turn playing 2 catastrophes to minorly hurt another player but gain no benefit himself but at least he did it fast. Well, from this point on every one of his plays took like 10 seconds rather than his prior 5 minutes but were also not as good plays. I think he (and to some degree the other players) had at this point basically conceded the game to me but I don't know why as I am sure I only had a small lead. Still, we played out the end with almost no fights and me earning the most points from monuments and the odd 2nd position player finally ended the game by dumping tiles twice to take 2nd at 7 points but I was at 10 to easily win. An odd game overall.

As I mentioned in my report last year, I have taught a ton of the Titan players Tichu over the years and it has really worked out great. I played at least 8 games this year and a bunch of additional games were played without me. Makes a great game for the downtime between events since each hand only takes a few minutes and not absolutely necessary to finish each game. Think especially great for Bruno, our incredibly dedicated Titan GM who basically gives up his ENTIRE convention to GMing Titan (and to my mind deserves the Best GM award every single year) and is stuck in the room (and mostly doesn't even play in the multiplayer Titan games). With Tichu, he gets in a bunch of interesting games while still being easily available to answer the rare questions that come up. People are also definitely getting much better, even those who basically never play except these WBC pickup games.

Anyway another great year and great to see all the Titan group and the MIT SGS group and friends and lots of other people. As usual, thanks to Michael for doing all the driving and Rich and Michael were both great roommates.

ps. The hotel WBC is now in really sucks, except for the good gaming space. For the 2nd time in 2 years, we were promised two beds in our room and not given them. The room this year also initially smelled very bad (very fortunately this went away) and was a huge distance away from the gaming area. The hotel staff were useless about fixing this and also gave us incredibly inaccurate information about where our room was in terms of driving around to it to drop off stuff. Really wish was practical to stay offsite.

Posted by aarondf at 05:25 PM | | Comments (1)