Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Game Night

One of our wayward former game-night friends was back in town tonight after a year's absence. Jess took a job in Orange County about a little over a year ago and (along with the defections of Bruce the Traitor and Tim) his loss was sorely felt at game night. He's back in Seattle for the LOGIN conference at the moment and made time to get together with us for a little game night action tonight.

It was very much like old times. Jess came by and we ran down to Georgetown's excellent Full Throttle Bottles to stock up on some beverages, where Jess struck up a conversation on microbrews with the owner. Somehow the conversation veered over to my True20 t-shirt. "Oh, really? I know a little about gaming. My brother is Mark Tedin." "No way! My husband used to commute with Mark when they both worked at Wizards of the Coast." Just a typical example of the crazy small world you find when you venture out in Seattle. Both Jess and Chris knew and liked Mark from Wizards and now we're chatting up his brother at the local kick-ass beer and wine store in Georgetown, just a hop and a skip from my house. Love it.

Loaded with beer, Jess and I also stopped in at The Cutting Board to pick up a hefty platter of sushi for dinner. The Cutting Board is the nearest thing I have to a local sushi place, with the added benefit that they have a huge variety of unusual sushi rolls, including many variations that are vegetarian or that include uncommon ingredients like fruits. The drawback is that we didn't have a menu of their unique rolls with us before arriving so we had to wait a long while to get the take out order... if we'd been able to look at a menu in advance we could have called in or something. Still, the rolls were delicious and original and once we finally returned with food we all ate until we were stuffed. Mmm, sushi.

The last couple of game nights we've played Fantasy Flight's cute little board game, Red November. Kate can actually claim credit for introducing the family to this one; she got it from her dad for her birthday. She begged off playing with us tonight (my budding teen would rather listen to music and read anime fiction on the internet) but we enjoyed a complete game and it was just like Jess had never left. Fun to have him back in the fold, if just for a night. I like this game. The first game went slowly as we didn't properly understand all the rules and kept having to check the rules for clarifications (and, we found out we'd played half the game under a misunderstanding of the rules which made the game much less fun!). This second game was more smooth, though we still had to check back to the rules a few times. The fun of the game really requires players to not be tentative and is definitely boosted by knowing the rules well. I like the game and am willing to put the time in to master the rules in the interest of increasing the speed of the game, because I think it is probably a real riot when played balls out and full speed ahead (I mean, isn't that what you'd expect from drunken gnomes on a flooding, fire-plagued, sinking, kraken-plagued submarine?) but I'm not sure if everyone else is as taken with it as I am.

Regardless, we managed to have a super successful game night, early this week in honor of Jess visiting Seattle. This has left me in a very pleasant mood.

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A Day in the Life

Kate's substitute bus driver failed to pick her up for the second day in a row and I had to drive her to school this morning. We were significantly late because I had a conference call scheduled for exactly when she should have been arriving at school to be on time.

Pramas and I drove together so we could talk over the conference call. We stopped at the Columbia City Bakery for americanos and baked goods. We also made a stop at the bank before heading to Queen Anne.

I stopped at Arvey for shipping supplies, where the older gentleman who works there was keyed up about something and kept muttering "Oh no, don't do this to me, no no no," and calling me "precious" and "sweetheart" and thanking me profusely for waiting. He's a nice old guy and I love going in there and letting him check me out so it was no trouble at all to wait patiently while he sorted out his morning crisis. I hope his day went better.

The afternoon was filled with mail orders and invoicing. I put together over 40 invoices today, and a couple of bins of mail.

Tonight was, in theory, game night. Only Evan could join us but I cooked anyway. We had an improvised white bean and chicken soup in homemade fennel broth that I whipped up in the pressure cooker. Adding chicken to the fennel broth adds a bit too much chicken flavor (and takes away from the subtle-but-luscious fennel flavor of the unadulterated broth) but everyone seemed to like it okay anyway.

We even busted out with Thurn und Taxis and got a whole game in. I'd never played before but I won the night's game so I guess I picked it up successfully. A couple glasses of wine, a little chocolate, some fresh strawberries, and a new board game on a warm spring night! Pretty successful if you ask me.

Tomorrow we have doctor appointments to attend, plus I'm intending to get up for 6:30am yoga. I also have to drive Kate up to drop her off for the weekend with her dad. We have a busy weekend planned. Here's hoping I feel up to everything.

