Friday, June 13, 2014

Hanabi

The hardest part of this game is that you hold the cards the wrong way around.

No. Really. That's going to be the bit that trips you up more than any other.

In Hanabi, you play technicians tasked with putting on a spectacular fireworks show, but you've made one slight error. The sequence for firing each rocket has been mixed up, and now you and your fellow technicians must correctly launch your coloured gunpowder tubes, without admitting your own fault.

Everything is backwards

Each player has a hand of cards, but holds them facing out to the rest of the table. Thus, you know what everyone else has, but no idea what you hold yourself. On your turn, you can play a card, discard a card, or give a piece of information. Information is limited, represented by eight clock tokens that get removed as information is shared, and recycled if a card is discarded.

It is up to the players to make five suits of fireworks, one in each colour, each containing five cards, numbered one to five, in ascending order. If a card is played incorrectly, either because a copy of it is already in play, or the card one lower than it is not yet in play, then the fuse shortens and the tension rises.

The game ends if all five fireworks are completed, if the draw deck empties or if three fuse tokens are discarded to the box, revealing the explosion token. At that point, the highest value card in each colour is added together to get the groups final score.

Hanabi is a fun, tense game of strategic planning, memory, deduction and a little luck. It plays fast, and supports up to five players.

We love this game at my house, and it gets a lot of playtime, most popular with four or five players, but fun with two as well. Because information is scarce, and there are restrictions on how information is given, what you chose to tell someone, and what you chose not to tell them becomes the key to victory or defeat. Also, once a piece of information has been given, it's up to that player to remember it. Other players shouldn't remind their fellow technicians what was revealed in previous rounds.

It's hilarious being able to see everyone else's hand, but not your own. Looking around at opening hands is always fun, realizing that the other players all hold all the fives, or that one player has three red ones in her hand. Co-ordinating the distribution of information with other players is easy at first, but becomes more difficult, as you can't explicitly tell the active player what to do. Trying to work out the value of being told "These two cards are RED" can be tricky, and I've often found myself discarding a valuable card or playing an inappropriate card because I misjudged something.

It can also be incredibly frustrating seeing a valuable card in another players hand, but not being able to get them that vital piece of information. But that's all part of the game.

I recently brought Hanabi into work with me and tried it out with some of the kids I teach. I was planning on just teaching the older group, but we had one seven year old in the group, and he was the first to totally get how the game works. While I was explaining the rules, he would stop and ask me a clarifying question, by way of a play example, and he was right in his assumption every time! When we played, it was clear that the group had no issues with understanding the rules, and enjoyed the tension of watching another player agonise over whether to discard or play a card inhand.

Hanabi is a wonderful game, and comes highly recommended. It's also the first of three games by designer Antoine Bauza that I'll be reviewing in upcoming posts!

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Board Game Review Hub

 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Let's Play

Whelp! It's been a while! What?!? I've been busy... Mostly.

Claire got me a powerful PC for Christmas, and I started recording my games and uploading them to YouTube, which was a lot of fun while I was playing games, and then not so much when I started back into board games in a big way. I was only ever doing the YouTube thing as a hobby, so once I started spending my time on another, more social hobby, that fell to the sidelines.

Still, I had a blast making YouTube videos. I did a bunch of short plays, mostly showcasing opening areas, while I collectively called "Couch Projections". These were a lot of fun, and usually involved minimal editing, as they were straight plays of what I experienced. Some, like the fantastic OctoDad: Dadliest Catch ended up being too long, with too much of me feeling lost and not knowing what to do, so I editted those down to tight, short plays, highlighting the best parts. Others, like FLT: Faster Than Light seemed to be paced perfectly for what I intended the Couch Projections series to be. Either way, they were a lot of fun!

The only extended series I did was a full run on XCOM: Enemy Within, including all the DLC. The whole squad was named after friends and family, and they bravely fought aliens and died to protect humanity. I had an absolute blast recording this, and it was my first time ever finishing a full playthrough of XCOM, which I had originally owned on the Xbox 360 since launch.

As of this post, the final mission is not yet online. That's because, once I got to it and played it, it was kind of boring. It's a straight run through a linear base, with an alien voice explaining away any questions you had about the creatures you've been battling with for months. I struggled to edit and narrrate an engaging version of the mission, adding in fluff story details like I had been doing, but nothing was coming together. I'll really make an effort to go back to it and finish it just for the saake of completion, but it's not going to be a great ending.

I actually have plans for another XCOM series I'd love to do. There is a fan-made mod for the PC game called The Long War that dramatically changes many of the game elements, including skills tree, which are now much more in-depth, the terror tracks on nations, research, weapons and upgrades, and basically the whole feel of the game. I've been really excited about trying it out, so this is something I'm interested in doing. So keep an eye on my YouTube for that!

