I Had That! #44: Doctor Who: The Game of Time and Space

(For today’s “I Had That”, I’m reposting part of a blog post from two years ago.)

A recent discussion on BGG had me thinking about the oldest game I own. That is, what game have I held on to for the longest? I no longer have my original copy of Illuminati and instead have a deluxe one, so it’s not that. Talisman and DungeonQuest are pretty old for me, but it’s not either of these. Nope, I’m pretty sure the title goes to:

Doctor Who: The Game of Time and Space, by Games Workshop. I probably haven’t played this thing in over 25 years, but I can’t see ever getting rid of it.

Oh, it’s not a good game. It’s simultaneously stupid easy and tediously dull. You are rival incarnations of the Doctor (I guess), traveling through the cosmos looking for the six segments of the Key of Time Chronos. There are 60 spaces, each with three counters face down on it. One is a monster, one is an item, and one may be a part of the key. You fight the monsters, grab the items (which are things that help you in the fight) and hope for a key part that you need. Over and over and over again.

The game is also notorious for its questionable Doctor Who references. Among the companions who can aid you are “Sara Jane”, “Vicki” (in her space leotard and thigh-high boots), “Susie”, and “Lyla”. Daleks and Cybermen look fine, but “Ice Man”, “Yeti”, “Giant Robot”, and others which actually have TV show counterparts are simply some generic space-fantasy artwork unrelated to anything from the program.

So no, it kind of falls down at both being a piece of Doctor Who ephemera and being a board game, but there’s something extra it has. At least, there’s something extra mine has.

I’m one of the few boardgame enthusiasts who’s never tried his hand at designing a boardgame. Oh, I’ve had ideas, but I’ve never even begun bringing any to fruition. The exception is the Doctor Who boardgame, which I didn’t design, but made a mini expansion for.

Behold, my additional rules for this game! I typed them up on the electric typewriter in my Aunt Shirley’s office, which had both a fancy centering thinger AND the ability to type in red ink! Since some of the tiles in the game were blank, I was free to add in some things I felt the game needed.

First, I added devices that gave you control over most Cybermen and Daleks because why not? Note that I had some sense of game balance — the stronger enemies couldn’t be controlled. Still, I should have made the player do something to earn these beauties. Oh, and here are the tokens:

(Don’t laugh! That artwork isn’t too far off from the game’s artwork.) I especially like how I said “screw it” to writing out “DALEK CONTROLLER” in red pen. I don’t know what the little box next to the Cyber-Controller is; I think I messed up and started to give it a strength rating.

Next I addressed the problem that, out of sixty green key counters, you were looking for six of them. I addressed this with a nice solution, a lump of key material that could act as a wildcard for any missing piece (this is also related to the show — In the “Key to Time” stories The Doctor at one point substitutes some material for a missing segment!) Also added to the green tiles was the “symbol of the White Guardian” — the powerful being who has sent you on this task — which, according to my rules sheet, has the effect of a “Cosmic Vortex”. A Cosmic Vortex seems to teleport an enemy or player away to a random location.

Some new enemies show up. To make the Cyber-Controller more useful, I added some more Cybermen and Cybermats, but also the Cyberleader, who is immune. I also added a Sontaran Warrior, Zygon, and Mummy.

That’s some fine, fine artwork.

Finally, I added some more current starter assistants: Romana (looks to be the second incarnation, according to my artwork), Adric, and Tegan. Yes, I let Adric be in the game!

Adric appears to be wearing Flavor Flav’s clock around his neck. I don’t know why Tegan didn’t get inked.

Did my additions make the game any better? I can’t imagine they did. But hey, I made little rules and artwork and even tried to balance things a little. Check me out!

The game came out in 1980 and near as I can figure, I bought my copy some time around ’81 or ’82. I got it from “The Book End”, a used books/comics/nerd stuff store where I worked part-time. (Old-school New Orleans geeks, this shop was run by Jim Mulé, who also ran Vul-Con.) It was one of the first places in the city to really get Doctor Who merchandise, and I bought a ton of it up. I remember this game being pretty expensive (relative to the times and my age) but I eventually got it.

I can also peg these additional monsters to some time after March, 1982. It might not appear so to the layman, but the Cyber-Controller artwork is based on the Cybermen who appeared in “Earthshock”, which came out then. I probably didn’t even see that episode until some time in ’83, but I would have seen photos before then. So I was around 14 or 15 when I did this.

