Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Inis

I'm not usually one for games that fall into the "dudes on a map" category of board games. I've never been good at strategy, and find it hard to see those critical moves in map games.

But Inis is based around Irish mythology, with card art by Jim FitzPatrick, an artist I grew up seeing in my text books throughout my schooling. I had to at least have a look. And thanks to a local convention, I got to try it out with a friends copy before I took the plunge myself. As it turned out, it took me about 16 hours before I owned my own copy.

I fell madly in love with Inis from the moment I played it. It is a legendary experience, full of magical moments. Win or lose, I always have a great time playing it and come away with great tales to share.

Inis is an area control game. It's a battle of wits to be in command of territories on a modular map that changes every game. You can declare your intent to become King and win once you meet one or more of the three possible victory conditions.

Inis is a drafting game. You have to react every turn to the cards you end up with in every turn from a tiny selection of possibilities. There are only 17 Action Cards in a full four player game, with four dealt to each player every turn and the last one burned, or placed to one side. Rather than keeping the hand delt to you, you pick one, and pass on the rest. You keep doing this until you have a hand of four cards. This gives you some control over the cards you have every turn.

Inis is fast, easy to learn. The rules are intuitive and allow the game to flow nicely, though your first combat takes a little work to get through. Once you see one play out, combat is a breeze as well. The strategy layer is clean and clear, and really accessible. I never felt overwhelmed by Inis, though I still love seeing the amazing moves other players manage, and learn from every game.

In my experience, Inis always results in excitement and laughter, whether you win or lose. At the end of almost every game I've played we've talked about the amazing actions or surprises that each player managed in the game while we're packing up. The final, winning move is nearly always an epic play, resulting in whoops and cheers regardless if you end as High King or defeated clan.

It's also one of the very few games I have played that genuinely work in all its player counts. Lots of games claim 2-4, or 2-5, but really only work with 3 or 4 players. Inis works with 2, 3 or 4. My 2-player game was an incredible head to head, filled with fast card play between two players that had played the game a few times. The whole game lasted a hair over an hour and felt really good.

The board and cards are beautiful to look at, evocative and full of colour. The components are fantastic, with really nicely detailed minis to represent your clans. One of the molds has a great moustache too.

Thanks to cutting back on new board games this year, I've played Inis more than any other game in my collection in the last seven years since moving to Vancouver. While at SHUX in October, I ended up teaching the game to nine different groups of people, resulting in about 30 new players, and played in four of those games.

This is easily my most treasured board game right now. I crave another game like some sort of addict. After over a dozen games played, I might even win a second time!

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Rest The Wallet

Last year, 2017, I decided to stop buying board games for the majority of the year. Or, maybe, to try to stop. I love board games. It's hard for me to not add games I enjoy playing to my own collection, but, in an effort to see if I could, I set this personal goal.

Because I bought it through an online store, I can tell you that the last board game I bought before taking this decision was bought on March 7th, 2017. It was Inis, a game that would go on to have a huge impact on me, but that's a story for another post.

My personnal purchasing prohibition extended to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sources as well. This was important because I had developed a problem of backing too many games this way, especially if they offered exclusives. Luckily, I had hit winners almost every time, getting really fun games htat I enjoyed getting to the table.

Setting out, I gave myself one exemption. I had tickets to the first ever convention by board game website Shut Up & Sit Down, SHUX, being held in October. I would be allowed by one game at the convention. I would also be receiving new games through Kickstarters that I had backed prior to March, so my shelves would still see fresh additions throughout the year.

Over the following nine or so months, I played the games I owned a lot more than I have in recent years. I often buy games that I'm really excited about, play them once or twice and than buy the next game I'm really excited about. Rinse and repeat. This year, I racked up a lot more plays on a lot less games, especially my new favourite, Inis. I also cracked open some old classics that I love buy hadn't played in years.

By the time I got to SHUX in October, I actually didn't feel like breaking my self imposed sabbatical, but I did end up buying the expansion to one of my favourite games, Sheriff of Nottingham. I know this gets onto the table regularly, so I didn't feel bad about it being my cheat.