And if you want to volunteer to protect humanity, leave a comment on this post and you might see yourself drafted! Remember, service guarantees citizenship!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

More

Happy 2014! It's been a great start to the New Year for me, and I have tonnes of stuff to look back and blog about from the Christmas holiday, but let's start 2014 off by looking forward.

While I don't make New Years resolutions, my goal for this year is to be "more". Make more, do more.

I'm going to draw more, and craft more. I have lots of art and craft supplies built up in a storage box, and I haven't been using them enough. I made my own Christmas tree this year, which was awesome fun, and I'm determined to make more stuff in 2013. Also, I'm going to draw more, both in sketch books and digitally. I still what to make a webcomic, so here's the deal: Ask me about it. Pester me about it. When I run out of excuses for why I haven't started, you have my permission to demand it. I love drawing, and I get a little bit better every time I take out my pencils. I just need to stop making excuses to leave them where they are.

I'm going to blog more. Yes, I realise the irony of saying that given that it took until now to write my first blog of 2014, but I'm going to do this. I'm immensely proud of how long I've had this blog now, and how much I've written in that time. 2014 is not going o be the end of that, but a strengthening of it.

For Christmas, Claire got me a monster fo a gaming PC. Suddenly, I found myself able to record my game plays, edit and upload them to YouTube and join the Let's Play community. I'm going to do this more and develop my editing skills more. I've been really enjoying it so far, and I find I'm even enjoying the game more because of it. I'm going to try live-streams in time, but before that, I want to try playing games I'm brand new to (Thank you Steam and Humble Bundle), and recording my commentary live as I react to these new experiences.

I'm going to role-play more and board game more. There was a time last year when we were board gaming every other week, sometimes more, but I stopped over the summer and only got back into it during Christmas. We gamed four times in that week, and I loved it. Also, it's been over a year, and probably closer to two since I GMed. Time to fix that.

I'm going to be with friends more, and talk to friends far away more. I'm going to Skype more and maybe even try this new-fangled Google Hangouts thing some time. I have my own PC with Steam now, so I'm going to try to game with friends more.

2014 is going to be more.

And anyone I can take along for the ride, I'll be happy to have the company.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Inspiration Hack

Last Sunday my Twitter account was hacked. It was little more than an annoying inconvenience, a string of tweets all sent within a minute of each other that I just ran down through and deleted. I trust my friends who follow me were clever enough to spot the spam and not click any links, but I imagine it was annoying for them too. For a minute on Sunday, their feed got clogged up with more than the usual level of junk that I tweet.

I caught it about an hour after it happened, so some friends might not even have seen it. Three of my friends were good enough to contact me about it, and at least one also contacted Claire, just in case.

Over the last few years, I've made my passwords stronger and stronger, but some sites that I've been a part of for a while don't get updated enough. It's worse now that I have my iPad, and everything is always logged in for me, so I don't even have to use my passwords. Rest assured, I have updated my Twitter password, as well as a few others that I neglected recently.

However, all this did serve as my muse for my latest short story, You've Been Hacked, published here. So, for that, thank you, malicious bastard hacker program. I have no idea how you learned of my alpha-numeric, non-dictionary password, but I'm actually kind of glad you did.

Just don't do it again. Thanks.

Shop online for all your Christmas gifts, at Thinkgeek.com, including this Spider-Man Holiday Plush

 

You've Been Hacked

You've Been Hacked.

I never imagined it would take so little to strike fear right to my core. Just three words on a black background. I opened my eyes and blinked twice.

You've Been Hacked.

It was still displayed on my Message Center, on a red banner, scrolling across my eyes. It took a few seconds before I realised I was shivering, and a few more before I realised why. I stumbled out of the freezing shower, gasping for breath, and fell painfully onto the bathroom mat. You've Been Hacked floated above the back of my hands.

I shook my head, willing my Message Center to close, and had to approve the standard confirmation request in the event of an unread priority message. I looked around, grabbing the towel I kept on the back of the door and wrapping it around myself, without actually standing up yet. Once I felt I had regained enough control of my shaking legs, I tried supporting myself on the toilet and pushed to a standing posture.

My heart skipped half a beat when I opened the door. I could hear low voices from the living area. I didn't remember inviting a guest to stay, let alone enough to hold a conversation without my involvement. My apartment just wasn't big enough for that many people. I inched into the hall, trying to be quiet, but every splash of water from my clothing sounded like a waterfall in my head. I was soaked through. I must have been in the shower for a while.