(I swear I saw this game later with a Peter Davison cover, but that can’t possibly be. Not only can I not find any evidence this was ever done, someone on BGG pointed out how the board itself has Tom Baker’s face on it and surely they wouldn’t go through that much trouble for it. So I must be thinking of something else.)

So there you go, the oldest boardgame I own, along with a little look at my only attempt at game design.

When did I get it? 1981 or 1982, probably.

Do I still have it? I do indeed!

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged ,


New Danger 5!!!

Posted in TV | Tagged

Do Away With Comments

“Don’t read the comments.” It’s a mantra one chants while surfing the Internet. There is a Twitter feed tasked with drilling it into your head. A Google search on the phrase reveals thousands of hits and images bearing this message. It seems to be a universal truth.

And yet, we continue to have comments.

Why? What is the purpose? If no one reads them, then they’re neither driving page views nor building a community, the two things they’re credited with. It’s more or less unthinkable for a site NOT to have comments, and yet they’re universally reviled. It’s like someone was building a car and then said, “Wait, we need to put a rattlesnake in it. No one likes the rattlesnakes, but you gotta have a rattlesnake in a car.”

I especially don’t understand comment sections on news sites. Reporters and journalists are supposed to be well-trained on news coverage, yet their hard work is footnoted with whatever ignorant foolishness someone who can slap a keyboard can come up with. “Here’s a professional journalist on the proposed ballot question, and here’s slim_shady_69 with a rebuttal.” How is this an integral part of news coverage?

My local paper, the Springfield Republican, has its web presence over on MassLive, where you can get news about all the area’s happenings and brain-squeezins from a clutch of individuals ready to explain how this ties into “thugs” and Obama. Here’s an innocuous article about Green Day being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And here’s a comment on it.

Well, that’s a worthwhile addition to the story. At least it’s not racist or sexist.

Let’s look at the comments on a story about the attack at a school in Pakistan:


And here’s a comment on a local TV station’s website, about a racketeering lawsuit against the mayor:

That one’s been fine with the staff at WWLP for two months now.

What are these things adding to the site? Who is this for? Why would any professional want this garbage automatically slapped onto their work? How can these sites be expected to be taken seriously?

The absolute lowest point was when Wired magazine ran a piece by software developer Kathy Sierra, a long essay on how misogynistic trolls had worked to run her out of the industry…and then stuck a comment section underneath it. You can imagine how this turned out.

I used to think the problem was anonymity, and a way to lessen the amount of trash would be to force commenters to use their real names. That’s not a solution, though. First, many commenters have no problem using their real names (see Ron above). Secondly, as this article points out, many people choose anonymity to protect themselves from garbage commenters who don’t have a problem with real names. This was something I hadn’t thought of (as a white guy, I hadn’t had to think about it) and made me reconsider my stance. I now think the problem is just that comment sections are just plain toxic and should be disposed of.

Fortunately, some places might be finally getting the picture. Political website The Week announced it was closing its comments.

Too often, the comments sections of news sites are hijacked by a small group of pseudonymous commenters who replace smart, thoughtful dialogue with vitriolic personal insults and rote exchanges of partisan acrimony. This small but outspoken group does a disservice to the many intelligent, open-minded people who seek a fair and respectful exchange of ideas in the comments sections of news sites.

And so today, the smartest, most thoughtful, and most spirited conversations are being driven not by pseudonymous avatars in the comments sections of news sites, but by real people using their real names on the social web. It is no longer a core service of news sites to provide forums for these conversations. Instead, we provide the ideas, the fodder, the jumping off point, and readers take it to Facebook or Twitter or Reddit or any number of other places to continue the conversation.

As editor-in-chief Ben Frumin points out, there are plenty of other places you can have these discussions. There’s no need to provide a harbor for trolls and fools, and this news site will be able to devote its resources to actual reporting instead of having to babysit a bunch of dipshits it for some reason invited in.

We need to stop chanting “Don’t read the comments” and instead make it “Do away with comments”. They are part of the problem. There is nothing of value that is being lost if we get rid of them. People can still write letters to the editor if they feel their spleen must be vented. They can still dump their dumbass opinions on anyone unfortunate enough to follow them on Facebook. We don’t need them anymore and I’m not sure we ever did.