But then Christmas rolled around, and an obvious in hindsight, unforeseen wrinkle. Boxing week sale. Several of the nearby board game stores have massive sales in the week after Christmas, ending on New Years Eve. One puts a blanket 25% off everything in store. It would be hard to resist not availing of that offer.

Or it would have been any other year.

Looking around the store, I just didn't feel like buying anything. Nothing exciting jumped out at me. Those hot games that appeared throughout the previous year had now cooled and lost their shine.

I walked away, my goal securely intact for the last week of 2017.

This was a fantastic, refreshing action for me to take. It opened my eyes to how easily I was spending money on board games. As of this post, I haven't backed a Kickstarter in 2018 yet, nor do I have any desire to. What few games that have shown up and peaked my interest I've chosen to let come into retail so I can see how things shake out over time.

There are a few games that I've added to my collection since January 1st, but all of them have already proven to be worth my time, either because I played them a bunch at Meetups, or because continuous reviews suggest they're my kind of game. Reviews of them will be coming.

This was an amazing experience, and one I'd recommend to anyone. It'll hopefully have a lasting effect. I'd like to say I'll be more reserved with my future purchasing, but only time will tell for that.

 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Untitled Short Story Excerpt

The car pulled up to the sidewalk and wordlessly the driver tapped on the fare meter. She paid the fare and the back door clicked and swung open.

"Thanks," she squeaked, barely audible over even the relative quiet of the engine idling. The driver waved a massive hand in dismissive acknowledgement and grunted something Sarah couldn't make out. She was about to apologize when she noticed he was talking into his radio, probably getting the next fare. She fluttered out the car door and landed on the cast iron railing that separated the sidewalk from the perfectly manicured hedges on the private grounds.

"I thought your kind couldn't touch that. You know, cold iron and all that stuff." Her contact at the scene, James, was walking towards her from the gate house. He must have seen the taxi drive past.

"Just because your people have myths and legends about mine doesn't mean that all of it is true. Actually, from what I've read, hardly any of it is true." Sarah handed James her officer's badge one her was close enough. "Besides, come on. We've been here long enough. You're just being rude."

James handed back the badge and stood with his right shoulder turned toward Sarah. She accepted and fluttered on. "Sorry. I'm from New Jersey. The Crystal doesn't reach that far. It's all still a bit new to me."

"Oh, it reaches that far. We just don't like New Jersey either."

"Now who's being rude?"

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bridge To Shuttle Bay One

After being told one of us would be the ancestor of one of the Federations greatest captains[1], we were lead into a turbolift and brought to a different floor to be put on board an escape shuttle.

An easy illusion, using sequenced lights to give the impression we were travelling a great distance within the ship, while only moving a single floor.

Except not quiet. We actually never travelled vertically at all. Another clever illusion to avoid the expense of a purpose built elevator.

Inside the turbolift there were indeed pulsing lights to give the impression of vertical movement, just like in the series. Combined with a slight shaking, it felt very real. When the Enterprise took a few blasts from the Klingon Bird of Prey, the turbolift rocked, again, just like in the show, except we didn't have to fake it, the hydraulics did it for us. The shaking concealed the next slight-of-hand as they slowly and imperceptibly turned the entire lift about 180 degrees so that, when the door reopened we were looking at a new location, without ever knowing that the bridge set was just behind the wall.

After that it was just the simulator ride, which was great, but nothing compared to what we had just experienced. One neat touch was that the footage was projected on a curved, dome-like screen, so not only could we look out the forward windows, but also up through some skylights in the shuttle. That really helped sell the illusion nicely.

[1] It was me, obviously. Riker looked right at me.

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Two To Beam Up

Being teleported was, frankly, a mind blowing experience. Every rational part of my brain told me it was impossible, a clever trick and illusion, while every emotional part of my heart was crying with joy after decades of dreaming about living this moment.

Of course, it was a clever trick, an illusion. But even knowing how they did it doesn't take from the magic.

The first part was obvious. Told to watch a safety video, all our gazes were focused on the TV screens, and so too the strobe flash hidden beside them, blowing out our night vision when the lights went out.

