I’m Off to Gen Con!

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It’s Been a Difficult Week (Note: It is Tuesday.)

Yesterday I was going to post about Broadchurch, the British drama we finished watching this past weekend. The Michael Brown news put the kibosh on that, as it seemed tasteless to talk about fictional murdered white kids when there was a real murdered black kid who needed talking about. But not by me; the last thing this situation needed was a white nerd man pontificating on it. That story hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact just keeps getting worse.

Then, last night, came the news that Robin Williams had died, apparently by his own hand. The simple death of Williams is a weird thing. He’s certainly an icon of my generation, and I loved him on “Mork and Mindy”, but he and I parted ways soon afterwards. I occasionally saw movies he was in, but I went more toward George Carlin for comedy.

The suicide following depression thing, well of course that hits home. We’re going to get deluged with “tears of a clown” and “I am Pagliacci” stuff over the next few days, as we learn all over again, as we do each time, that sometimes even very funny and seemingly happy people are hiding a wealth of internal pain. But we’ll forget it soon enough and go back to how depression isn’t a really real thing and you just need to cheer up and antidepressants are evil emotion-destroying poisons and all you really need are Natalie Portman and The Shins.

I feel hollowed out by all this. Last night on Twitter this Achewood comic was going around and I joined in because it was so apt. And this isn’t just the Robin Williams thing, it’s also the Mike Brown thing. We’re all fighting and trying our damndest just to exist. Just to make it to the next day. It’s the only game in town and you can’t win.

Posted in Misc | Tagged

I Had That! #26: Aiwa HS-T06 Tape Player

This installment of “I Had That!” (the halfway point, it should be noted) might be more aptly titled, “I Think I Had That?” because I’m not 100% certain this is in fact the item in question: my first portable tape player.

Actually, I know for a fact it wasn’t. That honor would go to a bulkier thing I had, probably a Radio Shack model, which I listened to a small collection of movie soundtracks on (Star Wars, Empire, Raiders, TRON, Close Encounters). But when the Walkman hit, and hit hard, and everyone wanted a small personal tape player, that one got replaced by a more pocket-friendly version.

I’m pretty sure the one I had was an Aiwa. And this looks like the model. A search on the model number reveals it was released around 1985, which is absolutely on point. I’d love to find the original retail price, but no luck so far.

1985 would be around the time when I really got into pop music. I’d had the radio, and a few albums I owned, but with the discovery of Depeche Mode, I began seeking out new music, expanding my horizons. In a short time I was buying albums by New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Devo, Icehouse, and more. And this was what I listened to them on at school. The radio was usually set to WTUL, Tulane University’s station which was the home of alternative music in New Orleans. I distinctly remember lying on the sofa in the G/T (Gifted/Talented, and that’s another story) room and hearing, for the first time, “Nemesis” by Shriekback played on WTUL. This was also the home of the first few Cool New Music Tapes.

The Aiwa was augmented by a Radio Shack tape deck in my car, which I’m pretty sure was not acquired through normal channels.

At some point the tape player fell and broke, which was devastating. It was replaced, but I remember not liking the replacement as much. It wasn’t as solid and aesthetically pleasing as the Aiwa. And eventually that would be replaced by a jambox, especially in 1987 when my first CD player came along.

Incidentally, the last I remember of the Radio Shack tape player was when I started at the University of New Orleans and went through the motions of being a proper college student, including taping lectures as though I’d listen to them again. I was taping and there was this horrible squealing sound in the auditorium. I looked around trying to figure out what it was, and only too late realized it was my tape player devouring the tape in it. Everyone else had already sussed this out and was wondering why I hadn’t. I shut it off and was mortified. Thankfully I soon after stopped going to classes and flunked out and spiraled into crushing depression.

When did I get it? 1985 sounds about right.

Do I still have it? I don’t. I probably kept its broken corpse for a while but eventually got rid of it.

Posted in Music | Tagged

This Delicious Week

Shared bookmarks for delicious user

Posted in Delicious

iOS App Review: Cahoots!

Ever since college, I’ve been a big fan of trick-taking games, card games in which each player plays a card and one of them “wins” the trick. Usually you’re bidding on how many tricks you can take, trying to score or avoid scoring points in the tricks, or some other thing. My favorite is probably Sticheln, but I like a number of them and am often on the lookout for new and interesting ones.

So I’m pleased to have been pointed towards Cahoots!, a trick-taking game that does a little something new and fun.

Cahoots! is played with six suits: the traditional four, plus yellow stars and blue cups. In each suit you have these cards: 4-5-5-6-6-7-7-8 (it’s a little different in a three-player game). You are randomly given three suits that you want to make win tricks. If you have diamonds, for example, you want diamond tricks to win, because you score 2 points! There’s a catch, though: one other player also scores for each of your suits, so helping yourself is also going to help someone else.

Starting with the start player and rotating clockwise, each player plays one card to the trick, then a second card. Whichever suit has the highest total face value wins, and the two players who “own” that suit score two points. If two or more suits tie for the win, their controllers score one point each.

