Monday, September 27, 2010

Game review: The Great Dalmuti

Thanks to a friend, my family and I got to check out some new games back in the spring, and I just found the notes I made after playing them.

The Great Dalmutti is a card game about being the ruling power of the kingdom, which in this case the group of players.

Each seat at the table - not player, mind you, but physical seat - represents a player's level in the nobility. There can be up to eight players, but only four of the seats matter: the Greater Dalmuti (the boss of all), the Lesser Dalmuti (boss of most), the Lesser Peon, and the Greater Peon (the lowest rank). Game play is easy and fast. This is a game that anyone can play, even your in-laws.

Play starts with the Greater Dalmuti playing one or cards to the table in front of him. Going around the table, each player must either play the same number of cards of higher rank or pass. The round ends when everyone has passed. The last player to play cards starts the next round.

Play continues until someone runs out of cards. That player wins the round and becomes the Greater Dalmuti. Other players total the numbers on the cards remaining in their hands. Once the scores are totaled, players change seats according to their scores, lowest (the Greater Dalmuti) to highest, who is now the Greater Peon. An optional rule suggests assigning funny hats to each rank; we had fun with that too, fighting over certain hats just as much as we fought for the title of GD. Scores are summed over a number of rounds of play. Lowest total wins the game.

We had a lot of fun with this game. Its fast pace and constant change of seats made for high-energy play. Once we get our own copy, we'll devise some drinking rules. Out of curiosity, I Googled the notion and found this list of favorite drinking games on BoardGameGeek. The entry for The Great Dalmuti is kinda lame, so there's room for improvement there. I like the rules for RoboRally.

Game review 2010.01

Now reading: A book about a witch by Kim Harrison.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vamire Hunter

Book review: 2010.13

Author: Seth Grahame-Smith

It's finally happened. I'm reporting on a book that I didn't like. I picked up this one for two reasons: I like Abraham Lincoln, and I really liked G-S's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That book is responsible for creating a whole new niche of horror fiction. Most of which is completely unimaginative and likely deplorable. I say that in a most uneducated fashion. I haven't read anything else in this niche besides these two. It's a kitzchy fad that hopefully will pass soon. Having proclaimed that, I need to read a few more works in this revisionist subgenre by other authors. There are sure to be some gems out there.

Anyway, the one thing I really didn't like about P&P&Z was the writing style. But, since I read the source material simultatneously, I could see that he was mimicking Jane Austen's style, which was appropriate for that book. Unfortunately, Grahame-Smith was channeling Austen again for this book. It is written in that same plodding, overly introspective narrative style. That might have been appropriate for a period work about a teenaged girl, but it just made this story languish.

Secondly, where this story could've portrayed Abe in a larger-than-life, even-more-heroic fashion, it instead reduces him to being a victim of his lot in life. It makes out Abe Lincoln to be nothing more than a reactive person whose every decision was done as a reaction to his fear of and desire for vengeance against vampires.

The one thing I did like was the author's take on vampires. His interpretation of the lore was modern and interesting. In some ways, it was similar to Anne Rice's vampires. Hmm. For that matter, he also used a similar story framing technique as she did in Interview with the Vampire.

In summation, I was bored all the way through this book. I kept waiting for the exposition to end and the real story to begin, but it never did. It was exposition all the way through. I think the story downplayed the protagonist's potentially heroic nature, and the writing style wasn't appropriate for the era. Edgar Allan Poe makes a guest appearance; it would've been more appropriate to write this in his style. Maybe this style is the author's true form; other than these two books, I haven't read any of his other works.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Of smoke and memories

Tomorrow I bury my mother.

I don't share much about myself, you've likely noticed that. I"m a private person and what I feel is my own. Yet, sometimes I need to express. Less than two months ago, my mother was diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors. Radiation treatments reduced her pain and other symptoms, but couldn't halt the inevitable, especially at such a terminal stage. Last week, after her final round of treatments, she went to sleep and a few days later, didn't wake up.

I wasn't close to my mother. We'd come to terms over the years and gone our separate ways. We each had our own paths to follow, and more than anyone else, I think she understood that. We understood each other.

My mother, like hers before, was of Native descent. My grandmother was the quintessential squaw: small yet authoritative. During the year that we lived with her, she taught me to listen to the water and the wind and the trees. She also taught me how to sew and quilt. Who knew the relevance that appreciation would have in my later life. My grandfather, by all accounts, was a tall, lanky, whiskey-drinking Indian. I never knew him, but attended his funeral as a young boy.

