My latest online addiction

My latest online addiction is the gleemax site hosted by our friends at Wizards of the Coast. They are in alpha (i.e. free) testing of this online boardgame site. It has several of WotCs best acquisitions: Acquire, Axis & Allies, Guillotine, Vegas Showdown and the one that I can’t stop playing, Robo Rally. You can play solo against bots or you can try to get some other humans to play. I can only speak to the AI for Robo Rally (as that’s all I’ve played), but it’s pretty good. The bots are hard to beat. The code is being worked on and they appear to be responding to user feedback. I’ve seen one update so far. I haven’t come across any major bugs. My big complaint right now is that it can get laggy when you play with other humans. It’s all in java, so it works great on my Mac and should be fine in linux and that other OS. My handle is (of course) HazMatt, join me for a game sometime.

Gaming at lunch

At my last job there was an established group that met every Friday during lunch to play euros. I was a regular participant. This is something that I have definitely missed since starting my new job downtown. So I did something about it.
I posted a message to one of the Portland games related email lists and to a local Portland forum on the geek. I suggested meeting weekly in the mezzanine of my building. I didn’t get a huge response, but of the few people that did express interest, a couple of them have become regulars. Once it looked like this would happen, I started a google group for us.

So far we have had 2-3 people each Thursday. We’re played Ra, Yspahan, Category 5 and Blue Moon so far. The space is actually pretty nice with a lot of tables and chairs. There’s plenty of room for more people.

The group still feels a bit tenuous with only 3 of us, as it’s hard for all of us to get there every week. I need to publicize this a bit so that we can get a few more regulars. I may sign up with meetup or try to find a directory of local gaming groups that I remember seeing once.

Regardless, it’s been great to get a bit more gaming squeezed into my busy schedule and meet some new people. Drop by sometime, we meet at 11:30.

Digital Camera Scavenger Hunt

BenHidingOutKug came up with a great idea for my b-day party this year – a digital camera scavenger hunt. Teams get a list of things and have 2 hours to take pictures of as many items on the list as they can. Kug created the list to be challenging, but not impossible – taking into account the potential advantage that I would have given my familiarity with the immediate vicinity of our house.
We ended up with 3 teams. Our friend Pricilla (who lives a mile from our house) was on one team and that mitigated any edge that I would have given my team. As it turns out, I’m not sure there was any benefit to being local given how well the third team did.

The Rules:

  1. Your team may use only one car for transportation and one camera for photos.
  2. You may not purchase anything. You may, however, borrow or beg items or bribe total strangers with promises of fame and glory.
  3. Your team must be back by 5:00 to qualify for the prizes.
  4. You may use only photos taken by your team after the start of the hunt. No previously taken photos, images downloaded from the internet, or other sources of pictures will be allowed.
  5. You must take a picture of the actual item, not an image of the item.
  6. You must stay within the law.
  7. Prizes will be given to the team with the most qualifying pictures and to the team with the most artistic photographs.
  8. Members of your team may or may not be in the photos, as you prefer, unless otherwise specified by the item.

The Items:

  • a logo or signboard with a star on it
  • a member of a competing team taking a picture of something
  • a stranger with an apple on his/her head
  • a flag
  • a spotted goat or llama (+1 if he’s standing on his hind feet)
  • a single french fry on a fast-food napkin
  • an alarmingly out of date bumper sticker
  • a reflection of something in water
  • a truck with a pesticide company logo on it
  • an officer of the law in uniform (+2 if you can get him to flash the peace sign)
  • a house with a red door
  • a single slice of lemon merange pie
  • a tacky piece of garden art
  • something that is the same right side up as upside down
  • Matt’s name spelled out in a creative way (you may set this up using sticks, marbles, or whatever you wish)
  • three birds on a telephone wire
  • a green tractor in a field
  • a sign for a vinyard or wine tasting room
  • a bug or a water droplet on a flower
  • all members of your team in an interesting pose
  • three strangers doing the ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ thing
  • a railroad crossing
  • a sign with a word misspelled
  • a place where Osama Bin Laden is likely to be hiding (+5 if you find him)
  • a vanity license plate
  • a garage sale sign from LAST weekend (must be dated)
  • an unusual architectural detail on a house or building
  • a black labrador
  • a t-shirt with an obnoxious logo (not one of Matt’s)
  • a tie-breaker photo- a picture of anything you like that will be used in the event of a tie. Tie breaker photos will be judged on creativity as well as technical merit by any non-participants.

