2014.02.23

Top 10 Excite

Posted in Coachella 2014, Music at 9:36 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

Coachella 2014 is in less than 2 months.  Once again, I’m attending and camping with the usual crew.  Here’s the top 10 acts I’m currently looking forward to:

10. Grouplove
9. Chromeo
8. Wye Oak
7. Queens of the Stone Age
6. Fatboy Slim
5. Beck
4. Neutral Milk Hotel
3. Arcade Fire
2. The Glitch Mob
1. Pet Shop Boys

There are tons of honourable mentions too.  It’s looking like another year where I could easily see 16-20 bands a day, if only for the inevitable scheduling conflicts.


2014.02.23

More new hotness

Posted in Board Games at 9:26 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

I’ve managed to get another play of Caverna in during the past month, and I can appreciate it more now that I’ve played it again.  It’s definitely superior to Agricola in every way.  If you like Agricola, keep it.  If you like the idea of Agricola but not the implementation, trade it away as quickly as possible and buy this instead.  Seriously.

In addition to Dwarfs making farms in caves, I’ve played another new hotness 2 weeks in a row.  Nations is a civilization-themed euro-game that has grown on me quite a bit.  I’m not convinced the 5 different nations are completely balanced, but it’s fun to play.  My only complaint is the theme feels a bit thin.  To me, it’s a typical euro in that you get resources to produce resources to produce other resources to generate victory points.  It’s also quite brutal as a 5-player game, but for me, the key was realizing you can deliberately tank some of the events so long as the costs are acceptable.  Tanking a war or the famine seems like a bad idea in most cases, but the events are manageable so long as you don’t lose VP.

Aside from these, I managed to get in another play of both Merchant of Venus and Le Havre, as well as a quick game of For Sale.  Of the three, I managed to win only For Sale and not the other two, although I enjoyed all of them.  Recent plays of classics like For Sale and Ra remind me how great they are, and then I realize that they’ve been out for more than a decade.  I guess that’s proof that the cult of the new isn’t the only game in town.  In any case, I’m still playing lots of games.  And hopefully that continues…


2014.01.20

Newish Hotness(ish)

Posted in Board Games at 8:44 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

Over the past month I’ve played a couple of recent releases that have been pleasant surprises.

The first is Caverna: The Cave Farmers, which is a worthy successor to Agricola.  I already traded away my copy of Agricola and so had little intention of playing it again.  Which is a good thing, since Caverna has completely replaced it.  It’s the same basic game, minus the cruel punishment of feeding your family against seemingly impossible odds, and without the luck of the card draw.  So basically, it’s Agricola minus the sucky parts.  I’m not sure I’ll want to play it often, but I’ll definitely play it instead of Agricola any day of the week.

The second is Suburbia.  This is an interesting area control game with simple rules but a surprising amount of depth.  It teeters a bit on the realm of being too complex, since tiles interact with all previous tiles as well as all future tiles, sometimes including those in your opponents’ boroughs.  Yikes.  That said, it starts to click pretty quickly and there’s an interesting tension between raising income and increasing population where you can’t just charge for a high score straight out of the gate.

An honourable mention goes to String Railway which has so far been a hit when I’ve played it with a variety of people.  It’s light, quick, and slightly unusual.  A fair amount of luck goes into the game but it’s done quick enough that it’s still a fun filler or casual game.


2013.12.09

Combative Zen Letters

Posted in Board Games, Friends at 12:43 am by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

This past Thursday my regular group played 3 games that were all new to at least some of the players.

  1. Love Letter
  2. Karesansui
  3. Small World

Love Letter is a nice light filler that seems to work well in a huge number of situations.  It’s a simple-to-teach and fast-yet-fun deduction game with plenty of luck.  In this case, we played a 3-player filler with the rules being first to 5 points or highest score with the final round being the round when Ramin arrived.  Ramin arrived when it was 3-2-2 in favor of Eric.

After all four of us were present, we set about playing Karesansui.  It’s an auction-based game with some very interesting mechanics, with a Zen Garden theme (yes, really).  The goal is to avoid collecting sets and, in so doing, collect the fewest points.  The Auction mechanic is really well done and it opens some very interesting strategies up; players have to keep a close eye on both their own situation as well as the other players in order to succeed.  I managed to eke out a very narrow victory that came down to the final draw.  Unfortunately, I can’t claim a skill-based victory here.  It was luck of the draw.  Still, everyone enjoyed the game and I’d be very interested to play again to flex a different strategy.

At this point, fueled by pizza and beer, we embarked on a game of Small World.  This is a game I don’t always do well at, given that it’s somewhat combat-based, but this time things went my way and I won with a 15 point margin.  We were playing with a few expansions and a couple of new players, which probably worked in my favor.  I managed to pick up Cursed Humans with an 18 point bonus sitting on it.  I’m a little surprised I got away with this, since I was careful to explain to the 2 players who had never played that 10 points is the hallmark of a very good turn.  The humans had 2 good turns piled on top of them when the race choice came around to me in the mid-game, and even though I put them in decline a turn later with only 1 territory, I had a huge net win of 24 points in 2 turns.

