Thursday, October 13, 2011

New game: Love It! Hate It! by Patch Products

September through December is the annual Million Minute Family Challenge sponsored by Patch Products. The MMC is an organized effort to increase game playing (and therefore social time) amongst friends and families. As a family, we’ve been participating in this event for the past three or four years. Of course, we’re a pretty game-intensive family anyway, but this event gives an excuse to throw our family-time into overtime. 

Patch Products makes games and activities for families and younger children. They really don’t have many games that interest us, since our boys are older (preteen) and we specialize in niche games, but the ones I've played have been great. Their newest game is called Love It! Hate It! They sent me a promo copy a few weeks ago and we finally got a chance to play it. (Technically, it was a raffle contest for members of their mailing list.)

In play, this game is similar to Apples to Apples, a game with which many people are familiar. On each turn, the active player reads a question, like “If I were a cartoon character, I would LOVE it if I were ___, and I would HATE it if I were ___.” The other players write down their answers for the two questions, trying to guess what the active player would say. Then one of the players reads out the answers to the active player, who chooses his/her favorite of each. The other players whose answers are selected get tokens (green for Love It, purple for Hate It). The first player to earn three of each token wins the game. 

The game played well. Very well. We all loved it. This game would be great with people who are familiar with each other, ie, friends and family. It would also work as an ice breaker-type party game, but in that case, players would probably be trying to be funny more than trying to target their answers to the active player. 

The game components are high quality. Rather than printed paper sheets for players to write on (like you’d get with typical party games of this sort), Love It! Hate It! provides hard plastic (ABS?) slates and dry erase markers for the players to write on. There are six of each, which is enough for a group of seven people, actually. The scoring tokens are made of the same high-quality plastic. 

The downside to this game is the packaging. It comes in a metal storage box, probably due to the box’s awkward shape. Inside the box is a cardboard insert that acts to keep the components in place, but I’m betting we’ll pitch that soon. I’d much rather have the usual rectangular card-stock box.

I am grateful to Patch Products for sending this game to me. It will go into regular circulation in our mix of board and card games and I can’t wait to play it with our friends. I encourage you to give this one a try – give me a call if you want to play!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gamers to be

A note from this summer's scout camp. I originally wrote this back in July, and then misplaced my notebook and forgot about it.

I'm sitting here at Boy Scout camp listening to two groups of scouts. It's late and they're filling their evening with games and chatter. One group is clustered around the central picnic tables playing poker. The other group, which I am sitting with, is cloistered off in an unused tent at the rear of our campsite, playing D&D.

I get excited listening to their play and banter. They are all new to the roleplaying, and are feeling their way through the complex ruleset. I was about their age when I discovered D&D back in the early 80's.

The ringleaders of this group are a pair of brothers who are working as camp staff this year. One of them is a member of our troop and the other belongs to a different local troop. They are both very active scouts and attend each other's scouting events all the time. I found out that they were just discovering D&D on a recent canoe trip. I did my best to reinforce their emerging hobby by telling them that I still game, even in my advanced adulthood. By the end of that trip, they had organized their first game night.

Earlier today, I was sitting here at the picnic table teaching some of the scouts in our troop how to play the card game Fluxx, when one of the brothers, with some of his gaming group in tow, walked up and asked, "Do you happen to have any multisided dice?"

I looked up with a grin and asked, "What size do you need?"

His jaw dropped in hopeful amazement. "Really?!"

"Of course I do." I went to my tent and produced a zippered pencil pouch. "Here, this is two full sets — don't lose them."

They ran off to the spare tent and the orc-slaying began. I am jealous of that gleam in their eyes. They know they've discovered something magical, but they don't quite understand it yet. They have no idea what exciting and fun times await them. Fantastic realms of imagination and stories, shared fun with friends, and late nights filled with laughs, snacks, and dice.

Now reading: Well of Ascension, book 2 of the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Thought for the day

From my wife: "My dog doesn't recognize that I have a culinary point of view."

He's a dog. He'll eat the remnants of a 3-day old cheeseburger found on the street. All he cares is that it fits in his mouth. On the other hand, my wife is terribly underappreciated, and not just in her culinary talents. She works hard to be a great mother, a wonderful wife, and a dedicated and resourceful teacher.