FYI: We live out in the country (sort of), so finding a tractor in a field is not especially difficult. We’re also 10 minutes from a relatively small town, so the more urban-ish items are reasonable as well. If you use this list, feel free to adapt it as appropriate to your locale.

After the teams returned we displayed a slide show of the photos on the TV and anyone who didn’t participate in the hunt could vote on any questionable pics.

The Teams and their Scores:

  • John, Me, Steve – 24 points
  • Ben, Linda Pricilla – 26 points
  • Nick, Tai – 28 points – The Winners

Check out the pics here. I’m trying to keep the search engines out, so you’ll need to login using Username: guest and password: thistledown. Just click the [login] link in the upper right corner of the page.

Start your bots

Thane and I have been having a great time lately playing RoboRunner by EyePlayGames. It’s an online version of the excellent board game Robo Rally that is now, sadly, out-of-print. It’s play by web where you login and make your moves; Then, when all the players in the game have done this, the turn executes. The basic implementation is very good and true to the original with only a few minor variances. They also have a couple game variations, including the newly released Robo Recon, where you play as a team to move power crystals to your team’s airlock.
It turn based and fairly low bandwidth impact – I can play just fine over dialup.
Check it out at EyePlayGames. My bot is named HazMatt, look for me.

Board Game review: Union Pacific

At game night a couple weeks ago I finally got around to playing Union Pacific. I had actually bought a copy of UP a couple months ago because Funagain had it on sale, but I had not even opened the box yet. Nate brought his copy that was purchased under similar circumstances as me. It’s a German game (which is a bit odd since it’s about the US rail system) and came with a separate printed English translation of the rules.
The best way to describe it is a cross between Acquire and Rummy with a bit of rail game strategy mixed in. It works with 3 to 6 people and is of low to moderate complexity. Kent had played once before and Nate read the rules in advance, they were able to teach Les and I how to play in about 10 minutes.
The board has a rough map of the United States covered with interconnected railways and 12 fictional railroad companies. Each section of track has 1 to 4 space where the railroad companies can expand across. Each company has a fixed number of shares available and trains. There are 2 decks of cards, one of shares in the various railroad companies and the other of different types of track. There are 4 different types of track and each company can use some or all of the types to expand. You start the game with some shares and some track cards. On your turn, you can either expand a railroad(increasing its value) and select another share to put in your hand OR play some shares down. You only get to count shares that you have played down.
The goal of the game is to make the most money – this is based on being the primary or secondary share holder of a company when the payouts happen. There are 3 payout cards shuffled in the share deck that is slowly depleted each turn as played select them. So you don’t really know how much time you have to play shares down vs. expanding the companies. This is an interesting mechanic that I’ve only seen in one other game: Settlers von Neuremburg. But it fits perfectly with one of the rules for German game design: always have a fixed game ending.
I’ve played a bunch games now, all with 4 or 5 players and I enjoyed them quite a bit. It can be a very dramatic game as you wait to see what shares become available each turn and try to eek out as much expansion as you dare before you play shares down – hopefully before the next payout. I’m told the game can be a bit slow with 3 players.
One interesting strategy that we have seen evolve is something we call the sleezy second. It basically involves getting down a token share of companies that the other players are developing and horning in on the payout. It seems to be most effective early in the game, because eventually people get a couple of shares of their own to play.
Overall, it’s a fun game that doesn’t take long to learn, can be played in 60-90 minutes and seems to appeal to most gamers. I give it a 7 (out of 10).

Gaming last night

We passed on the usual beer & pretzels game to start the evening and dove into the serious games. With 7 of us, we broke up into 2 groups. Kent had an itching for a game of 1830 and Les and Nate were interested. The rest of us decided on Puerto Rico, one of our current favorites. It turned out to be an interesting game – there was a lot of money for a 4 person game. We had a nice distribution of goods between us so we traded a lot and didn’t do much shipping until the end. As a result, 3 of us did a bunch of building. Margo won with 51 points, I was next by 3 points and then John with only a couple points fewer than me – a pretty close game. Once again, a completely different game than any I’ve played before – PR continues to surprise my with it’s variety and ability for players of any skill level to do well.