A moment of brief relief passed over me when I saw that the wall monitor was set to a station, broadcasting a report with someone talking from a studio to a woman standing outside, the honeycomb dome barely visible in the night sky behind her. The sound was turned low, such that, even standing at the doorway, I couldn't make out what was being discussed.

I shuffled, shivering uncontrollably, into the bedroom. I was just pulling on a warm, dry pair of cargo pants when my Message Center flashed up again.

1 Priority Message. 4 Messages. 16 Missed Calls.

I willed my Message Center to display my messages. Two were marked Where are you? One CALL ME, in all caps, and one Have you seen the news feeds? I walked into the living area, expecting it before I saw it.

My face stared, dead-eyed, back at me from the wall monitor. Well, it was almost my face. No amount of rendered pores, blood vessels or muscles could hide the uncanny valley effect of a 3D generated model mask, despite the cost of the police software behind it. But it was definitely me, or my evil, plastic twin.

The woman reporter reappeared, mumbling something just below comfortable hearing level. Lights flashed behind her, reds and blues casting odd shadows across her perfectly retexture features, ruining the effect of a very expensive procedure. Below her, a ticker scrolled past.

16 Confirmed Dead In Terrorist Attack On El-Rail Car

Time to read that Priority Message.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Almost Sleepy Agents

Ask me six months ago what new show I'd be most excited about watching every week and I would have said Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. without hesitation. Ask me today, and it's a different story.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is set in the shared continity universe of the Marvel Studio movies that include Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Lead by Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), whose first appearance in Iron Man cemented him into the Marvel universe, the team is made up of two highly skilled field agents, Melinda May and Grant Ward, two scientists, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, and a civilian computer hacker and activist, Skye. They operate out of a mobile command centre in the form of a huge retrofitted cargo plane, stamped with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo everywhere.

References to the movies are natural and common, with mentions of the greater organisation beyond Coulson's team dropped in regularly. While the series is unable to have regular cameos from the principle actors from the various movies, there have been some nice surprises, including Cobie Smulders in the pilot reprising her role as Agent Maria Hill, that give us hope that Robert Downy Jr. or Chris Evans might drop by for a chat in a later episode.

I'm really enjoying S.H.I.E.L.D. I understood from the before the pilot aired that I should expect something closer to Warehouse 13, and I'm loving that that is what we have. Some people are dissappointed that there aren't super-powered beings leaping all over the screen in every episode, but it's a TV series! And the first season. They don't have the budget to do that. Instead, the team investigate strange artifacts or weapons, and occasionally run into someone with powers.

The cast is strong, and the characters are becoming more defined. The writing is clever and sharp, and there's some great dialogue among all the action and tension. And in true Joss Wheadon fashion, there's a deeper mystery at work for the fans to follow and ponder over. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is lots of fun, and some great weekly viewing.

But it's not my favourite show right now.

Originally, I pretty much ignored Sleepy Hollow outright. I disliked the premise: Injured in his own time, Ichabod Crane wakes up in the modern world and has to defeat the Headless Horseman in a strange, new land. It just didn't sound particularly inventive. But people kept telling me great things about the series, and then Claire started hearing about it and growing interested. Only one male caucasian on the main cast (two, if we assume Headless is one two, I guess), and, pretty early on, the writing staff realised what the fans knew from the seccond episode: Ichabod isn't the main character, it's Lt. Abbie Mills, Ichabods police officer friend who has seen and knows more than she's willing to admit.

So we tried out the first episode, and we both loved it! It's clever, very funny, and wonderfully cast. Ichabod reacts to the modern world in a real way, obsessing over electric windows and the number of Starbuck's within a block of each other. Big things like cars and computers seem almost too much for his brain to handle, so he focuses on the smaller changes, and it's wonderful. At one point, he's handed a pistol for his own protection and told "It's works just like the old ones. Point and shoot." I immediately smiled at the important fact that Abbie took for granted, and, sure enough, after firing once, Ichabod throws the gun away, thinking it spent. A great moment, well crafted.

The show is suitably creepy for it's source material. It's never gorey or downright scarey. It's just that subtle find of creepy that sends shives down your spine and leaves you wanting more, but maybe tomorrow, or next week. The end of the pilot is especially shiver-inducing. If you're a fan of the Dresden Files series of urban fantasy novels by Jim Butcher, then you'll understand when I say that the thing in the mirror at the end of Sleepy Hollow's pilot is how I imagine He Who Walks Behind should be portrayed in a movie or proper series adaptation.

Plus, Sleepy Hollow has Orlando Jones as Captain Irving (a nice nod to Washington Irving, author of the original poem), and he's always great to watch.

