As it is officially past midnight here on the Pacific coast, the first International TableTop Day has begun!
We have loads planned for it in our place, with about a dozen friends expected to call in over the course of the day and play a huge variety of games, from Forbidden Island and Pandemic, to Elder Sign and Small World. We might even get in a fast-form RPG, like Fiasco if there's interest.
We've gotten hold of a few extra chairs and an extra coffee table to allow for multiple games running at once, as hopefully there will be enough people around at some parts of the day to make that a real possibility!
I've also managed to install a custom firmware on an SD card that will give my Canon G12 a bunch of cool extra features, the most important of which, for tomorrow is time lapse! I'm hoping to photograph a few games with this and upload them later to my YouTube page! Naturally, I'll be taking a bunch of photos as well, and they'll be found on my Flickr.
I'm really looking forward to being a part fo this, especially for it's first year running! If we do get a dozen folks showing up, we'll have more people than some of the local gaming stores are expecting!
We're starting at noon today as I post this, Saturday, March 30th, and we intend to end when the second-to-last person can physically got play another game! Pizza has been promised for dinner, and snacks will be available throughout the day!
So, what are you doing for TableTop Day? Even if it's just getting together with friends for an hour or two in the evening, make and effort to play something with friendly company!
And remember, is TableTop Day, so boardgames, card games, role-playing games, anything counts! Just game and have fun!
Saturday, March 30, 2013
As it is officially past midnight here on the Pacific coast, the first International TableTop Day has begun!
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I recently restarted my Netflix subscription, giving me access to a huge library of content on my Xbox 360, and now, also, my iPad. The last time I had access to the instant streaming service, I watched the entire six seasons of News Radio within three weeks. Admittedly, I was off work at the time and had little else to do. It would appear that, since then, Netflix has become a treasure trove of my childhood, playing host to classics such as Knight Rider, Sliders, The A-Team, and Quantum Leap. I immediately ran into the same problem that so many others have had on starting a Netflix subscription. With so much to watch, where should one begin?
After some consideration, I decided to begin at the start.
Star Trek was my first experience with science-fiction. I watched the movies with my dad, over and over as they were aired on terrestrial television. I soaked them in, losing myself on board the Enterprise. So when Star Trek: The Next Generation began, I relished it. I watched every episode, made easier as they were aired in a prime time slot on the Irish station. I have many happy memories, and one particularly vivid nightmarish one.
So when I started watching TNG on Netflix on Saturday, I feared that my happy nostalgia would be ruined by the cold reality of film.
But it wasn't. I was back on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Picard and his excellant crew. The effects were low-tech by todays standards, but just as I remembered them, and the ship was fibreglass and fibre optics, a physical prop rich in detail and design. Tasha Yar was still alive, and all was right with the world.
Star Trek, like any series, was not without it's dud episodes, and with seven seasons containing 178 episodes, there were quiet a few duds in The Next Generations catalogue, epecially in the first two seasons, while it was still trying to find it's feet. So how do you keep the wonder of childhood alive in the face of 25 years of life?
Thankfully, this isn't the primitive 20th Century any more! We are of the Internet age!
I turned to TV.com. Thanks to its ratings system, I could pick and choose the episodes I wanted to see. For the ones that fell below my assigned cut-off point, I could read the plot synopsis and decide if I remembered it, or felt like it deserved a chance. In this way, I watched Season 1 as I remembered, if not entirely as it was. It was dramatic and exciting, funny and action packed, and entirely entertaining. Every episode was fantastic, and, exactly as my memory assured me, there were no let-downs. Once more, I saw Tasha die, and got to watch in amazement as the brain-worm-host-queen-thing gets phasered by Picard and Riker until his head explodes and his body is set alight. It was exactly how I remember the scene from the first time I saw it, one of the lasting images I always retained of The Next Generation.
We're in to Season 2 now. Riker has his beard, Wesley is at the helm, Geordie is in Engineering, an Irishman is at the transporter console, and according to TV.com, there's a lot more to skip this season. Thankfully, I still have a lot to look forward to, as the ones that hold up get higher average scores than Season 1's best. At least we get to Season 3 faster, when the show really hit it's stride.
