On the Table

Here are the boardgames I played over the long holiday weekend:


Smash Up and 3012

Matt and I tried out two recentish acquisitions of mine. Smash Up is a game in which you create your own deck by picking two factions and mixing them together. So I had Wizards and Robots putting aside their differences momentarily to do battle against Matt’s Ninjas/Dinosaurs deck.

Smash Up leans heavily into its nerd-pandery OMG EPIC BACON NINJA DEAD PARROT AWESOME PIRATE HOT SAUCE SHINY YOU SHALL NOT PASS theme, and for that reason I avoided it. But I’d been told by others who don’t tend to speak in catchphrases and movie quotes that the game play was pretty solid, so when a cheap copy came my way, I took a gamble.

It’s not bad. Smashing together two factions is pretty neat, and I imagine there’s a lot of fun in discovering combos within disparate factions (my Wizards and Robots worked very well together). There’s a fun game in here, and a lot of room for exploring it.

Unfortunately, it’s not a good enough game. At its heart, Smash Up is one of those deploy-units-to-your-side-of-a-base-and-see-who-claims-it games and I’ve been through a number of those, with Omen: A Reign of War being the one to beat. I don’t really need another one.

We then gave 3012, a sort of post-apocalypticish deckbuilder, a spin. My favorite deckbuilders are Thunderstone, Core Worlds, and Valley of the Kings, so the fact that this game was pretty much ignored by most gamers didn’t mean I wouldn’t check it out. It did, however, mean that I got to check it out for really cheap.

It’s okay. It’s a LOT like Thunderstone, but it does two things that I think are nice innovations. First of all, when you go into the “Dungeon” other players can help or hinder you, possibly getting some XPs if they backed the right horse. Secondly, you turn up two action cards which you can play as if they’re in your hand during your turn. This allows you not only some more flexibility and a bit of a power boost, but you can also “try out” cards you might not otherwise use.

Both of those are nice contributions, but not nice enough to overcome an otherwise dull game. It’s like a much slower-moving Thunderstone, and it has an annoying tic where a lot of the Encounter cards will just straight up run away without fighting, based on a die roll. That’s incredibly obnoxious, and turned us both way off to it.

Mysterium has grown on me some. We played this twice and had a good time both times. I was the ghost for one of the times and can attest that being the ghost is freaking hard, even on the babiest difficulty level. The great part about this game is that because of how it works and how simple it is, once again we had a little kid playing who did fine at it. She got some help, but more often she was making good choices on her own and throwing in worthwhile suggestions. It’s a unique game, though I still don’t want to play it too much.

Zaubercocktail is the game I like to refer to as “Reiner Knizia’s Pit“, even though it wasn’t designed by Knizia. It may as well have been. It’s a dumb yet fun game that works with a large number of people in a small amount of time, so it’s good for rain-dancing, which is what we did with it.

It’s been ages since I played Arkadia and I remembered not really caring for it, but I liked it more than I recalled. It’s essentially a stock market game disguised as an “impress the royal builder” game. I had it as a 5 on BGG but am raising that to a 6.

I re-re-bought San Juan earlier this year and while it got a ton of play at that time it went dormant afterwards. I packed it with me on Sunday, where we had a new gamer joining us, and it was a perfect three-player game. I love San Juan. My first 10 on BGG, and still a 10.

Cockroach Poker is a dumb game that’s always a fun time.

Mission: Red Planet is a game I unabashedly adore, but hadn’t played in ages upon aeons. I always think, despite protestations to the contrary, that no one else enjoys it as much as I do. I brought it to Sunday and pretty much begged people to play. We ended up with the full five-player compliment (which it works best with) including three new players. I didn’t explain it as well as I’d like and I was worried it would fall flat, but I think everyone had a good time with it. It was great playing this again. There’s a second edition coming out which adds a few things (including little plastic astronauts instead of wooden disks; it’s an FFG reprint, after all), but honestly, unless I hear really good things about the changes, I’ll stick with this version.

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I Played That! #27: Ultima VII and VII Part 2 (PC)

Ultima VII: The Black Gate cannot be overemphasized in my gaming history. It was a watershed moment, the culmination of my long-held love for the series and solidified my tastes in gaming, for good or ill. It absolutely blew me away and held me in thrall. I’m not the only one, either; it regularly occupies top spots on “Best Videogames Ever” lists.

