True Detective


Like everyone else, I heard a lot about True Detective. Almost too much. It sounded interesting, and I was ready to watch when it got to Netflix or whatever, but it looked like time was against me. It seemed like only a matter of time before someone was going to spill whatever beans there were to spill. I didn’t even want to see parodies because I was afraid of spoilers. So I acquired the series through perfectly legal channels and Becky and I shotgunned it as quickly as possible. That was actually pretty easy to do, because by the end of the first episode, we were hooked.

There’s a lot about TD that I’m tired of. I’m tired of serial killers, white men who have to break the rules to get the job done, dead women as entertainment, anti-heroes who only have to stay just a little bit above the actual villains, an one or two other things that I can’t say here in the non-spoiler part. However, the direction, the acting, the writing, the music, and the mood all helped me look past those things, for good or ill.

It’s a stunning series and a great, if incredibly disturbing, ride, even if it kind of misses the landing. It’s worth checking out sooner rather than later, though I don’t think the “spoilers” are as ruinous as I feared they would be.

Here’s a video I made which is 100% spoiler-free, but if you don’t want to hear any more, don’t read what comes after it.

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Boardgaming at ConnCon

On Saturday I headed down to Stamford, CT, for ConnCon, a gaming convention. I’d never been there before, though I’d thought about it a couple of times. This time I knew some folks who were going to be there an decided to take the plunge.

I drove down early Saturday morning and arrived around 9. Not seeing anyone I knew, I met up with a guy who was an old-school Knizia fan. We played Carcassonne: the Castle as a warm-up, and then a friend of his joined us for Ra, which I hadn’t played in ages. Though I like trying out new things at these events, it was also cool to meet some new people and play some favorites. I’ve gotten a lot less interested in trying the new hotness, especially now that the new hotness usually isn’t my kind of game. Those guys then headed off to play something I was less interested in and I looked for folks I knew.

I found pal Jim C., who was setting up Eldritch Horror, Fantasy Flight’s new streamlined version of Arkham Horror. I’ve only played Arkham Horror once, and I liked it okay, but I liked Eldritch a lot more. It’s less fussy and more dynamic. It’s also hard as hell, or we were just spectacularly inept. We lost the game, which is why Azathoth descended upon the world around 3pm on Saturday. In addition, I killed off two of my characters. Note that you only play one at a time. I killed my character, then killed her replacement. So if you need someone for your unspeakable horror task force, well, I can work the coffee pot, I guess?

By this time I saw a bunch of folks I met at Trashfest last year, but they were already involved in games. I headed back to the main room and a prototype caught my eye.

The game was called Black Diamonds and it’s a heavy economic game about running an anthracite coal mine in Pennsylvania. You have to develop your mine and mining town, do mining, get your results to market, hire miners, and other things, all while making sure your miners don’t get too unhappy or dead (which also makes them unhappy, go figure). I started out with a mining disaster right out of the gate, which made me safe up my mine so it ran pretty well (if far under capacity) for the rest of the game, until the end when I once again killed a bunch of miners. I came in a distant third. But more importantly, I thought it was a great design with a lot of promise. The historical accuracy helped develop the theme without being too intrusive, and you really got a sense of narrative going on. I also liked that the story included the miners as well and the rise of organized labor (this is what caught my eye in the first place.) I told the designer, Geoff, that I was interested in the game and would be keeping my eye on it. If it went on Kickstarter, I’d back it. I think we still has a little bit to go with tweaking it, but I’d say he’s very close now. He offered to send our group a prototype kit, which I’m excited for because I think several of the folks I game with would enjoy it.

I finished out the day with Kolejka, a game I was happy to teach because I think it deserves more love and attention. I did an okay job of teaching, and the folks playing got into it. The game went down to the wire, with only one good left on a delivery truck. There was a crazy fight at the furniture store, which is what three people needed to win the game. I was close but got shut out at the last minute and the win went to one of the others. They seemed to really like it and talked about buying it for themselves, so I was glad of that.

It was about 10pm by now and although I wasn’t too tired, I knew if I started something else I’d be looking at midnight or so before I left, and still had a two hour drive home ahead of me. I hadn’t ridden down with anyone, so I figured it was best to take off before I got exhausted.

ConnCon was a lot of fun and will probably become a regular thing for me. I had a great time.

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I Had That! #7: Gargle, the Freakies Cereal Figure

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The 70s were a strange time for breakfast cereal. All the energy that would later be put into toyvertisement cartoons was put into pressing the same sugary slurry into new shapes and coming up with a bizarre concept around it. For example, there was for real a cereal called “Grins and Smiles and Giggle and Laughs” in which the storyline was that a grumpy machine made the cereal only when it laughed, so a company made up of the titular individuals was in business to amuse the machine. My dad referred to it as “Grins and Giggles and Snorts and Farts” which to this day I think is hilarious. It was also a time when the cereal box toy surprise was definitely a thing to consider when buying cereal. The companies put their A game into these premiums. Naturally I got this cereal, even though it tasted exactly like every other cereal, because there was a cool toy inside.

Another cereal from the same mid-70s era was Freakies, and its concept was that seven bizarre creatures with distinct personalities lived in a tree and ate cereal. I don’t remember too much about these guys, but I know that they game out plastic, inch-and-a-half tall figurines of the characters. I know this because I still have one (or not, more on this in a moment).