Posted in Argh! | Tagged , , ,

I Had That! #43: Lego Space Command Center

For over a quarter-century Lego’s classic space Galaxy Explorer has loomed large in my mind (as well as the minds of many other Lego fans). It was, and is, an iconic part of my Lego childhood. But it wasn’t the first of the classic space sets, and it wasn’t what really sold me on Lego. That honor goes to set 493, the Space Command Center.

When I received this set for Christmas in 1978, it blew my mind. This was the first set I got that had minifigs, and it had four of them. They had swivel chairs and computers and rovers! There was a video screen showing another spaceman. This wasn’t just a set, this was a world. But it was also a world of Lego, and I built an re-built that Space Command Center over and over. We were spending Christmas at my aunt’s house, but when I got back home I added my previous Legos (which lived in an old brown suitcase) to the mix and suddenly I was in Lego space heaven.

And when it was joined by the Alpha-1 Rocket Base, the Space Cruiser, the Space Shuttle, and such? Oh, my.

The humble Space Command Center has since been overshadowed by the Galaxy Explorer and more elaborate sets, though it made an appearance in The Lego Movie:

If my folks had known what a gateway drug that set would be, they might have reconsidered buying it for me. It’s one of the few presents I got as a child that has remained a thread throughout my life.

When did I get it? Christmas of 1978.

Do I still have it? I still have the instructions and I’m fairly certain I have all the pieces that were unique to this set (which may only be the printed viewscreen).

Posted in Lego | Tagged ,

And the Best Album of 2014 is…

Joy: 1967-1990, by Ultra Vivid Scene

(same as it’s been for 24 years now.)

Posted in Music | Tagged , ,

We May Be Torturers, But At Least We Admit It

Q: What is simultaneously nonexistent, no big deal, vital to national security, worth doing because the victims were evil, and all in the past anyway so who cares?

A: Why, the CIA torture report, of course!

It was released yesterday to the sound of too many Americans making excuses, from the usual bleatings of the above to simply “THE USA IS AWESOME!” (Even on MetaFilter, which is usually better than this, there’s someone yelling about the “ticking bomb scenario” which (a) has never actually happened and (b) is possibly the case where torture would be the least effective.)

The same GOP which felt the public needed to have endless investigations into Whitewater and Benghazi is outraged that anyone would waste the public’s time on whether or not a bunch of brown people were tortured. They can’t believe that anyone would think this is something worth looking into and it may put CIA assets at risk or spur violence. Unlike, say, exposing Valerie Plame, drone striking innocents, or torturing people.

Sadly, the revelations have come as no surprise to a lot of us, and shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. Bush and Cheney both admitted to it years ago. The weird thing about having this discussion now is that we already had it before. The exact same one. In fact, if you count Abu Ghraib (in which the right wing gladly served up Lynndie England — a woman — as certified Angus scapegoat, having her represent the “bad apples” that we now know were actually approved policy) we’ve had this exact same discussion at least three times. Why even talk about the fact that the CIA hasn’t had its hands clean for decades when we’re (some of us, at least) ready to feign shock and outrage by literally the exact same story three times?

“Feign shock and outrage”, who am I kidding? The American public not only knew the CIA was torturing people, they were all for it! They’d pay PPV prices to watch. Whatever the excuse of the moment pretended to be, the reality was, the majority of Americans wanted that torture to be happening and wanted it to be as awful as possible, because the majority of Americans are hateful ghouls with the empathy levels of five-year-olds. And honestly, the ones who relish the news simply because of their bloodlust are still above those who are all for it because at least this means it’s not them being frozen to death or “rectally infused”.

One of these water-carriers is a guy you might remember from a Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony, Barack Obama. His outrage at the findings (once they were revealed against his administration’s wishes) was so weak that cricket pee rejoiced in finally getting out of last place.

Responding to the report, Barack Obama said the US owed a “profound debt” to the CIA but accepted that some of its techniques were “contrary to our values”.

“These harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests. Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners. That is why I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”

You’d think a lame-duck, nothing-to-lose president would have more to say than that, but this is Obama we’re talking about, who every morning wakes up and thinks that today will be the day when the GOP finally loves him. Besides, he and Holder already agreed in 2008 not to prosecute anyone except for a Lynndie England here and there. Between not prosecuting torture by the CIA or the near-destruction of the world economy by US banks, one might wonder what exactly we have a Justice Department for.