I also got a lucky draw in the late game, with the leprechauns netting me a decent number of points in the final 2 turns to keep me ahead of Ramin and Eric who I thought were closer than they actually were.  They both took substantial swings at me in turns 7 through 9 (damn Eric and his sorcerers…) but I managed a nice win in the end.

Of the 3 games, only Karesansui was new to me, and i really enjoyed it.  If you’re looking for a fun, fast, yet deep game where the auction is the only core mechanic you should check it out.  I haven’t tried Going, Going, Gone! yet but I suspect it has a very different feel.

I’m curious what next game night will bring; will I get to play Airlines Europe?  Or Merchant of Venus?  Maybe Eclipse?  Stay tuned…


2013.11.30

As November Draws to a Close…

Posted in Board Games, Family, House and Home at 11:16 am by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

It’s hard to believe it’s the end of November already.  The year certainly has gone by quickly.

Lately I’ve been consumed with home projects, namely, repainting the living areas and one of the bathrooms, and putting a tile backsplash in the kitchen.  Well, more accurately, shopping for paint and tile.  It took a lot longer than I expected to find tile I like, and now that the order has been placed I get to wait 3-4 weeks for some of the liner tile to arrive (it’s backordered).  I did manage to pick out the paint colors finally, and the contractor will be here to do the painting within the next week or two.  The tiling will have to wait until the new year from the looks of it, but I’m excited.  Expect some photos when it’s all done.

On the gaming front, I’ve mostly been playing older games recently, like Tikal and Agricola.  I did manage to get in a game of something new on Halloween though: Dark Darker Darkest.  It was interesting but felt a little too clumsy / complicated as compared to many cooperative games, and it was also pretty much impossible for us to win with the way the setup worked out, which was disappointing.  I suppose Arkham Horror is probably more complex, more random, and less possible to win, but somehow I enjoy that game a lot more than I did Dark Darker Darkest.

I have also been playing a lot of 2-player Quarriors lately, and I really enjoy the variety in that game (I have 2 of the expansions as well, so plenty of dice can show up).  It’s interesting to see what works and what doesn’t with each mix of dice.  I’m sure this will stay in my collection for quite some time – I’m very glad I got it in the most recent San Diego No-Ship Math Trade.

December, as usual, is filled with Birthdays, Christmas, and lots of other distractions so I’m sure it will whiz by in a blur also.  Which reminds me, I need to get shopping…


2013.10.17

Combinatoric Hypermedia

Posted in Board Games, Technology at 6:06 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

I’ve started working on a “spare time” project to build a web application supporting both simultaneous and asynchronous board gaming.  I realize this isn’t the most original idea, but I intend to use it to play around with some different technology ideas than what I get to play with at work.

One of the things I am experimenting with is implementing the core functionality as a rich REST API which leverages the basic hypermedia principles behind REST as well.

One of the areas that hypermedia might be useful is in communicating what a player can do next from the current game state.  In other words, hypermedia references could be used to communicate the possible moves a player has available on his turn.

Let’s consider a simple game as an example: Tic-Tac-Toe.  On the first player’s turn, there are only 9 possible moves, and the number of possible moves decreases from that point until the game’s conclusion.  It’s pretty easy to consider communicating all 9 moves to the player as a set of hypermedia references.

Now let’s consider a different game.  Specifically, let’s consider the opening bidding sequence of the Looney Labs game Gnostica.  In Gnostica, each player chooses a single card from their hand of 6 cards to bid with.  6 possible choices, looking good so far.  Then, the highest bid card determines the first player.  Then, in reverse player order (from last to first), the players choose one of the bid cards and add it back to their hand.  So in a 5-player game the last player has 5 choices, the next-to-last player has 4 choices, and so on.  We’re looking golden.

But here’s the kicker – there’s an edge case.  If there is a tie for the highest bid, all players bid again, with one of their 5 remaining cards, and this repeats until the tie is broken.  Then players draw from the entire pool of cards, to fill their hands back to 6 cards.  In most games, this won’t be an issue; in the worst case, the players will each bid their entire hand of 6 cards, meaning there are 30 cards in the pool in a 5 player game.  The fifth player will then choose any 6 of the 30 cards to fill their hand.  In this unlikely-yet-technically-possible scenario, there are C(30,6 ) = 593,775 possible moves the player could make.  Enumerating all of them is probably not the best approach here, due to the combinatoric explosion.  And this is before the first turn of the game is taken.