So I only rewatch the best. Many episodes are those that, as I watch them now, I realize I still remember the plots to, the ones that stayed with me, and possibly influenced me in becoming the man I am today. Star Trek: The Next Generation showed me a future where anything was possible, and "no being is so important that he can usurp the rights of another" [Captain Picard, S02E06].
It may be a cheat, but it's the best kind of cheat.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Over the holiday season we had ample time off to enjoy relaxing and hanging out with friends. Claire and I decided to make use of this opportunity to host a few gaming nights, and all were massively successful.
Elder Sign is a perfect game for a short evening gathering, playable in a reasonably short length of time, and easily explained to new players. The rules are fairly straightforward, and most complications can be left to be explained as they arise, such as locked dice. We find it best to explain a standard turn order and actions, victory and loss conditions, and any player character special actions at the start of the game, and then just jump right on in. It got played a lot over the holidays, and every game was enjoyably tense. We won some, we lost some, though one issue I do have with the game is that, in my experience, it does seem to be a bit easy to win. I've won significantly more than I've lost, even when we played with randomly assigned player characters, so we couldn't optimize our strategy. Perhaps because of its ease to teach, and ease to claim victory over, Elder Sign makes a wonderful introduction game to the bigger, more complex level of board games, such as the associated Arkham Horror series.
Getting even simpler, but by no means less fun, No Thanks, Guillotine, and Fluxx all got a workout over the Christmas. I picked up Space Fluxx, which is one of the few sets that I feel builds strongly on the basic game. It adds new elements that enhance play, and avoids the outright silliness present in Monty Python Fluxx. That said, we did also get in a game of Monty Python Fluxx, and had a blast doing so, even if some of use proved ourselves better at remembering the lyrics to the various songs than others.
We also got to play some new games that friends brought along. Bau Sack is a block balancing game from Zum Spielen that was wonderful, if stressful, fun, and reminded me that I really want to play the Dread RPG at some point and experience its Jenga mechanic for myself. Bau Sack was made all the more difficult playing it on our slightly wobbly table, and my defeat was brought about when I bumped the leg of said table and knocked my impressive tower to its foundations!
We're looking forward to playing lots more board games in 2013, both new and old favourites. We picked up a few over the sales that we have yet to try, including Forbidden Island and the beautiful Gears of War tabletop game from Fantasy Flight Games. I'll try to write up some reviews of those when I get to enjoy them.
 - This post was actually written about a week ago when I had my iPad and some free time, but I only got around to publishing it now. I have since played and loved the Gears of War boardgame. I'll post more on that and other new games soon.
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
Over the last twelve months we made friends with a few of our neighbors in our apartment block. Two of them have a cat each, and both were going to be away for a time over the holidays, but at different periods.
So Claire and I volunteered to take in their cats while they were away. It was a tough decision, as my readers probably know that we both hate cats, but we suffered through and cared for them!
Miyu is not even a year old yet, and acts her age! Hyper-active to the extreme, she bounces off walls and chairs and races around our apartment at a speed approaching C. The little monkey took a liking to Claire's work chair, and climbed onto it as often as she could. Miyu's nickname is Squeaks, as that's the sound she makes if you startle her, or when she gets excited, or sometimes for no apparent reason. She has a gorgeous turtleshell coat, with a very distinctive pattern on her face. We had Miyu for a few days in early December, as well as about a week in October. She also visits regularly when her owner comes to play boardgames with us.
Kizzy is 14 years old and sleeps 23 hours a day. Her favourite place to sleep in our apartment is in Claire's underwear drawer, which, while adorable and cute, I have been strictly forbidden from photographing for sharing purposes. She found this spot with 30 minutes of arriving, and has been enjoying it ever since. We had Kizzy throughout Christmas while her owner is in Florida with family, and have her until the 4th of January. She loves attention just after she wakes up, or when we first get up in the morning, and will roll onto her back and demand belly rubs, following us around until we pet her. Kizzy is tough to photograph as she's all black and rather effectively resembles a pillow in almost any photo I have tried to take of her. Also, she purrs like a train engine!