This character’s name is Gargle. A Freakies fan site says he’s the brains of the bunch. He’s moved with me in a box of miscellaneous toys for years, and on mine the tail is chewed up a little from when a dog (probably Pepper) got hold of him. He’s one of the only cereal premiums I kept, though I know we also had a magnet of another Freakies character, Goody Goody, and possibly other figurines and magnets as well.

When did I get it? The Internet says Freakies were sold from 1971 to 1977. I would be on the later side of that, probably around 1975 or 1976 (I was a pretty devoted Count Chocula and Boo-Berry fan before that.)

Do I still have it? When I was looking for items for this feature I knew I was going to include this, but alarmingly, I can’t find him. He’s not in the box of stuff I “rescued” from The Big Nerd Box. I suspect that he went into that box and got lost in the shuffle and is now in the undoubtedly lesser appreciative hands of the guy who bought it. But who knows, it’s a charming little figure and maybe he or his kids have taken a shining to the freaky guy.

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This Delicious Week

Shared bookmarks for delicious user

Posted in Delicious

The Phone Game Sensation That’s Sweeping the Nation!

Can anyone get past Level 10 on Flappy Cappy?

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Crazy and Thief on Vimeo!

Crazy and Thief (2012)
Two children, a homemade star chart, a cyclops, a giant and a time machine.
From writer / director Cory McAbee, creator of The American Astronaut (2001) and Stingray Sam (2009).
For production credits, awards, press, stills, info and more see:‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬.
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App Review: Mars Needs Mechanics

Mars Needs Mechanics is a boardgame by Ben Rosset that came out from Nevermore Games (by way of Kickstarter) last year. I’ve not played the physical version, but there’s now an iPhone version that its developer, Josh Edwards, was kind enough to give me a promo code for. I’ve played it several times now and can report back on it.

First, the game itself. The game describes itself thusly: “Starting the game with only 30 cogs (currency), players will utilize unique game mechanisms that emphasize timing to collect sets of components and build steampunk mechanisms aimed at earning even more cogs.” That said, it’s not exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a sort of stock market game, where you’re trying to buy components at a low cost and sell them at a high cost. There are seven such components, and the way the market works is pretty innovative. They start out each costing 5 cogs, and randomly arranged in a row. Each time a component is bought by a player, the token for that component moves to the front of the row, pushing everyone else back. When all the players pass, the three components at the front will go up in value by 1 cog, and the three in back go down by 1 cog (the middle one keeps its price). So merely investing will help to raise the price, but if you invest too soon it may get pushed out of the front three and not go up after all. On the other hand, if you pass to try to postpone your buy, the round could end before you get a chance to make the purchase. So this gaming of the market is the heart of the game, and everything else is pretty much fluff.

In fact, the “steampunk mechanisms” you can build seem to be completely unnecessary. One of them can get you somewhat big bucks if it’s built, but most offer small benefits that don’t seem to be worth the cost to make them. I’ll talk more about them in a moment.

Mars Needs Mechanics is a game that is okay, not terrible or great. Its market mechanism is kind of neat, but there’s not much hanging on it, and since there’s no difference in the components, I can’t imagine playing this over and over. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for an iOS game, though, as the ability to play a game anywhere against an AI or other folks can give more life to a game that might not see as much if you had to physically carry it around and set it up (I’m looking at you, Ascension.)

So how does the iPhone app handle the game? First off, it looks great, even at 2x size on my iPad. The card art is the same as that in the physical game and it looks nice. Information is presented clearly (for the most part) and intuitively. There’s a tutorial that teaches you how to play, and it does an okay job, but I still wasn’t sure about a couple of things and wanted to read the actual rules, which are not included (I ended up downloading them from here.)

As in the board game, the mechanisms seem kind of tacked on and it’s easy in the iPhone game to forget they’re even there. I never even looked at them after the first couple of plays and was surprised when an AI used one. (In fact, there’s an option to remove them from the game altogether.)

Speaking of AI, there is only one level of AI and it’s not very good. Not only have I not lost a game since my second one, it’s been a blowout nearly every time. One time the AI bought itself down to one cog and never sold anything for the rest of the game. Asynchronous multiplayer would be a little tedious for this game, but real-time multiplayer would be a big bonus (there is same-device multiplayer) since the AI is pretty easy to beat.

Another big help would be an “Undo” or at least confirmation before you do something dumb. A couple times I selected cards to sell but hit “Done” instead of “Sell”, ending my sell turn and not getting cogs for them. At the very least the app should ask if you’re sure you don’t want to sell if you have salable items and aren’t selling any and especially if you’ve selected salable items but didn’t sell them.

As an app the game is a nice enough time-waster, and if you have an opponent at hand it’s not a bad game. At the very least it’s an inexpensive chance to try out a game that you, like I, might not have known about.

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It Might Have Been Better Without All that Dialogue and Action and Sound Effects and Visuals

I watched The World’s End the other day, a sort of bonus movie amid all these other movies I’ve been watching. It was okay.

The best thing about it was the soundtrack, a collection of great tracks from the early 90s. That I could experience over and over.

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