Here's to her and all the other mothers out there. You can always count on your dogs to appreciate you even when the rest of us forget to. But don't expect them to eat your leftovers.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Astrological predictions and my strange destiny

Astrology. The science of interpreting how the cosmic forces of gravity, spiritual energy (and according to some, white mice) combine to predestine our actions. I believe that there are forces out there greater than us, but also that we create our own destiny. Still, I like to have a little forewarning once in a while, a leg up on what's in store for me on any given day. Today's horoscope was rather pedestrian and encouraging. Tomorrow's foretells that I'll be feeling ill due to stress and anxiety at work - that one must be a replay from two weeks ago, when it was true.

While I was pondering the boring, nondescript nature of these entries in my starry fate, I was reminded of my horoscope from a few weeks ago. It prophesied a good day for me. My energy was focused, my body and my spirit were one. My horoscope said that there were no problems I couldn't handle that day, and that so long as I maintained my focus, I would "literally turn mountains into molehills."

That's the direct quote. I know that you can't always take a horoscope literally, but in this case it came right out and said so. Talk about setting me up for failure! My initial reaction was that I'd better go out and buy some dynamite. My wife suggested, "It means you'll overcome a big problem." I said, "No, it said LITERALLY. Mountains...molehills. Alakazam!" The Force is hella big with this one, baby.

Needless to say, I did not take up mining or tunneling. I have not destroyed any geographic features, nor have I invented a powerful shrink ray. To that end, I have also not used magic or science (of any sort) to mutate tiny rodents into giant atomic monsters. This pretty much exhausts all the ways I can think to interpret that prediction, so I guess, all in all, I'm a pretty big failure as far as my destiny goes.

Now reading: still working on Dreadnought. Too many things to read right now.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Bambi = The Walking Dead

Amazon, as we've all probably experienced, is a pretty powerful shopping site. When I look up something that I'm interested in, they never fail to suggest several other things that I might also like, based on my browsing and purchasing behavior. But they can suggest some really weird things sometimes. For example, yesterday a coworker commented on the irony of a purchase suggestion that he received from Amazon:
"Customers who purchased movies and TV shows might also be interested in this week's notable new releases on DVD and Blu-ray, including Bambi, and upcoming future releases, including The Walking Dead: Season One."

Bambi and The Walking Dead. Out of all the new and upcoming releases, this targeted email pulled those two together? We had a good laugh about the crazy robots Amazon uses to make their marketing and merchandising decisions.

But the more I thought about it, the more the connections began to form. When you get right down to it, the stories are the same: They both center around a strong and upstanding character who's world is forever changed by an external force. One faces hunters and a forest fire, while the other faces an unending zombie apocalypse. The character is forced to band with other survivors as they all struggle to find their place in the new natural order. They meet friends and make alliances, and they experience scary new changes in the world they've always known. Both stories are about the survival and growth of the characters.

So yes, from this literary perspective, these moves are actually a well-matched set. And maybe those robots at Amazon are a little smarter than we give them credit.

Now reading: Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Book review: 2011.01

Author: Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger's series came to my attention via Mighty Mur Lafferty's podcast (I Should Be Writing), I think. My wife gave them to me for Christmas last year, and they've been a delightful gift.

To be honest, I'm not sure why I liked Soulless as much as I did. It's Victorian era fantasy with a thick layer of steampunk frosting. This is good, I like both of those things. It also has vampires, werewolves, and ghosts openly existing in society among normal humans, and I don't like that. Monsters are supposed to be just that – monsters. They belong in the dark. But in this series, they are an integral part of society and Carriger has created a strong world where these 'monsters' are strongly integrated into the culture, society, and history. The setting is internally consistent, and crafted well, so I was able to forgive the things I don't usually like.

The main character, Alexia Tarabotti, is loveable because she's a misfit within Victorian society. Tall, dark complected, with a non-dainty nose and full figure, she's practically a pariah, especially compared to her mother and two step-sisters. Add to this an inquisitive mind and she's clearly doomed as a potential wife.
But Alexia has a secret. She doesn't have a soul, which really isn't as terrible as it sounds.

The author alludes that it's Alexia's soullessness that is likely the cause of her heroic nature. Soulless people are a rare species, called preternaturals, who are juxtaposed with the supernatural caste of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. And preternaturals were historically the nemeses of the monsters. They were the monster hunters. And this puts Alexia at odds with the supernatural community.