While I saw many great movies in the cinema throughout 2012, including The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, Dredd and Skyfall, there were some terrible, terrible failures (I'm looking at you, Prometheus). The trouble with the cinema is that not only have you already paid for your ticket by the time you realise this movie is sucking the life right out of you through your eye-sockets, but you have to get up, leave and make your way home afterwords, fuming at how bad the movie was.
Thanks to YouTube, I got a huge amount of my 2012 video entertainment through webseries and incredible independent YouTube creators. These range from action packed stories to hilarious shorts, from interesting shows to fantastic concepts that no big network would green-light. The advantage of material presented through the internet, of course, is that you can watch it at any time, and if you're bored, you just skip to the next video.
Here's a small selection of what I've been enjoying in 2012.
These guys provide about 95% of the dinner time viewing in our household, and have done so for well over a year now. While they do playthrough videos for all kinds of games, they're mainly famous for their Minecraft videos, wherein they create amazing contraptions in the cubed world and get up to hilarious antics along the way. We started watching the Shadows of Israphel series, which was just Simon and Lewis playing out an enormous adventure made by friends, never knowing what was in store for them. Their most recent and longest running series, quickly approaching 100 episodes, is the Tekkit series, where Simon and Lewis are joined by friends Duncan, Sjin and Sips, as they collectively attempt to build an enormous Jaffa Cake factory! It is always hilarious, very unexpected, almost entirely unscripted and generally ingenious!
If you enjoy the core Yogscast Channel, then check out some of their friends. But even if Yogscast isn't for you, please do yourself the favour of watching the side-splittingly, tear-jerkingly hilarious playthrough of Farming Simulator 2013, staring Farmer Dunc, Farmer Sjin and, later, Farmer Lewis. I know, farming simulators may not be your thing either, but trust me, it's not about the game, it's about the antics! It's worth it for the elephant alone.
Sam And Niko (Behind the Scenes for Corridor Digital videos)
Behind the Scenes videos for FreddieW
These are pure entertainment, in short bursts! Both mega YouTube stars, they actually share work space and collaborate on loads of stuff, while still maintaining their own individual identities. You've probably seen some of their stuff that's gone viral, but all of their videos are worth catching. Better than most of the stuff on major TV networks in an average week! Both of them did their own webseries in 2012.
Video Game High School - VGHS
From Freddie, Brandon and the team behind the FreddieW Channel, VGHS exists in a world where pro gaming is the biggest sport around, and there are schools for gamers. It's fun, funny and exciting, with some fantastic storytelling, SFX and acting all around! Claire was a bit wary of it at first, but loved it by the end, so if that's not a vote of confidence, I'm not sure what is. My favourite from a great bunch of characters is Drift King. Hilarious! The entire first season is online already, so you can watch it right through as a single 90-odd minute movie.
Sam and Niko from Corridor Digital created a sci-fi webseries with a cool concept at it's core. I'm really not going to spoil anything about this show, except to say that it's great and well worth watching. Again, the whole thing is online now, so go check it out!
Geek And Sundry
This is a channel with new content almost daily, created by Felicia Day from The Guild and Doctor Horrible's Singalong Blog. It has loads of "shows" airing on it, but my two favourites are Written By a Kid and TableTop. WBaK is exactly as it sounds: Stories told by kids are animated or otherwise brought to life in different ways to create some incredible, magical tales. The Behind The Scenes extras are always hilarious and informative as well. TableTop is hosted by Wil Wheaton, and each week sees various guests playing various tabletop games. This show is so popular, there's actually a major network stealing the entire concept lock, stock and barrel! Watch the original. It won't be beaten.