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I wanted to thank everyone for their sympathy on the whole friend moving away issue. I really do appreciate it. I just needed to cry a little for myself so I could move forward being supportive and positive for my friend and his opportunities. Everything about this move has the possibility to be good for him, personally and professionally. I'm fully supportive of him taking this and running with it, he deserves it. He's even considering starting a blog so we can all keep up with him, which would be great. I've been able to remain closest to distant friends who are enthusiastic internet users.

Meanwhile it was game night last night, so I made up some Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf and Guinness Chocolate Cake in his honor and we drank some Bowmore 17-year and had one last game night hurrah. We even squeezed in a couple of games of Tsuro right at the end so we could say we actually played games on game night.

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Support Piracy

Piracy of the Pirates of the Burning Sea kind, that is.

Pirates is on the front page of the New York Times art section today. The launch has gone well and though there are always haters for anything anyone does, the response to the game is strong and positive. Congrats to Pramas, John, Jess, and all the other FLS pirate crew!

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I've been out of the loop for a while so I completely missed the release of this game from Wizards of the Coast. It's billed on the WotC site as "A D&D Supplement" which is completely bizarre as it has nothing to do with "supplementing" D&D. It's a GAME and a perfectly fun one at that.

Designed by Rob Heinsoo (who apparently wrote up some designer's notes that only D&D Insider subscribers are allowed to read, so I can't comment on those) the game just a tad fiddly to get started but after a couple of times around the table I "got it" just fine and even Kate was able to sit down at the table and play with us (and win!).

I'd write more about it but I'd be going from memory since our friend took his copy home with him last night and I wouldn't want to get anything horribly wrong in the remembering. Mat Smith's August edition of Previews has a bit on the game (scroll down to "October" to find it) and MerrickB does a little write-up over at Board Game Geek, so I'll just say that it was fun and I'd play it again.




The highlight of my day was when we got a call from RH (who lives a couple of blocks over) asking if we might be able to help put his bumper crop of plums to some use. He brought over a nice, fat ziplock bag of ripe juicy plums and gave me a free invitation to come over to his house and help myself to as many as I think I can use. Woohoo! I'm going to dig into my preserving and baking books and see what I can put together. Simply recipes has a plum cobbler recipe that I've wanted to try (and after the stupendous success of the Spicy Fig Orange Microwave Jam the other day, I'm quite eager to give a couple more of these recipes (like this plum compote a shot.

While RH and I were still working out the details of my potential plum raid, Ms. BBCAddict and Mr. Lemuriapress stopped by and made good on the proffered exchange of chocolate-orange madelines for fig jam. We sampled the goods and they were yummy.

Drove up to get Kate and while I was gone Jeremy Crawford (he of Book of Fiends, Blue Rose, and WFRP fame, not to mention all around nice fellow) stopped by to throw down with Pramas in a game of Battlelore. Jeremy recently moved to town to take a job with Wizards and we are very happy to have him in our neck of the woods. I brought back a little something for supper from Tutta Bella and watched some Meerkat Manor and The Closer with Kate while the boys played games in the kitchen.

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What's become of game night

Last game night we were looking for something that could handle 5 players, wasn't going to be too long or involved, but that we could start after dinner wound down and still feel like we'd done a bit of gaming. We broke out Tsuro which we've had on the shelf for ages but never managed to play. (It was a contender one night but I think we went with Formula Dé or something instead.

Tsuro proved to be just right. We were able to learn the game easily, play a couple of games (which moved along quickly) and I think everyone ended the night with positive feelings about the game. I declared it to be "like Chutes and Ladders for adults" which maybe doesn't sound as positive a review as I meant it. Chris had played it as a two-player game and hadn't thought much of it at first but it seems like adding in more players increased his enjoyment. It's a very pretty game that could easily be played with kids, two points things I tend to appreciate in addition to how much I personally enjoy the play.

Our group is such that we're all on different deadlines, with different responsibilities and travel schedules (or, in one case, the demands of two kids under 4) so it was becoming unwieldy to try to keep a roleplaying campaign together. I expect we'll want to give the Song of Ice and Fire a spin after the travel craziness dies down (and when the rules are in shape to support a full game) but for now I'm feeling pretty good about dusting off some of our oft-neglected board and card games.

Especially having just read the galleys of our upcoming Hobby Games: 100 Best collection of essays, I'm reminded of how many games I've never gotten around to trying or haven't played for years. Vinci anyone?