More than the setting, which as I said, is very logical and internally consistent, it's the characters that I like. Carriger populates this silly setting with some fun characters and each one is a person unto themselves. Personally, I really want to see more of the Scarlet Pimpernellian Lord Akeldama and his cadre of spies…please Gail!

In truth, the story is as much a romance story as it is scifi/fantasy, and Carriger handles her stuff well in both courts. She does a masterful job of handling character relationships and interactions, especially the friendly ones. The characters are fun and their interactions are realistic. Characters put as much importance on society, appearance, and etiquette as they do the story at hand, and most characters have their own perspectives on the world around them. Their own motivations guide their actions, whether that is spying on the vampire hives or finding right hat or cravat for the day's activities.

The book is full of humor, full of adventure, and definitely a fun read. If Kim Harrison and Jane Austin got together to write a book, it might come close to this. My defining keywords for this book are: character, steampunk, adventure, humor, espionage, and romance; in that order.

As I'm writing this, I've nearly finished the second book in the series, Changeless. Alexia's Cinderella story has come true and this book finds the city embroiled in a panic as the supernatural denizens of London are rendered completely mortal for a day. Alexia is on the case trying to figure out the cause of this calamity.

This novel further develops the history of Carriger's setting, expanding what we know about the roles the supernatural elements have played in the past. We get more clues about Alexia's father and the nature of their species, the preternaturals. And the author treats us with some delightful new characters, including a cross-dressing, counter-culture mad scientist and a pack of Scottish werewolves. Steampunk elements feature very strongly in this story as well. Thus far, there are still no zombies, but I'm holding out hope for the third book on that note.

Changeless does everything a second-book should and it's been a fun read. I'm only about fifty pages from the end and plots are starting to be resolved, thanks to the unladylike willfulness of our heroic main character. Again, thanks to my wife, the third book is on my book shelf, and I just discovered that the fourth will be out soon. I'm looking forward to both!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mathematics of parenting

Yesterday my youngest son, a fifth grader, was sitting on his bed doing homework. He's had a pretty big work load lately, so I went to check on him. He was working on his math work, finding the area of different shapes and solids.

His current problem was to find the area of a trapezoid. I said, "Wow, a trapezoid? That one looks hard." He proceeded to show me all the strategies for divining the area: "You find the area of the rectangle and then the two triangles on the ends; you could move the triangle from one end, flip it, and put on the other end making a larger rectangle; or you could turn it into a larger rectangle, then subract twice the area of one triangle."

Neat. I pursued the conversation. "It sounds like you really know your stuff. I love geometry. You know, a lot of these same principals are the building blocks of calculus, where you're finding the area under a curve."

"Oh yeah, I know about calculus. It was discovered by Sir Isaac Newton."

Oh no. My thoughts raced. Everything from 'I'm a bad parent' to 'what are these people teaching my son?!' (I know this teacher, and she's great.)

You see, the question of who discovered the Calculus is the 'Yankees vs Red Sox' debate of mathematics. As I've already stated, I fall firmly on the side of Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz on this debate. Why I prefer Leibniz doesn't really matter, as i said, it's a long-standing debate and my allegience owes more to my schooling in philosophy, than mathematical truths. The Rationalists still remain my favorites, and since this is my blog, I don't have to be politically correct and proclaim him to be the "co-founder" of calculus.

So here I am, faced with one of my first instances of having a different perspective from my children. Next thing you know, I'll be hating on their music and telling them they need haircuts. I am happy to see that my children will grow up thinking for themselves and developing their own thoughts and beliefs.

But damn it, they'd better get this one right.

Now reading: Changeless by Gail Carriger, the second book of The Parasol Protectorate

Friday, February 04, 2011

Birthday cake & slumber party

Last weekend was my son's 12th birthday party, a sleepover with six of his best friends. Naturally, a birthday party must have a cake. My wife spent two days working on this cake. Baked it on Thursday night, frosted and decorated it on Friday night. It looked great, one of her best "normal" cakes -- she usually does character cakes based on whatever theme the boys want.

So, Saturday morning we leave to run errands (library, grocery store, etc.) and put the cake in the oven for safe keeping. Right.