By the time that U7 came out the series was already established as one that emphasized plot over combat. An “end boss” hadn’t been seen since Ultima 2, and that included two spin-off games. This one, though, literally started out with a red-faced antagonist directly addressing the player and presenting himself as an ultimate foe. It looked like things were about to change in Britannia.

The game throws you right into the action, dumping you at the scene of a murder. Right away you’re given this quest, and a suspect to trail after. In addition, you’re introduced to a new force for good in Britannia, The Fellowship. But it doesn’t take long until that organization starts to look a little suspicious. Does it have anything to do with the murder? Or this red-faced “Guardian” who occasionally pops up to taunt you?

The graphics are gorgeous as well, with lush 3D isometric screens. Containers such as backpacks, chests, and even corpses, can be opened up to search. Interesting (and sometimes perplexing) things are hidden all over the spacious map. Everything, including the dialog, is mouse-driven.

Combat was even more sidelined. Although there are some things you can do in battle, largely you just set your guys to automatically execute certain attacks and they just go at it. No micromanaging every sword hit and sling bullet, which meant a fair amount of saving and reloading, but also you could more easily stay on track of the story and not have to get bogged down with fighting slimes too much.

How great was Ultima VII? It shipped with a game-wrecking bug. You could very easily get to a door towards the end of the game that you couldn’t open because the key had vanished from your backpack. And that was it; you couldn’t go any further or get the key again. It was a boneheaded bit of programming, and this was in the days before you could just grab a patch off a web site. Origins had to send you a replacement disk. (I think. I don’t remember if you could call their BBS and download it.) Nevertheless, I still adored it.

It was also one of the first games to have an expansion. The Forge of Virtue was an add-on that added more items, a new quest, and other goodies to the existing game.

And if that wasn’t enough, then came Ultima VII Part 2: The Serpent Isle. Not so much a sequel, as it didn’t continue the story so much as add stuff alongside it. The story in U7.5 is even better than the U7 one, as you are wandering among the ruins of a long-vanished race, trying to put together their story. It was more of what you got in U7, only in a new setting and with different goals. It too had an add-on, The Silver Seed. The complete Ultima 7 gave you hours of adventuring.

Unfortunately all this innovation came at a cost. To achieve the graphical feats the game boasted required a memory manager called VooDoo that Origin had developed. It was sometimes tough to get even contemporary high-end machines to run it well, and once new chips and operating systems showed up, it was all but impossible to get VooDoo to run. One of the best adventure games was unplayable on modern systems for years. That’s all been changed, though, and now you can buy the whole shebang off GOG for a pittance.

I have bought it, and started it up, but as I said, it’s a heavy time commitment. I didn’t get very far into it. But I really want to play the entire thing again, as I have such great memories of it.

The Serpent Isle ends on a shocking cliffhanger, to be resolved in Ultima 8! Things are getting better and better for this series and I’m sure the next one will be simply amazing!

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I Played That! #26: SimCity 2000 (PC)

The original SimCity was a game I played a lot of, even though I found it tough. I don’t do so well at games where I have to manage a lot of different things at once, preferring instead to have a single well-defined goal to focus on. I played a lot with “pause” on so that I could get one thing done before I had to worry about something else. I liked it okay, but it wasn’t an all-time favorite.

SimCity 2000, on the other hand, absolutely grabbed me. I’m not sure what the difference was, as it mainly added more things I had to pay attention to, but for some reason I took to it and played the hell out of it. I started with my usual careful and slow building, but before long I was able to play with the city running constantly, and even could handle a disaster or two.

Part of the appeal was that I loved the look of it. The cities in the original were nice, but the graphics in 2000 looked great. It was pixilated, sure, but done so well.

I also enjoyed the sandbox nature of it. I liked giving myself weird terrain to try and tame. I would come up with concept cities. I foretold the Tea Party.

I tried other Sim games, like SimEarth, SimAnt, and SimFarm, but none of those really did much for me. SimCity 2000 was what I always went back to instead.

When SimCity 3000 came out I was overjoyed, but that didn’t last. The level of simulation had become far too fine, and what had been a fun play experience turned into a work-like slog. I didn’t want to analyze traffic patterns and negotiate deals and such. In my mind, SimCity 3000 felt that what I wanted to do in SC2000 was “be a mayor” not “create a city”. That’s a big difference.