And then there's Almost Human, a sci-fi series filmed here in Vancouver staring Karl Urban as Det. Kennex and Michael Ealy as his android partner, Dorian. Rather like Sleepy Hollow, I was unimpressed with the lack of creativity from the trailer for this show. A human cop is injured and his partner killed when their police android decides that they are not a priority based on mission parameters. This leads to him hating on androids, bu being forced to work with one as an active officer. He's given a "defective" unit, an older model that displays too much emotion, and they bond. It sounds like something one of those automated plot generators would spit out:

He's a white cop with an artificial leg who hates androids. He's a black android who feels too much emotion. They fight crime!

And it does hit a lot of the generic clich├ęs: A tough but kind hearted older female superior officer, a young, sexy collegue, a rival officer who thinks the main character is a has-been, and who thinks of androids as lifeless tools, and even a missing ex-girlfriend who may or may not be mixed up in something bigger.

It sounds like it should be unwatchable, but they pull it off. For one thing, it's fun. The banter between Kennex and Dorian is well written and delivered, and I especially liked the discussions on life, love and death from episode two. The "Stop scanning my testicles" was a great character moment between the two. I like their view of a future that is "normal", not a dystopian nightmare, or a utopian paradise, but a world of hope and crime in a big city. The ills of the world have not been solved, but we haven't degenerated into chaos either.

Almost Human is a fun show to switch off and woatch. It has a lot of heart for a sci-fi action show, and, as suggested by the title, it takes a bit of time to discuss the line between human and not human in a world where androids can be programed to be "too human", a "condition" that causes that line, the DRNs, to be discontinued and shelved in favour of more conventional models. I'm really looking forward to seeing more from this series, and hope we at least get a season or two out of it. I think it has glimmers of the fantastic within it's first two episodes, and has a whole lot of potential beneath it's skin. Also, someone must have written fan fiction of how Almost Human is the setup world for Battlestar Galactica![1]

Agent's of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human are all on my weekly viewing, each providing it's own style of entertainment and surprise. If I had to pick one fo the three to recommend, I think it would be Sleepy Hollow right now, though Almost Human has the potential to usurp that given a few episodes of development. Maybe it's my levels of expectation versus my levels of enjoyment on viewing, but S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't left me as excited as the other two shows after each episode. It's still a great show, and I'll be watching every episode, I just think the others, for now, are a little greater.

[1] - I'd love to see one of the BSG Final Five actors appear in Almost Human as one of the creators of the androids, with another appearing as the programmer for the too human DRN line! Actually... excuse me a minute. I have something to start writing...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cancelling The Dino Apocalypse

When Evil Hat Productions announced they were KickStarting a series of pulp novels set in their Spirit of the Century universe, I was all over it like fleas on a gorilla! I jumped at the chance to support this endeavour to produce new stories in the genre I love so much. While the KickStarter resulted in a whole slew of novels by the time it wrapped, it began as a trilogy by Chuck Wendig. Since then, the first two of the Dinocalypse trilogy have been released, Dinocalypse Now and its sequel Beyond Dinocalypse.

The Dinocalypse trilogy follows the adventures of the core members of the Century Club as they battle strange creatures from beyond time, lead by the villainous Gorilla Khan in his attempt to take control of the world from the hands of man. Dinocalypse Now takes place in the 1930's, while Beyond takes place... elsewhen. I don't want to spoil anything.

Chuck Wendig does a great job of recreating the action of the classic novels that were written when pulp ruled the book stands. The first book opens in the middle of the action, and barely lets up from then until the last page, sending the heroes jet-setting from tall cities of secret lairs. Mysterious artifacts, impossible devices and wondrous weapons from ancient worlds are all presented in classic pulp fashion.

But it is the characters that shine through all else. As well as the larger task of wanting to save the world, each gets their own personal goal. Some simply want to prove themselves more that their progenitor, others want to impress their colleagues, while more simply want the fame and glory. They are real people with real emotions and desires, and they can be hurt, both physically, with punishing blows, and emotionally, with humiliating defeats.

Everything in these books is paired down to a sharp point. Chuck Wendig manages to set up more inthe opening pages than some authors manage in opening chapters. We immediately get a sense of who we're up against, and what's at stake. When the twists and reveals come, it simply reinforces what's already there, rather than taking the story on a wild, unexpected tangent. Dialogue is equally sharp, with every character having their own voice, reading sufficiently differently from each other throughout the story.

The two books available in the Dinocalypse trilogy so far are a blast, taking readers on a thrilling ride through a suitably epic pulp adventure. I have no doubt that the final volume, Dinocalypse Forever will be equally as exciting when it hits bookshelves and e-readers everywhere in 2014.

Edit: The original upload of this post had a mix-up with the names of the second and third books in the series. It has been corrected here. Annoyingly, I didn't notice, despite the correct titles clearly visible on the embedded cover art. Sorry for any confusion caused.