You might argue it’s an edge case, and really it wouldn’t happen in the majority of games (I would agree).  But now consider what happens during the game.  A player normally has 4 options on their turn, one of which is to discard any number of cards from their hand, and draw back up until they have 6 cards (or fewer, if desired).  Even just this one option (which is available on every turn) generates an awful lot of options; 255 for a hand of 6 cards, to be exact.  And these aren’t even the “interesting” moves.  Suppose a player has all 15 pieces in play and plays a Rod from their hand.  There’s another 30 possible moves for the pieces, and more if you count pushing territories, and that’s only a single card.  For some of the cards that allow 2 or 3 moves in a row, it quickly becomes a huge set of possible choices to enumerate.  Even if the game system did work to remove duplicate / equivalent moves, our game of Gnostica is requiring a huge amount of compute power and bandwidth to generate thousands of possible moves that the player will not choose.

Beyond games like Gnostica, if you consider that any simulation of a game like Icehouse would require coordinates on the real number plane, it’s obvious that enumerating all possible moves is not the correct design approach for many games.

So how to still embrace hypermedia in these scenarios?

One approach I’m considering is supplying only a set of “valid move templates” to the client.  The client would be responsible for filling in the templates with parameters like cards and pieces in order to submit a valid move.  The client would need to have some basic a-priori knowledge baked in to use this kind of system, which isn’t hypermedia in the “pure” sense.  Another approach is more “wizard-like”, where the client says things like “I propose a move with this piece” and the server replies with the next “set” of choices, and through several back-and-forth exchanges, the client can “fill out” the move and submit it.  This is pretty chatty, but the client needs less knowledge of the game rules.  I suppose both could be supported.  Clients that already knew the game could just directly submit valid moves, and clients that didn’t know the game could be guided towards valid moves through an ongoing exchange.  I’ll have to experiment and see where this lands.


2013.08.18

Getting new games played

Posted in Board Games, Friends at 4:13 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

I finally got to play Brass last week, and I admit it was a bit of a doozy.  I came in last in a 4-player game, and I have 2 complaints about the game from a first-timer’s perspective:

  1. The endgame scoring is a little too opaque if you’re playing from the rules.  I don’t mind “final scoring” as a mechanic in games, but this one was really hard for me to trace back.  Harder than games like Dominant Species and Hansa Teutonica which I also consider to be reasonably opaque.
  2. We did a poor job of keeping track of the deck, and had to house rule the “no borrowing after the deck is depleted” rule.  This isn’t the game’s fault, it’s ours, and while I don’t think it had an impact on my last-place finish, I suspect it might have affected the players in the lead.  I feel like a public “round counter” would be useful in publicizing this, and will probably improvise one the next time I play.

To be clear, I enjoyed the game and am hoping to get it to the table again soon now that I’ve seen how the scoring really works at the end of the game.  I have a strategy I’d love to try.

Aside from Brass, I gave Terra Mystica a second try, and won that game handily, so I’m 2 and 0.  In both cases, I used my race’s special ability to the exclusion of pretty much everything else and focused on only a narrow method of generating points.

By contrast, I suspect that approach would have made me lose Troyes (well, lose even worse to be fair) which I tried for the first time.  Troyes is one of those games where the rules are shockingly opaque given how simple the game actually is.  I’ll reserve judgement until I play it more, but overall I found it interesting.  I suspect that the only thing preventing an “optimal” strategy is the somewhat random card draw, but that’s not a bad thing in my books.  I can’t quite put my finger on why exactly, but I suspect I won’t play Troyes a lot in the future even if I do play it a few more times.


2013.07.28

Several Adventures in La Jolla

Posted in Friends, Hiking at 4:11 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

I’ve been in the La Jolla area twice in the past month for a couple of adventures.

The first was towards the beginning of the month.  A small group of us went to The Comedy Store and enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.  It had been a long time since I had gone to a stand-up comedy show, and while the comedians didn’t blow my socks off, all but the first one had me laughing.

The second adventure was just North of there, at Torrey Pines.  The weather was surprisingly cool last weekend so while it wasn’t exactly beach weather, it was great hiking weather.  We hiked a few different trails in the park, and ended up walking out of the park along the beach at low tide.  The highlight of the day for me was seeing a red-tailed hawk from about 40 feet away.  It was happily perched in a tree just off the trail.  I took a few pictures but all I had with me was my phone, and unfortunately they didn’t turn out terribly well.

I always enjoy Torrey Pines, and I should really try to go more often.  As for the Comedy Store, I’ll probably be back at some point, but I’m not a huge comedy buff so it will probably only be a couple of times per year for me.


2013.06.30

Canada: The Atlantic

Posted in Family, Travel at 8:01 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

I spent the first 1/3 of the month in Atlantic Canada on vacation with my family.  We spent the bulk of the time I was there on Cape Breton Island and in the Moncton Area, with brief bookends in Halifax.