My mother was dealt a tough hand in life and did her best to live it. I think, especially in her later years, she did well. Despite her temperament. She did her best as a single mother of two. And when that didn't work, she did her best to carry on without her children, which must have been the worst of all the dark cards she was dealt.

The week before she died, we went to see her. It was only the fourth time we'd seen each other since I got married. I think she never forgave me for that, getting married I mean. It had nothing to do with my wife (despite the amount of Texas in her). The week after my wedding, she called to let me know I'd always have a room at her house in case, you know, it didn't work out. And that ...supportive... attitude never changed. Even fifteen years later.

What matters to me is that she got to see her grandsons one more time. She got to see how they have already overcome so much of their own adversities and are growing into wonderful, bright, and independent boys. She got to see her bloodline blossoming, and I hope it served to help put her at peace.

She had one rule: you never say goodbye. It was a Cherokee custom. You only say goodbye to someone once. Otherwise, it's just a temporary parting. It's one of the few constants I remember about her.

I know that my mother went forth into the next life at peace and on her own terms. She certainly deserved that much.

Goodbye Mother. I'll listen for you on the wind and send you occasional tendrils of smoke from my campfire.


Book review: 2010.12

Author: Cherie Priest

I bought Boneshaker, plain and simply, because I wanted to read a steampunk novel. As steampunk, Boneshaker satisfies. There are goggles, in this case, full-on gas masks, airships, and steam-powered air generators. And it takes place around the turn of the century. So steampunk requirements satisfied.

I'd also categorize the book's setting as dystopian. It's dark, grimy, and a bit depressing. I tend to envision my steampunk as more fun, frolicky, and, well, quaint. Wild, Wild West; Girl Genius; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

This book is more akin to Brave New World or Make Room! Make Room! (that's the Harry Harrison novel that the movie Soylent Green was based on - if you can read it and NOT attempt suicide, then you're doing something right). Or Romero's Dawn of the Dead. It's a bit depressing.

But that's just the setting. The story takes place in a post-Civil War era Seattle. It's a dark and dismal setting that brings forth connotations of real-world coal mining country and stories like that of Matewan, West Virginia. It's grimy, and in more ways than one.

The story at its base is a mother-son redemption story. Not just redemption of their relationship, but also of their identities. The mother is the central character and, while at first seeming like the stereotypical failure as a single parent, she is quickly driven to levels of badassery as she forays into the wasteland to rescue her wayward teenage son.

Mother and son both suffer from a tainted past, borne on the coattails of the long lost husband/father. One of the central plot points revolves around his past actions and apparent demise. Heck, the current and future state of the world is a direct result of his past actions. Did I mention the zombies? The wayward teenage son sets out to determine the truth about his father. Meanwhile, the mother takes on the mantle of her father and tries to rescue the son.

This book is a great read - I read it over the course of about four days. For me, that's the equivalent of other people saying they read the latest Harry Potter book over the weekend. I read slowly and I'm a critical reader, very conscious of style and word choice, which means I read slower still. This book held my attention as Priest immersed me in her world of steam and toxic gas. I loved every minute of it.

If my praise leaves you unsure, then consider that both Warren Ellis and Cory Doctorow liked it. But then, that might not mean much to you either. In that case, go read whatever the hell everyone else is reading. I'm just trying to show you something different.

The author has a follow-up book, Dreadnought, coming out soon. It's not a sequel, but it's set in the same world. For that reason alone, I'll be reading it too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Countdown to Armageddon

Book review 2010.11

Author: Edward M. Lerner

Countdown to Armageddon is the front half of a new flip-book by Edward M. Lerner. The other half of the book is a collection of short stories called A Stranger in Paradise.

Countdown to Armageddon is a short novel about time travel, terrorists, spies, and love. Time travel is a topic that I hate because it's rarely done well and often creates more plot holes than it fixes. But in the hands of an accomplished sci-fi author like Lerner, it's put to good use.

I really like his philosophy of time as a linear stream with a fixed rate of speed, and his stance (in this story) that time travel cannot create divergent realities. The main character refers to that popular notion as preposterous because of the immense amount of energy that would be needed to create those realities. So Lerner very clearly sets up the premise that there's only one reality and it's very difficult to alter it. That means we're playing for keeps; no temporal take-backs. (Sort of. Time travel never plays by the rules.)