So there you go. We found out that yes, the CIA tortured people, and it was even more brutal than anyone imagined, especially considering that many of the victims shouldn’t have been in our gulag to begin with. However, one of our major parties doesn’t care, the majority of the population is proud of this, the highest official in the opposing party can’t be roused to any meaningful action, and, best of all, the gulag is still open with no plans to change that in the future.

It’s been a banner year for the land of the free and the home of the brave, the greatest nation on Earth. I can’t wait to see what fresh horrors 2015 has in store.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , ,

Let’s Look at the Record: Soul of the Machine

Yes, this is a Windham Hill sampler.

Windham Hill, for those not familiar, is (was?) a record label that, in the 80s and 90s, released a lot of what was called “New Age” music. Although named because it was beloved by those who also go for crystals and other such nonsense, it also became a catch-all for electronic music that wasn’t dance- or pop-oriented.

My at-the-time pal Rob introduced me to this CD, I believe, and also Between Two Worlds by Patrick O’Hearn. Having enjoyed music by Wendy Carlos and Kraftwerk, I took to this stuff eagerly. (Between Two Worlds was one of the first 10 CDs I ever bought. I had made a list, you see, and it was on it because I imagined the digital music would sound digitally great.) At the time, 1987, New Age stuff was huge and even a smallish record store would have a pretty big section.
Along with these, my trips to the New Age section also got me tapes (I didn’t have a CD player yet, so these were bought on tape) including Metropolitan Suite by Synergy, Curse of the Pheromones by Startled Insects, and a bunch of Jean-Michel Jarre. At the time I was at college in Lafayette, and undergoing an explosion in my musical exposure, and the “New Age” kick was just a part of it. Despite the Aquarian vibrations produced by these CDs they never awakened the Goddess within me.

In the mid-90s, I was in Illinois, working for a publishing company. One of my tasks was called “castoff”, a process of going through a raw manuscript and counting words and elements to determine how long the published work would be. It was a tedious job, and music with lyrics interfered with it, so my New Age CDs (most had made the transition) were brought in to help out. They were augmented with the new and improved catchall term, “Ambient” CDs, especially the Artificial Intelligence compilations.

Speaking of compilations, it’s worth pointing out that although I really like Soul of the Machine and listened to it a lot, I can’t tell you the name of any of the artists on it, and I never sought out any of their solo works. While I liked all of the tunes on it, nothing struck me as a thread I wanted to pursue.

To this day these albums are my go-to when I want some music but need to concentrate, so lyrics are out of the question.

You can listen to Soul of the Machine here.

Posted in Music | Tagged

Twin Peaks

Last night we finished up the TV run of Twin Peaks. It was a lot of fun, even as it lost its way. The sprawling cast meant that even if I was currently stuck in one of the particularly terrible sub-plots, it wouldn’t be too long before we were somewhere else.

Once again I’m struck by how long American TV seasons are. Season two seemed to last forever, and not just because it had that James Hurley or Andrew Packard stuff in it. Season one is only eight episodes and zooms on by. How many stories can stay fresh and interesting for twenty-two hours?

I included a photo of Dale and Audrey because they’re far and away the best characters. Oh, there are other good ones, but those two are the champs. When Audrey first appears she seems like a reckless, dreamy femme fatale, but she unexpectedly swerves into being one of the most clear-headed, practical people around. Cooper gets sort of an opposite treatment, starting out as seeming like a crazy man trying to unravel an even crazier mystery, but whose boundless enthusiasm and unorthodox methods get him by. As the mystery winds down, so does Cooper, and it’s the biggest disappointment. Towards the end of season two, when both are shoved into heatless romances with bland nobodies, one feels the most painful longing for what could have been.

I actually don’t know what could have been, to be honest. There’s only so long the Laura Palmer mystery could be strung along, and it’s unlikely the effect could be repeated with a different mystery. Certainly the Windom Earle stuff isn’t half as interesting. Maybe the solution would have been two short seasons, ending with the revelation of the killer? I guess that for all the innovations the show brought to TV drama, the idea of a finite series wasn’t one of them, and probably should have been.

Naturally, Netflix doesn’t have the movie on Watch Instantly, so we’ll see that whenever it arrives.

I’m really glad to have finally visited Twin Peaks, even all the way through the end. It was a grand time.

Posted in TV | Tagged