That’s where SimCity and I parted ways. I haven’t touched a Sim game since then. SimCity 2000 pretty much established my limit of how deep a simulation could go for me to still find it entertaining, and that limit has been surpassed many times over now. I never even got into games like Populous which tried to take the idea in a different direction. (I did have a brief flirtation with “Tycoon” games that we’ll talk about.) Even on the iPad, where I would think a game like SC2000 could shine, I grabbed the version of SimCity available (not the pay-to-play one) but didn’t really do much with it. Will I ever reticulate a spline again?

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State of the Blog

No, there hasn’t been an update here in a while. I don’t know when that will change.

Part of it is that I’ve been really focusing at work. A big project was handed to me and I’m working on it (and enjoying working on it) and that, along with other duties and a departing co-worker, has focused my attention there. I haven’t even been tweeting as much.

But another part is that I feel like I’ve just run out of things to say. I don’t really do anything interesting, and my thoughts on other things are pretty well recorded and established. I can only complain about nerds and Republicans and Capitalism so many times without just saying the same things over and over.

I could talk about media consumption, but that’s something I don’t do particularly well, nor have I been consuming much of it anyway.

Basically I feel like this blog has kind of run its course. I’m frankly surprised it lasted this long.

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I Played That! #25: Conqueror (TRS-80)

Either my memory has failed me or the Internet has.

In high school, the GT (Gifted and Talented) room was where we hung out. GT at my school was a joke; we didn’t do anything in there except goof off, with little to no structured activities. We had some tools at our disposal, though, one of which was a TRS-80 Model III.

There were a few games we played on it. One was some kind of Risk-like wargame. Another was called, I think, Conqueror.

The only trace I can find of Conqueror is from archives of “CLOAD” magazine, a newsletter about programming on the TRS-80. These were simple, free games, which lines up with my memories. But apart from tables of contents, I can’t find any discussion or screen shots of the games themselves to see if the Conqueror they mention is the one I remember. Let’s assume it is.

Conqueror was a dead simple game. You were a gun at the bottom of the screen, and you could move horizontally and fire. Alien spacecraft would zip along the top of the screen and you had to shoot them. They would shoot at you, but if you shot one of their missiles it would eliminate it.

The only challenge was to your patience. This was proven when, one morning, before school, someone — I don’t remember who, but I don’t think it was me — loaded up Conqueror and set a stapler on the space bar (the “fire” button). Then they walked away. When we returned at lunch the stapler had racked up a score so high it had gone into scientific notation. It simply fired constantly, eliminating aliens and their missiles. And it could have gone on that way forever.

The stapler was declared the King of Conqueror and given all rights and privileges of that title.

Not long afterwards, a sequel to Conqueror showed up. I don’t remember its name, but it was identical except for one detail: when you shot an alien, it would fall out of the sky and you had to dodge its indestructible corpse. The stapler sucked at this game and would die right out of the gate.

The “gifted and talented” kids had triumphed over their would-be mechanical master.

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Goodbye iTunes, Hello Plex

We still have two big bookcases full of CDs — those disks music used to come on — in our TV room. And we have a CD changer with a jambox hooked up to it in the hall. That’s our “stereo”. we’ve been wanting to upgrade it for some time and go digital, but it was an intimidating task. But over the past few weeks I’ve been tackling it.

The first impulse was iTunes. Put all our music on an external drive and use iTunes to access it. This got pushed aside when the simple act of transferring the iTunes library from my computer to an external drive became a task that apparently only a Faustian bargain could accomplish. And in the process, iTunes lost some of my files. Way to go, most successful business in the world.

I looked at a few other options and finally decided to try out Plex, which actually came included on my external drive. Plex acts as a server to deliver files to other devices, including our laptops, phones, and tablets. It’s even available on the PS4.

I loaded up the media into Plex, cleaned up the data some, and now it’s working like a champ. On Friday I listened to three full albums through it. The first album to have that honor was On Fire by Galaxie 500.

I’ve created several libraries. Main is, as the name implies, the main one. There’s also 70s, 80s, 90s, Compilations, Soundtracks, and so forth. And “Uncharted”, where the stuff I’ve been carrying around in my mp3 library for years and never actually listened to and processed lives. There’s also a separate directory for a ton of music that I’m the only one who really cares about:

We can each make playlists that are also available on the multiple devices. This morning I began the ritual I perform whenever I have a new mp3 library to deal with.