The next five or so seconds was when the real magic happened.

The ceiling above us slid smoothly to one side, leaving a multistory opening above our heads. The four walls, including the one with the TVs and fake doors we were facing, shot upwards 60 feet at incredible speeds, uncovering the transporter panelling around us and the transporter control room with crew members in front. Then, as quietly as the first was removed, a new ceiling slid into place above us, enclosing the transporter bay.

What little noise the mechanisms did make were masked by the transporter sound effects.

At this point, a mere five seconds after we had been plunged into darkness, the lights came back up and all was revealed. The floor we were standing on had a property such that, when lit from above, appeared to have one design and a different one when lit from below. Tricking us into believing we had moved floors was as simple as turning on a light switch.

All of that was breathtaking, but it leaves one, final mystery.

Experiencing the whoosh of air in the darkness was amazing, because it totally contributed to the sensation of being moved by some means. The designer who thought to included that was a genius, right? Not quite.

When the whole mechanism was first being tested with actual people in it, it seemed only right that it would be the engineers themselves to risk life and limb before anyone else. Nothing should go wrong. It had been dry tested dozens of times. The mechanisms were precisely engineered to a ridiculous level and the timing was tuned to perfection.

This is how what happened next was told to me.

Standing in the drab grey false room, the strobe went off, the lights went out and more than one engineer screamed.

You see, when you pull four walls straight up 60 feet at high speed you create a suction effect as air rushes in to fill the space the walls occupied. That suction is experienced by anyone in the room as a whoosh of air, coming from around your feet and flowing upwards.

When the lights came up the engineers, frozen in their spots, silently looked around before one of them spoke up.

"We're keeping that in."

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Welcome Aboard

Claire and I stood in the queue for the Star Trek Experience simulator ride based on the Next Generation era. We were both excited. We hadn't any idea what to expect, having read nothing about it in advance. We'd been on these kinds of rides before, where you and a bunch of others sit into a box on top of an enormous computer controlled hydraulic system and get thrown around in sync with footage to give the illusion of actually being on a rollercoaster, or flying in a helicopter.

But this was Star Trek, we were going to be flying through simulated space, buckled safely into our seats, safely located in a hotel very definitely safely on good old Mother Earth.

We lined up outside the simulator in a nondescript room, and were asked to first observe a safety video on a few screens above the ride access doors. The usual stuff. Claire and I were standing side by side.

Suddenly a bright flash blinded us all, and the room was plunged into darkness for less than five seconds. We heard a strangely familiar sound, felt a rush of air travel from our feet upwards and then the lights came up.

We were standing in an entirely different location than the room we had been in moments before. Let me emphasis that. An entirely different location. An officer in Starfleet uniform stood looking at us behind a console I had seen hundreds of times on TV where the doors we were supposed to go through had been. The ceiling and walls surrounding us, previously grey and drab, were now the familiar futuristic panelling of the transporter bay.

And, looking down, Claire and I both came to the same shocking realisation at the same time. The freaking floor was not the same one we were on moments before either, but the glowing discs of light we so knew and loved.

It was all I could do to just hold her hand and not cry. In that moment my heart was beating a thousand beats a minute.

I'm not crazy. I didn't for a moment think I had actually been teleported to a Federation starship, but every sense I had was telling me otherwise. My brain was firing off, trying to explain the sensory imputs my body was sending it that conflicted with all rational thought. Trying, and utterly, completely, failing.

"Are you all okay?" My attention snapped back to the ensign before me. "I'm sorry, but we had to emergency beam you out of there. If you follow this officer, everything will be explained."

We were lead down a familiar corridor, inset with the same familiar lighting, past familiar doors and then through a sliding door with the familiar whoosh sound and my heart went from beating like a drum in my chest to stopping dead.

At that moment I was standing on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-D. Before me, on the big viewscreen, stars drifted past. This was a set, obviously, but once again, my brain was having a hard time explaining that to the rest of my body.

It all felt so real.

One of the two officers on the bridge welcomed us on board and told us she had someone that wanted to talk to us.