Pirate's Guide to Freeport

Wow! Just got the proofs in for this book and it's gorgeous! We've put out a lot of books over the years and I love each of our little book-children in their own special way but the Pirate's Guide to Freeport is the particular sweet, sexy, pirate-flavored goodness that makes me squee with delight.

Sexy! Awesomeness! I can't wait to get the actual book in my hands...

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Fun at Game Night

No roleplaying this week but we did play Ticket to Ride and a couple of games of Walk the Plank. Kate even joined in. It's nice that she's old enough to play with the adults now. In fact, she's pretty capable and uses good strategy. She plays to win.

I heard her on the phone earlier in the evening. She was using my old headset to talk hands-free on the cordless phone with her friend Alex while they played games and roamed around Club Penguin together. She was pretty funny, trying to explain to her friend that she wasn't cheating, she was "using strategy to win."

Anyway, it was good food, good company and fun games. That's what game night should be like!

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Dr. Lucky

Ray was over for game night last night so he poked around on my computer for a while and returning to a previous installation from months ago I'm at least up and able add/remove programs and Firefox is running without crashing. Small steps. I'm still not exactly confident about this machine in the long term (which blows because it's not that old!) but for now I seem to be back on stable ground.

Tim and Evan were both out last night so we broke out the board games and eventually settled on trying the new Titanic Games edition of the Cheapass Games hit Kill Doctor Lucky. The Titanic edition is very pretty, though we were a bit frustrated by the wispy font choice on the board (more than once unfamiliar players said "What's that room?" or mistook 14 for 11 and so on) but I guess we're just old and curmudgeonly. I feel like I'm constantly crying out for readable fonts in the face of more artistic choices (Unlike some, I'm not a Comic Sans hater because I can read it! which is the most important thing to me... but that's a rant for a different day.) The components are fine, the addition of the "spite tokens" speeds up the game considerably and adds a layer of strategy for those players who find themselves thinking things like "She's got plenty of spite tokens to stop this murder attempt, so I'm not going to play anything." Kate was the silent little mistress of strategy, twice busting out with murder attempts in rooms where she got the bonus for using the right weapon. Unfortunately, because of my unwillingness to part with my spite tokens, Chris was able to make a surprise (successful) murder attempt despite her good strategy and excellent poker face.

The game is as solid as ever and the components of this super-deluxe version are fine. The board is gorgeous. We found the cards to be a little "sticky" when we first opened them up to shuffle them (they didn't want to slide smoothly against each other, not that they were tacky or physically damaged or defective or anything) and I'm hoping with more use they'll loosen up a little. There are lots of clever details in the components that I have to admit I didn't notice during game play: each room card has a color picture of the room on it, the failure cards all supply humorous text and illustrations, the movement cards have one person pictured for "move one" and two people pictured for "move two" and so on.

I know James has wanted to do up a deluxe version of Doctor Lucky for the better part of a decade, so I'm really pleased for him. Titanic's edition of the game is quite nice. I hope they have lots of success with it.



360 Burnout?

Could be that it's just my frame of mind lately but I think I'm officially burned out on the Xbox 360. I've been fighting off the illness Pramas brought home from Flying Lab, a strangely threatening sore throat and general fatigue. Such fatigue that I found myself unable to stay awake, falling asleep reading, falling asleep just sitting down, falling asleep in front of my computer even though I was getting plenty of sleep at night. I don't feel like I have a full blown debilitating illness but I do feel in precisely the right mood to want to boot up some electronic games.

Except that I don't.

I tried playing a little Viva Pinata, something I haven't touched in weeks. I've got three or four different gardens going but none of them appeal. I'm at the stage now where in order to accomplish anything I pretty much have to do a bunch of tedious animal breeding in huge quantities. After a bunch of trouble I finally manged to attract a couple of bush babies. Before I can do anything with the cursed things, I have to have a unicorn in my garden, which means I have to bring in some ponies, which will attract some horses, which I can then breed until I have some ungodly number of them (which makes ma a "Master Romancer")... all of which necessitates that I fill in my painstakingly dug ponds so I have enough room and grass... oh, and I have to feed each of the horses something like 15 gems to put them in the mood to romance in the first place. I am clearly not a hardcore gamer because going to all that work just so I can hatch a baby Galagoogoo does NOT sound like fun.