After our errands, we arrive home tired and hungry. I run into the kitchen to make some lunch for the boys while wifey is doing something else. And, as you've already guessed, I turned on the oven. Five minutes later I smell something burning and run back to the kitchen as understanding dawns.

The cake is ruined. The icing has crystalized as the butter in it melted out. The wax candles have completely melted away. I just stand with my head hanging down, on the verge of tears. My son came running in to see what the outburst was all about, and bravely held back his own dismay. My wife, recognizing that she had two choices, mercifully chose to laugh rather plant a butcher knife between my shoulder blades. She's a wonderful woman that way.

So we went into Emergency Baking Mode. We've done it before, since she used to decorate cakes for fun and profit as a sometimes-paying hobby. My wife ran to the store for more gluten-free cake mixes and sugar for icing while I cleaned up the kitchen and made ready. And wallowed in quagmires of self-pity and guilt the likes of which the modern world has never seen. I mean, I felt like crap. I couldn't believe what I'd done.

Several hours later, we had a new cake. It wasn't nearly as cool as the original, but it was close.  And it was awesome. My wife remained supportive and light-hearted through it all, mostly because she recognized that she now has a free-pass for life. In my eyes, she can literally do no wrong forever.

So then we move to the slumber party. It was only slightly crazy. I was able to help entertain the boys who weren't playing video games by teaching them a couple of card games (Super Munchkin and Zombie Fluxx). I was surprised at which boys wanted to play.

Later, after pizza and cake, I led them in many rounds of Werewolf, which they absolutely loved. Again, a dynamic arose that surprised me. The one kid who was off his ADHD meds kept getting killed by the villagers (the other boys), whether they believed him to be a werewolf or not. It was a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies. He exclaimed, "Why do y'all keep killing ME?" And one of the younger boys replied (bless his heart), "Because you're being annoying." And the kid took it to heart. He made a strong attempt to settle down. It didn't work very well, but he was trying.

Then later, he asked if HE could lead the next game and began looking over the rules. Unfortunately, we never got to play that next game, because the group had already decided that they wanted to watch a movie. I wish we could've played that additional game because his over-abundance of energy would've been well-applied, and by moderating rather than participating, he would've had a leadership role amongst the group. And he would've handled it very well.

The party was a blast overall, and all the boys enjoyed it. So did I, for that matter. And I got the satisfaction of having one of the boys ask, "Where do you find these awesome games?!" The boys culminated their party with a massive pillow fight in the living room, where they were all camped out. And of course, my wife had to threaten to sleep on the couch if they didn't settle down. They were all asleep within minutes.

Now listening to: Seven Nations latest disc, Time as the Enemy

Sunday, January 09, 2011

First Saturdays - a dice-rolling good time!

We are fortunate to be able to spend New Year's Eve with friends. We eat, we drink, we play games, and we hang out with our friends. And this year ended with a bout of "American Pie" on some version of Guitar Rock Hero Band at 3:00 a.m. But we had fun, even so.

My wife and I had so much fun that we've decided to re-enact New Year's Eve on a monthly basis with an afternoon spent playing games with friends. We're dubbing the occasion "First Saturdays" and we started it this weekend. Not everyone we invited was able to make it, but that's okay. We'll do it again in a few weeks.

The afternoon's fun was composed of a pretty good mix of games:
  • Inn Fighting (where players are participants in a terrific tavern brawl)
  • Ninja Burger (delivering fast-food takeout to the most unlikely of locations without being seen)
  • The Big Idea (playing venture capitalists bringing new inventions to market and trying to make the most money)
  • Snorta (a memory game where everyone makes animal sounds - lots of silly fun and NOT a drinking game)
  • Apples to Apples (picking the best representation of a descriptive word)
  • Sorry (the standard kids board game)
There were so many games to choose from and a good mix of people. If we'd had one or two more people, we could have broken into two groups. As it was, we had a great time and the four children in attendance joined in most of the games. Personally, I'm just glad to be able to pull out some of the games we don't play very often, and also have the opportunity to play new ones. At last count, we own more than 70 board and card games, and that's not counting all of the standard fare of kids games like Life and Mousetrap.

I can't wait for next month! I also can't believe I roleplayed and board-gamed in the same week. It's starting off to be a great year!

Now reading: Gail Carriger's Soulless