IMG_0831
 
 

Atlantic Canada is beautiful to be sure, but that describes most of Canada including the Rocky Mountains near where I grew up, so for me history was the big draw for the trip.  The first historical location of note was Fortress of Louisbourg.  Though it fell to ruin long ago. it’s been restored to what it would have been like in 1744.  The restoration was breathtaking; even details like the iron nails and the construction techniques used were authentic to the period.

We had the good fortune to avoid the rain although it was cool.  And since it was early season, there was almost nobody there; this meant 2 things:

  1. We could park directly at the site instead of taking the shuttle bus in from the gate
  2. I was able to get a number of photos of the grounds I would not have been able to get if it was more crowded
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After Louisbourg, we spent an afternoon at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and then toured through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, including a couple of brief hikes and a visit to a waterfall.  While interesting, it wasn’t quite as picturesque as Banff, Jasper, Waterton, or Yoho in my opinion.  At least not in June.  I suspect in the fall, with all the trees changing, it would be well worth an extended visit.

Aside from the National Park, I indulged my palate and enjoyed several seafood dinners, including both lobster and crab.  I had thought I wasn’t incredibly fond of lobster, but it turns out I like it quite a bit when it’s prepared properly and reasonably fresh.  And pretty much anywhere you get lobster on Cape Breton Island both will be true.  Enough lobster is caught locally that it isn’t hard to get a good deal too.

IMG_0937
 
 

After that, we went onward to Moncton and the bay of Fundy.  Seeing the difference in tides at Hopewell Rocks was an eye-opening experience, and we were also lucky enough to see a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons just after their chicks had hatched.  We watched them feed the chicks from only about 50 feet away which was pretty cool, considering this wasn’t a zoo or other contained environment.

At low tide, I did a hike along the beaches and took a number of photos.  The scale is tough to communicate until you see it for yourself and realize just how high a 40 foot tide really is.

The next day we dodged rain from Tropical Storm Andrea en route back to Halifax.  I had an entire day to spend downtown and along the harbour front, so I went to the Immigration Museum at Pier 21, the Citadel, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, with a few stops in between including the Historic Properties.  It was a fantastic day, with the highlights for me being the immigration museum as well as seeing the Arctic Expedition exhibit at the Maritime Museum, which educated me about the several Canadian expeditions to the arctic between 1913 and 1918.

A couple of footnotes:

  • Everywhere we stayed was great in its own way.  Nowhere did we stay in a hotel, it was mostly bed and breakfasts and inn-style accommodations.  This is the way to see this part of the country.
  • A lot of places are seasonal, and high tourism season doesn’t start until July.  June was a bit too early to see some of the things I would have liked (and to visit some of the artisans I was interested in).
  • If you have a Canada National Parks Pass, remember that it gives you free admission to all National Historic Sites as well.  This can save you a lot of money depending on the size of your group and how many places you plan to visit.

All in all, it was a great visit.  Still, I’m glad to be back in sunny, dry San Diego.   


2013.05.05

Fiasco: A Memorable Affair

Posted in Board Games, Food, Friends, Role-playing Games at 10:54 pm by Jeremiah Wittevrongel

I managed to get in 2 great games this afternoon and evening: Puerto Rico closed the night (and I eked out a narrow victory), but Fiasco was definitely the star of the show.

Fiasco is a highly improvisational role-playing game where the players pick a scenario, roll a bunch of dice which influence the setup and character creation, and then spin a tale chock full of lust, greed, and fear.  From those three elements, both comedy and tragedy are pretty much guaranteed to emerge for all of the player characters.

There is no GM, only a few rules, and it’s meant for a single session including character creation, so it’s a great game to pick up and play if you can assemble the right group.  That’s actually one of the keys to the game, and it’s more important than adhering to the rules – the group has to be comfortable with almost pure improv or the game won’t work.

Fortunately, I had the right group assembled and we had a blast.  My character was a whiny “poor me” type who made himself out to be a black sheep, even though he really wasn’t.  In reality, a college buddy Rusty had a peculiar control over me, and my “brother” (I was adopted) had plans for greatness that didn’t include me.  I had already been written out of my late father’s will, and that was only the start of what would ultimately result in my untimely death in a drug deal gone wrong in suburban nowhere, Nebraska.  And this was after my character killed an FBI agent working under deep cover as a local news anchor.  So in other words, everything went completely off the rails (as intended by the game), and the other characters suffered similarly.

There were so many laugh-out-loud moments that it’s hard to pick just one, but I think the nod has to go to Franklin while he was playing a non-player character (my adoptive mother) while my brother and I were letting her know we were moving back into the house… and shipping her off to a nursing home.  Way too funny.

I’d love to play it again, and hopefully I’ll get the chance soon.  I also know I’ll never be able to keep a straight face again when I hear the phrase “corn husking” but that’s a story for another time.

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