Here’s a side rant: Plex wants files to be named and arranged a certain way, which is fine. There are a lot of programs that do this, and I went with one I used way back when I was ripping CDs, The Godfather. What I didn’t realize is that it’s been a while and the program has update since then. One of its new features is one that automatically “corrects” capitalization in tags. So every artist, album, and song title had this “fixed” by the program, which assumes every word begins with a capital letter and the rest are lowercase. So I had bands and artists like James Mcmurtry, The Klf, The O’jays, and such. It also has a list of words it assumes should always be lowercase, and among them are “you” and “your”, which isn’t how anyone does it, so one track was “Does your Mother Know” by Abba. That this is the default setting (and there’s no way to turn it off) amazes me. Who didn’t have a problem with this? So I had to start all over from scratch after I realized what it had done.

ANYWAY, Plex so far is looking like it’s our solution. We’re going to play with it a little and, if we like it, we’ll get an Android tablet and some speakers and that will be our space age new “stereo”.

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I Played That! #24: Might and Magic I-V (PC)

I picked up the first Might & Magic game, Secret of the Inner Sanctum, at a software store located on the frontage road across from Cortana Mall in Baton Rouge. I don’t know why my memory of buying it is so vivid, but there you go. More than just a standard dungeon crawl, the back copy claimed that it had a sort of AI, that the game would change itself based on how you approached it. I don’t know if that claim stood up, but it was a fun enough game. It was a grid-based 3-D adventure with, as advertised, both might and magic adequately represented. The plot centered around the surprising revelation that the medieval world was actually a module on some kind of colony spacecraft.

When the second game, Gates to Another World, came out, I bought it right away. That was the game that really cemented this series for me. I don’t know what it was about MM2 that grabbed me, but I played a lot of it. One thing I remember about it was that in combat it would often throw a bunch of low-level enemies at you, who may have the ability to call in even more. Killing 50 goblins wasn’t any harder than killing 2, it just took longer. Although you had options in combat, you could hit control-A to just attack whatever was in front of you. My keyboard at the time had the Control button next to the A, so when one of these fights would come up I’d put a padlock I had on both buttons and let it fight the battle for me. The plot centered around the surprising revelation that the medieval world was actually a module on some kind of colony spacecraft.

The third installment, Isles of Terra, was known for its surprising revelation that the medieval world was actually a module on some kind of colony spacecraft. It also gave an indication that not only was this series here to stay, but, like the Ultima series, it intended to push itself with each new installment. The gameplay itself wasn’t noticeably different, which was fine; the controls were actually very good at staying in the background and letting you just play the game. The graphics, however, kept improving, with creature animations, visible status effects on your characters, and the fact that every single item around that main view screen did something to indicate some spell was active. For example, the little guy on the left flapped his wings if you were currently levitating or something.

The first three Might and Magic games were fun, but holy cow, what came next! Number four was Clouds of Xeen and number five was Darkside of Xeen. These were not just two new entries in the series, they could be installed together to form World of Xeen and played simultaneously, along with some extra content. This was huge! In addition, there were the usual graphics enhancements but also voices. My friends and I still make references to the characters in this game, especially the skill trainer. “Looking to train?” he’d say, and “Good job!” when you went up a level. If you couldn’t train he’d go, “Not today!” Since trainers were in towns and you’d often do a bunch of stuff before returning to town, you’d usually build up a lot of levels, so it would actually go something like this: “Looking to train? Good job! Good job! Good job! Good job! Good job! Good job! Good job! Good job! Good job! Not today!” We played the hell out of World of Xeen. By this time the series had also introduced randomly generated weapons, so it was my first experience with getting a Sparking Platinum Sword and seeing if it was better than what my characters were already using. Armor was divided into several parts, so there was a lot of loot to sift through. The plot? So it turns out that Xeen, despite looking like a medieval world, was actually something something spacecraft.

After the Ultima series, Might and Magic was the series I got the most mileage out of. Something about it really grabbed me, even as other, similar things (Bard’s Tale, the D&D Gold Box Games) failed to. I’ll talk about the later Might and Magic games in a future post.

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My Tweek on Twitter

What I did this past week on Twitter, a world of pure imagination.


* David Bowie is mad.

* ok maybe I don’t know how to bake a cake

* do it, y’all

* Old Custer

* and then Emilio shattered that glass with the power of dance and breakfast

* I think I will be disapppointed

* I saw the trailers and magazine covers for The Phantom Menace. I’m ok with waiting for the movie.

* Bethesda, help

* RT of the week

* less funny RT of the week

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