Tried playing Zuma but I've been stuck on level 12 for weeks and no matter many times I try, try again, I can't get past. Bejeweled? I've had this for ages for my Palm and I normally like games like this, but these days? Yawn. Geometry Wars? Tried that for about five minutes and then gave up. Lost a couple of games of backgammon to the cheating computer (oh yeah, it just happened to get all those doubles in every single game just when they were needed). I leave the shooters to Pramas. When I launched Hexic Kate said, "Oh, you can play this one for hours!" but again, no. I didn't even clear one screen before I just didn't feel like playing.

I suppose I should wait until I give Guitar Hero for the 360 a try before I declare I'm done, but barring another RPG-style release like the original Knights of the Old Republic (something like KOTOR 2, if they'd bothered to finish it, would be top of my list) I can't say I'm even mildly interested in sitting down for some console gaming at the moment. Curse James Wallis for making me long for Ecco the Dolphin. Hell, if someone wanted to sell me a game where I could "just prat around being a dolphin" I'd buy it right now!

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Computer Games Frustrate Me

Kate and I have had a pretty good run of fun playing the various Nancy Drew PC games put out by Bellevue's own HER Interactive. So much so that I pre-ordered the last release and Kate and I played through it in a little over one day. That was a bit of a disappointment, to be sure, but not so much that we were soured on the franchise (though we hope the next release is a little more robust) but now we're stuck waiting until the next release which doesn't even have a projected date yet. It's nearly as bad as waiting for authors to finish the next book in a series (looking at you, JK Rowling, George Martin, and Greg Keyes). The earliest Nancy Drew games are a bit rough and some of the older ones we didn't bother to go back and finish because the interface or the "puzzles" were just too frustrating, but each subsequent release has had improvements and the releases of the last two years have been especially good well suited to our tastes.

We've tried some other similar games in between Nancy Drew releases. We played a Sherlock Holmes game from several years ago (picked up cheap or free) that was okay right up to the point near the end where, to heighten the tension I guess, Sherlock Holmes has to regain consciousness, know to look immediately in the right direction or be instantly killed by fricking scorpions. Are you kidding me? All the investigating, searching for clues, solving puzzles and the end game is "Oops, you stepped on a scorpion!"?! Argh.

This weekend we played through an Agatha Christie game from Dreamcatcher Games and AWE Games. AWE has been around for 14 years and has had a hand in designing everything from the LA LAW computer game to a bunch of licensed stuff like Cabbage Patch Kids "Where's My Pony?" and several Spongebob Squarepants titles. Dreamcatcher were involved in at least a couple of older Nancy Drew titles (coincidentally, some of the titles Kate and I found most frustrating).

The Murder on the Orient Express game was released in 2006. Graphically it's just fine, even excellent in some areas. The game play, on the other hand, was a frustration and ultimately unsatisfactory. You play a character who is assisting famous Christie detective Hercule Poirot. That's fine. You spend a lot of time roaming the train and environment, searching for clues. This is also fine. What isn't fine is the frustrating illusion of choice: this game has your character interacting with dozens of different NPCs but you as the player aren't chosing anything but the order in which you click the prescribed dialog. It's not a choice between saying "I suspect you're not telling me the truth" or "I need to get more information. Can you tell me X" you must say both things in order for the game to progress and there is no consequence at all to anything you say. It is scripted and as the player your only participating in the plot is how long it takes you to solve a puzzle. Don't solve it and the story does not progress. Solve it and your reward is a whole new series of "dialog" options that you must click through. The one clever bit of game play involves combining certain items with other items to make the item you need. When it comes to collecting fingerprints, it's fun. When it involves stealing cake batter, it becomes tedious and ludicrous.

Here's what I want from these games:

  • I want to be able to interact with the environment, uncover clues, and solve puzzles.

  • I want my actions within the game to have a consequence.

  • I want to have actual choice: do I lie or confide the truth, do I break open the mysterious seal or not, do I take the A Train or the C Line?

  • I want to find things out and "figure out" the mystery, not have it revealed to me in exposition or by watching NPCs act out the climax while I look on.

  • I want the game to be smart enough that if I happen to discover the clue in the first drawer I open, I'm not forced to open all the other drawers in order to signal I've "searched" things.

  • I DO NOT want to be forced into multiple stupid sub-quests: it's okay if I have to find a cask of olive oil in order to get the chef to cooperate with me but if I know I have to go scuba diving to find the prize, do NOT make me string shell necklaces for three hours (or kill wolves for their pelts, to use a Neverwinter Nights example) before I can continue on my way with the actual mystery.

  • I DO NOT want to have to watch my animated character walk hither and yon from one end of the spooky mansion/luxury train/scary wilderness for every little thing. It's neat the first time, it's incredibly boring and tedious the thirtieth time.