The crux of the story is about two men who take a one-way journey back through time chasing a terrorist who is armed with an atomic bomb, and who intends to change history by having the Moslems defeat the Christians back in the day. The main character, Harry, is a historian and armchair physicist. Both of these areas of expertise come into play when he is approached by Terrance, a former Interpol agent, now fellow historian, to track down the villain.

This book is also part love story. Harry's chief motivation for saving the world is his love for his wife, Julia. Sounds sappy, I know, but Harry and Julia are a great quirky couple and we get to see glimpses of their relationship and love.

Now, one thing I liked about this story is that it capitalized on an era of time that I (and likely most readers) know very little about. Taking place in the 8th century, ancient Europe is just starting to settle into its modern geo-political structure.

Because of my lack of familiarity with them, it was sometimes hard for me to keep the political groups straight. Lerner keeps the story moving at a steady pace and never falls into the trap of diverging into an extended history lesson. Just like with the main love story, Lerner only gives us what the story needs to keep moving forward.

There was only one scene in the book that I thought was unnecessary: a very short scene early in the story when Julia is having lunch with her sister. The scene is there to affirm that Julia really does love Harry and to broaden her characterization, but it's unnecessary because Lerner does a great job characterizing their relationship all through the story. She's awesome and easily worth the risk of Harry's life and future. Ah, there's that time travel thing again.

On to the other half of the book. A Stranger in Paradise is a small collection of short stories where we can see the breadth of Lerner's writing style. These stories were varied in theme and setting, and I enjoyed them all.

Overall, I liked this book a lot. I found it to be fresh and interesting, and the format allowed me to read more deeply of an author I'd never read before. I'll be looking into some of Lerner's other works. And I'd really love to see more of Harry Bowen!

More books on the way

Before anyone gives me flack, yes, I know I'm behind on my book reviews. I'll try to catch up on them soon. The good news is that I actually have been reading. I just haven't been posting. Additionally, thanks to a friend, the family and I had the opportunity to try out a few fun games, so I want to post about them too.

In lieu of actual reviews, here's a list of what I've read over the last few months, many of which I do want to write reviews for. Let me know if there are any that you're interested in hearing about.

Countdown to Armageddon / A Stranger in Paradise by Edward M. Lerner
A Dance with Demons by Jeff Offringa
Something from the Nightside by Simon R. Green
Nocturnal by Scott Sigler
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (and she just released another book in the same setting)
Blood Rites and Death Masks by Jim Butcher
Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
Beneath by Jeremy Robinson
Brave Men Run by Matthew Wayne Selznick
The Secret World Chronicle, Books 1 & 2 by Mercedes Lackey & Steve Libbey
Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty
How to Succeed in Evil: The Novel by Patrick McLean
New World Orders by Edward G. Talbot

Sword by the Luna Brothers
Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris
Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory
Astro City: Dark Age by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson

Now listening to: The Bear Swarm! podcast 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Board games...on the Interwebs

I like telling you about things that I find to be cool. You know that. But I'm telling you up front that this post is going to sound like a paid advertisement. It's not. I just sincerely like this website and encourage everyone to check it out.

I'm talking about Gametable Online. It's a community for lovers of strategy games. They've recreated impressive online versions of many of the best board and card games. You can play against other people or just the computer. They also host tournaments on a regular basis, and offer other fun incentives to encourage player participation.

I have to give them a shout out because I've had fun playing there a LOT in the past (haven't logged in recently, I'm afraid). I've discovered some new games and good people to play them with.

There are a lot of games that you can play for free, but many of the ones I like are 'premium' games that require you to purchase access to the game on their site. That's a small, one-time fee for the ability to play that particular game whenever you want.

Some of my favorite premium games are RoboRally, Nuclear War, and Guillotine. Yes, these are all games that I actually own, but I don't always have the opportunity to play them in real life. Like with so many other things on the Internet, GTO is a perfect stand-in for hanging out with real people.

If you're not interested in paying to play online games, then at least swing by to play some of the free games. They have standards like chess, backgammon, and checkers, but also more interesting games like Battle of the Bands, Kill Dr. Lucky, and Cosmic Wimpout. They even have Axis & Allies for you hardcore wargamers. Check out the games, the thorough instructions, and the in-game and out-of-game chat features.

So that's my two bits for what I think is one of the best online gaming resources out there. I really want to see it continue to be a successful website because I love playing there, and I do what I can to support websites that I like. Check it out, and let me know if you do...I'm game!

Now reading: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher (continuing to work my way through the Dresden Files a second time.