Then comes the next interesting part. Beginning with the start player, you again go around selecting one card at a time from those played. One of them will come back to your hand and one will be removed from the game (you can choose either one first or second). So you can help get rid of suits you’re not interested in and keep good cards in suits you like.

The game ends after the eleventh round. Whoever has the most points wins. However, you can also play a variant where you then play more games until someone hits 100 points.

It’s a neat game, and I want to put together a physical version to play.

How does it do as an app? The app is very clear, with a helpful tutorial, clear graphics, and good controls. There is only single-player vs. AI play, but the AI has three different levels of difficulty. I won my first game against all Easy AIs, then lost my second to Easy AIs and got crushed in a me-vs-all-the-different-AIs game. It would be nice for it to have online playability, though it wouldn’t work well asynchronously or pass-and-play.

The background music is a short loop that gets annoying fast, but I usually have sound off anyway. I’d like for the vague Prohibition-era theme to be played up in the card art, like six different gangs or something, but it’s fine as-is.

Cahoots! is currently available in the app store for a measly buck. It’s worth checking out if you dig these kinds of games. The game is designed by Jay Treat and the app by Josh Edwards, who generously provided me with a promo code for this review.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged , ,

Dave Actually Watches: Guardians of the Galaxy

Allow me to introduce myself; I’m the nerd who didn’t see The Avengers and doesn’t want to. In fact, I didn’t see any of the Marvel movies except Iron Man, and I’m okay with that. I’m not interested in superheroes, so I’m glad the fans are pretty pleased with those films, but it’s not really my thing.

Guardians of the Galaxy is part of that shared superhero universe; despite it being outer space, it’s set in the present day. It sets up a bad guy who is presumably going to tangle with the Avengers or someone in another movie or so, and in the ending credits bit we find out that The Hulk is Star-Lord’s father. So it’s of a part with those other movies, so there was every reason to pass for me, but it looked like fun. A fun sci-fi adventure movie? I often like those.

We hit the matinee this weekend, opted for 2-D, and settled in. And dammit, it was a really fun ride. It was exciting and moved at a great pace without overwhelming. The bad guys were sufficiently bad, the good guys were sufficiently ragtag, and the universe was constantly interesting. The writing even takes characters like Peter “Star-Lord” Quill and Rocket, the Raccoon, who could easily have been obnoxious “irreverent” characters and instilled them with depth and personality that allowed each of them to not be, “100% a dick”, to quote someone.

I’ve never really followed Marvel comics faithfully, but through osmosis I know some stuff. I know who Thanos is, what the MacGuffin in the story is, and I’ve heard of the Kree. So I have a tiny bit of a leg up on an untrained viewer, but I don’t think not knowing these things would get in the way. At first the number of people interested in the MacGuffin was daunting, but they soon settle down and you’re okay with who’s who. If it fits in with the other movies that’s a bonus for Marvel enthusiasts, but I can report that it stands perfectly well on its own.

I’m pleased that the classic rock soundtrack makes sense, and in fact is pretty well used through the movie. When I first heard it in the trailer I rolled my eyes, but I have to admit they worked it in effectively. And hey, I’ll always take “Moonage Daydream” over “Everything is Awesome”.

People have actually been comparing GotG to Star Wars and that’s kind of a tough one since, for me, I don’t think even Star Wars is Star Wars anymore, but I think it’s an apt description. Like Star Wars, this is a sci-fi movie that is not concerned with big important ideas and gravitas, but just a rollicking adventure flick. Unlike a lot of other science fiction movies these days it’s neither ponderously self-important nor assuming that it doesn’t have to try very hard because you’ll see it anyway.

It’s strange to call a colossal-budget marketing juggernaut like Guardians of the Galaxy, “a breath of fresh air” but that’s kind of what it was for me. I was perfectly pleased by it and yeah, I’ll see another one. Still don’t care about an Avenger, though.

Posted in Movies | Tagged ,

I Can Buy Boardgames Again

Back in April I told you about the Ultimatum List. Briefly, I had bought a bunch of boardgames that turned out to be poor choices, some of which I knew were poor choices at the time. So I picked ten games I owned that were either un- or underplayed and declared that I could not buy any more until those ten got played.

The final one got played on Friday. Let’s take a look back at the list and see how they did!

Merchants of Venus – This is a reprint of an older game that I’d played before. I was super hot for the reprint but it didn’t get much play. Part of that is because it’s LONG. It’s an old 80s game it shows it. For this play it took a few hours, an we were only two players and were playing a short game. But I think once you know it you can get even a 3-player game done in a reasonable time. More to the point, it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy this one, and I’d rather spend the time playing it than some current trading in the Mediterranean nonsense. Verdict: IT STAYS

Core Worlds: Galactic Orders – Galactic Orders is an expansion that smooths some of the rough edges of Core Worlds, though possibly too much. Core Worlds is a game I think I want to like more than I do, and the time and table space it requires aren’t really worth the gameplay. I like it, but I might be able to live without it. Verdict: ON THE FENCE

Wiz-War – Another reprint of an older game. I bought this even though I like the game well enough, but I’m not super crazy about it. You really need four players to make this work, and this version requires some tweaking to the card distribution, and honestly, I’d probably just rather play something else. It also doesn’t help that the people in my regular group don’t like it much and the one person who does also has a copy. Verdict: IT GOES