The stars on the screen were replaced with the much larger than life face of Commander William Riker, who informed us that the Klingons had found a way to travel back in time to our century. Their plan was to kill the ancestor of Captain Jean Luc Picard, erasing him from history. One of us was the target, but without knowing which one, they rescued us all. Now, he told us, we were to follow the ensign to a shuttle where we would be whisked to safety.

With one last, quick look around the bridge, we were all bundled into a turbolift, which, once the doors closed, started to move, the lights flashing by as we changed floor. The lights flickered and the lift shook as we were hit by the attacking Klingon vessel and alarms started to blare.

The same doors we had entered through opened and we were in a completely new hallway, rushed down to the awaiting shuttle, where we were strapped into our seats and blasted out into open space, high above the earth, as the Enterprise fought off the Bird of Prey. Our shuttle ducked and dodged, avoiding lazer blasts and zooming through the atmosphere. We flew down over the crowded lights of the Vegas Strip at night, banked around and landed on the roof of the Hilton. The seatbelts clicked open and we were lead out into an ordinary looking hallway. On a wall-mounted TV a news anchor was reporting on unusual lights in the skies above Nevada, but a stern looking government official was assuring the viewers that it was just a weather balloon.

And suddenly we were back in the public area, standing in the middle of the shop filled with magnets and posters bearing the likeness of various actors.

We were back on earth, safe and sound from our adventure, and neither Claire nor I had any idea how any of it had happened. We talked about all the theories we had, but when, a few days later, we went on the Behind The Scenes tour, the truth turned out to be far better than either of us dared imagine.

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Beaming From Ear To Ear

In August 2008, Claire and I travelled the West Coast of the US on what we called The Epic Holiday. Along the way we stopped into a small desert town called Las Vegas in Nevada. Mostly this was to get married, but we also bookedd our stay at the Las Vegas Hilton which, at the time, was host to the long running Star Trek Experience.

We were lucky enough to have our holiday when we did too. In September of 2008, one short month after our visit, the Star Trek Experience shut down for good. Remember, this was before the JJ Abrahms 2009 reboot. There was no new series on TV and the last attempt at something was the generally disliked Enterprise. The whole exhibit was torn down and because it had been built in partnership with the Hilton and Paramount, neither could come to an agreement on how the sets would be handled, as they had both paid for the contruction costs. In the end, as far as I'm aware, everything was destroyed, a fact that breaks my heart every time I remember it.

Beware The Rules Of Aquisition

The Experience had a bar modeled after Quark's Bar on board Deep Space 9[1], a gift shop filled with merchandise and memorabilia, a museum packed with screen used props and costumes and, the highlight, two rides to enjoy. The newer of the two was based on Voyager and involved the Borg and some 4D stuff, but the one that had been there since the start was based on The Next Generation, and involved the Klingons. It was much older and didn't have the 4D technology, so of course it would be the lesser of the two.

Nope.

Nope, nope, nope, nope!!

The Borg attack was a fun ride, and the first time Claire and I experienced "4D", much to both of our terror. It was cool, and hopefully I'll get to describe it some day, but the undeniable magic, the one that took both our breaths away was, without question, the Klingon attack.

I'm going to break what I have to say about the Klingon attack into seperate posts for clarity. One will be a straight description of the ride, which I can still vividly recall nine years later, and linked to that will be posts describing how each amazing element was done, which we learned thanks to going on the behind-the-scenes tour after. If I was posting this back in 2008, or even 2009 I might consider not revealing the magic, but it's been nine years, and how they achieved what they achieved should be documented and applauded.

I experienced something I never dreamed would be possible in my life up to that point, and have never experienced again in almost a decade since.

I'll finish this by saying that The Next Generation is the era Claire and I both loved and grew up with. It heavily influenced the person I am today, and the experience in the posts that follow will be treasured memories for as long as I live and prosper.

[1] Claire and I got married in Vegas, and wihle we didn't get married on the bridge of the Enterprise, we did have our wedding day meal in Quark's Bar. It was delicious.

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