The very worst part of the game for us was the vaunted new twist-ending which you as the player have no part in. You've collected the evidence but there is no way you could figure out the "twist" and so it is simply revealed to you as you watch twelve or fourteen CGI characters act out what should be a movie scene. Then, many minutes later, you are given the "choice" to choose the outcome: what are you and Poirot going to tell the police? Except once again there are three "choices" that are no choice at all, you merely click and to signal that you're repeating your lines and the story moves along as scripted. It denies me all the things I want from one of these games and hits every point that I specifically DO NOT want. With Murder on the Orient Express in particular, Kate and I should have just stuck to reading the book or watching the film. In fact, a copy of the book was included in the game box! At least the marketing guys gave me what I wanted.



Strategies Games & Hobbies

Wall o' Board Games
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Strategies Games & Hobbies is a fairly new store that's opened up in Vancouver and we finally had a chance to visit last weekend.

From my perspective as both a publisher and a gamer myself, Darren is doing everything right with his store: it is clean, spacious, and well-lit. He has a tightly focused inventory, attractively displayed. The storefront is welcoming and uncluttered, with excellent signs and several games laid out on game tables where people can have a look at them or go through a brief demo. He and his employee greeted every person who came through the door and thanked every person as they left: just the right amount of attention in my book, as I hate to be pressured or lingered over or aggressively chattered at by over-eager staff. At no time did I ever have the feeling that I was entering the owner's private clubhouse, which is too often the feeling I've had at too many independent game stores over the years.

Strategies also has a very full and interesting event schedule. They offer free figure painting lessons on Saturdays, Flames of War games in the store every Friday, Games Workshop games on Sundays and have had great success with RPGA events in the store as well. Darren has had local experts (like painter Kelly Kim and local novelist/game enthusiast Lisa Smedman) come in for contests and clinics at the store, and has scheduled Learn to Play nights to focus on a variety of games. At the end of this month, he's teamed up with the Vancouver Independant Game Designers Association for a game design contest.

He's not just putting together a retail store but he's building community. If you're a gamer in the Vancouver area, I highly recommend checking out Strategies. If you're a professional or someone from a game company who offers support to independent hobby game retailers, Strategies is exactly the kind of store we want to nurture. If you have an organized play program, demo teams, promotional items, give Darren a ring and let him know.

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La Belle et la Bęte

We have Rosie the Dog as a house guest again this weekend. Kate is very happy about this and has been showering the sweet canine girl with attention. One small mishap: Kate left a ziplock bag that had previously contained leftover pizza out where Rosie could get it and this morning I came downstairs to a very guilty-looking dog and shredded plastic. I love that dogs have a conscience and the decency to be ashamed of themselves when they're bad. The first day Rosie was here, Bonnie was very out of sorts, running around the room upstairs thumping her foot repeatedly even though Rosie never got closer than the hallway outside of Kate's room. Her little bunny danger sense was tingling, I guess.

At John and Jenny's invitation, and after another great dinner at Panos Kleftiko, we took Kate out to see Jean Cocteau's 1946 film of Beauty and the Beast last night at the new SIFF Cinema at Seattle Center last night. Black and white French film, subtitled. Really interesting movie (if you like that sort of thing, which I do). Amazing make-up and costuming, especially for the time. I told Kate she was getting some culture. Heh. Some of the subtitles moved a little fast for her but basically it was alright and she enjoyed herself. I have to say, now the talking furniture and dancing candlesticks of the Disney film make more sense.

It was also a notable evening because it marked the first time Kate has willingly, enthusiastically brought a book she was reading along to entertain herself while the adults talked at dinner or on the bus ride. She's deep into The Westing Game which she got for Christmas from Hal. Kate's loving it.

We didn't get home and to bed until after 1:00am, so we slept in this morning and then lazed around eating pumpkin pancakes and bacon. This afternoon while Pramas was out giving Spirit of the Century a spin, I took Kate out to run errands. I've restocked the fridge and have ingredients on hand for Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs, Superfast Kefta, Roasted Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Scallop Chowder, Avgolemono, and Sweet Potato, Sausage, and Kale Soup. I'll be sure to report back if there's anything among those recipes worth adding to my recipe pages. I've also got some salad and sandwich fixings for lunch as I've been relying entirely too much on canned ravioli to get me through the day.

Nice weekend so far. Now, Viva Pińata!

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