Invaders – We played this three times in a row and none of the games were terribly satisfying. There’s probably something here if you stick with it, but I already have a bunch of two-players games I like without having to work at it. Verdict: IT GOES

The Manhattan Project – Man, I want to like this game. I like the theme, disturbing as it is. I like the design. I like the fact that there’s more interaction to it other than just “ha ha I took the space you want”. But the airstrike mechanism is weak, the espionage mechanism is obnoxious, and there are about eight thousand other worker placement games to choose from. It’s one of those games that people say, “Oh hey, I like that one!” but yet it never gets played. I don’t need it. Verdict: IT GOES

Nations – This one took a long, weird journey along the way, including one awful, awful session (because we missed a key rule), but now it’s one of my favorites. I talk more about it here, but the short version is, it’s probably the best of this bunch. Verdict: IT STAYS

Wiraqocha – It has some interesting things going on and an unusual theme, but it’s a little half-baked, and I can definitely live without it. Verdict: IT GOES

Flash Point: Fire Rescue – The only “crime” this game has committed is that it’s cooperative, and unfortunately too many of the people I game with will veto it based on that alone. It’s a great co-op, though, full of tension and genuine discussion of best strategies. I intend to push harder for it. Verdict: IT STAYS

Triumvirate – This is a really cool two-player trick-taking game. You wouldn’t expect that to work very well, but it does. Deserves a lot more attention than it’s gotten, and I really want to get more plays of it.
Verdict: IT STAYS

Gang of Four – Tichu is a card game everyone except me absolutely adores. I like the idea of Tichu, but there are some weirdo things about it I don’t like. Gang of Four has its origins the same place Tichu does: in Big 2, a card game popular in Asia, only Gang of Four gets rid of the stuff I don’t like. This is a good, four-player, drink coffee and play cards and hang out game. Probably not for hardcore gamers, but I think I can get it played elsewhere. Verdict: IT STAYS, FOR NOW

So that’s not too bad, even if a bunch of them are now in the trade pile. So I’ve played them all and I’m free to buy games again, which is good, because Gen Con is right around the corner and I know I’m buying stuff there. In fact, three of the games in this list that are going are already more or less gone, thanks to the Gen Con math trade (it’s a trade, though, so three more are taking their place.)

What this taught me even more than buying more carefully is that honestly, I don’t need to buy that much at all. I already own a lot of good games. There’s no need for me to be constantly chasing the latest box of cardboard. Although I had burned out on a lot of the shiny newness, I was still buying stuff. I really don’t have to do that, and I’m going to cut down some more. In fact, a further purging may be on the horizon.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged

I Had That! #25: The Empire Strikes Back Comics Adaptation

To this day, I can’t remember what I did. Left my bike out and the garage door unlocked? Could be. But I don’t know for sure. What I do remember was the punishment, handed down from my dad. I could not see The Empire Strikes Back.

This was devastating, as you can imagine. Everyone I knew was looking forward to this and couldn’t wait. We’d been talking about “Star Wars 2″ for years. We all had the Boba Fett action figure and were dying to see what this cool looking guy did. We saw the article in Time magazine with the sneak photos including Han Solo looking like he was trapped in metal. I had to see this movie, but I couldn’t.

Instead, I had this comic adaptation (as well as any magazine that had photos in it). So I knew the movie backwards and forwards anyway, with one major exception: in the comic, Darth Vader’s revelation is treated more ambivalently. There’s a hint that it’s not necessarily the truth. I tried to argue this, but my friends said, “No, it’s pretty clear in the movie.”

It’s worth pointing out here that this was the first Star Wars comic I’d gotten in some time. I had bought the original Marvel version of the first movie, and an issue or two of the stories beyond the movie, but they just didn’t grab me. And after I got this one, I still didn’t continue buying them. I was crazy about Star Wars, but the comics just weren’t the real thing to me.

One day, before my punishment was up, my dad said to get my shoes on because we were going to the mall. I didn’t particularly want to go to the mall, but he insisted. We ended up seeing the movie. I don’t know why he had relented; perhaps he figured out that my cousin Trey and I had already seen it about four times while I was visiting relatives and was left with Trey to roam around the Natchez Mall at will.

Empire is regarded as the “best” of the movies, but I don’t agree and even as a kid I felt disappointed by it. The opening battle on Hoth is incredible, but after that, nothing much happens. You have the asteroid field and the lightsaber battle but also a lot of standing around and talking. All that “dark” and “mature” stuff is incredibly boring when you’re 12. And it bugged me that it didn’t have an end. I’d already had to wait three years (plus) for this movie, and they left it hanging? What the hell kind of cruel trick was that?

Nevertheless, it made for some cool action figures and toys, and I took to Yoda and Lando Calrissian, even though my t-shirt of the latter got me some pointed remarks from my Southern peers. Even disappointing Star Wars was better than none.

When did I get it? As soon as it was available in 1980..

Do I still have it? No. I’m not sure when I got rid of it.

Posted in Comics | Tagged ,