HALO: Forward Unto Dawn
I've never been a fan of the Halo video games, but I love the setting and lore, and goddammit if Microsoft don't know just who to go to to get awesome live action marketing videos, either in the form of their amazing trailers, or Forward Unto Dawn, the webseries that is rumoured to have cost them in excess of $7.5million! Honestly, though, it shows. The series is beautiful to watch, gritty and dirty at times, and wonderfully acted. Even if you've never played the games, it's just good sci-fi stuff.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood And Chrome
We waited and we waited. Some of us hadn't even finished the original series when this was announced (*whistles innocently*). We were teased and taunted, given glimpses of what could be. But eventually, they deigned to grace us with its presence. BSG: Blood and Chrome takes place during the original Cylon War, and stars a young William Adama. Given the wait, it couldn't pssibly live up to expectations, right? Actually, it does. It's quite good, and that makes that fact hat at one time this was supposed to be a new series all the more painful. Once you're done, spoil yourself and learn how 90% of the sets were greenscreen in a behind the scenes look at the series!
Again, like my list of educational videos I enjoyed, there are a bunch more that I haven't listed here. Worse, there are hundreds of one-off videos from people that I saw and loved, but listing those too would take from now until February!
For now, I'll leave it here. I'm looking forward to fantastic worlds, great storytelling and wonderful new series from incredible creators that 2013 brings to me.
I've mentioned a few times now that I had an extended, involuntary leave from employment during 2012. While a fair amount of that time was wasted on video games, I did make a lot of positive use of the days. During those five months, I discovered many fantastic Channels on Youtube that I have since subscribed to and watched religiously with every new post.
A lot of this was a domino effect, with one Channel referring to the work of another, which lead me to another, and another, and so on. But I think it all started when I discovered the Vlog Brothers duo of Hank and John Green. From there I got to know many of their friends, and watch as they met and made new friends over the last six months.
The greatest joy in all this is that most of the videos are hugely educational, while being fun, funny and fantastically entertaining. I now remember many of the facts I learned years ago, but didn't retain, while also learning housands of new pieces of trivia. I can intelligently discuss quantum mechanics, the workings of the universe and the importance of the Higgs Boson.
So here, at the end of 2012, are some of my favourite Youtube Channels I discovered this year. I hope you try at least a handful of them, and enjoy and learn from them as much as I have.
The Vlog Brothers
Brothers Hank and John Green have done some fantastic videos as part of this series, including their lists of 50 Geeky Jokes and the 5 Worst Typos of History. Well worth subscribing too and enjoying. I've spent hours and hours picking through their back catalogue of videos and laughing all the way. If you're into Harry Potter, then check out Accio Deathly Hollows, or I Don't Have A Favourite Pony, if My Little Pony is your thing (and honestly, even if it isn't, it's just a hilarious song!)
Also from Hank and John Green, this crash course in various subjects has been a wonderful reintroduction to me on the subjects of Biology, Ecology, Literature and World History. Enlightening, fun and funny, and extremely educational, unless you're the Mongols, or a sponge (In-joke. Watch to understand).
Hank Green (again!) keeps you up to date with the world of science, from the great minds of science to some fun experiments to the most recent breaking news, SciShow gives it all to you in bite-sized chunks, perfect for snacktime viewing!
The Spangler Effect
Speaking of science, Steve Spanglers goal is to make science fun, and he certainly achieves this here! Equal parts science teacher and clown, Steve has videos on dry ice, eggs, magic and much, much more! I'vedone some of his experiments with the kids I work with, and they're a huge success every time!SCIENCE! made (more) fun. Great stuff.
Veritasium is not a religious channel, as I thought at first, but is all about the "Element of Truth. Eh? See what he did there? "Veritas is truth, and by adding-ium, it sounds like an element. And also a religious bookstore back home in Cork. More importantly, however, Derek, the guy who runs the channel is from just up the road, in North Vancouver! While this Channel is full of wondrous videos clearing up some common misconceptions and illustrating the beauty of a falling slinky, it's also the Channel that introduced me to the incredible Friendship Globe, which I visited and filmed my own video at!
Smarter Every Day
Destin is most popular for his hi-speed stuff, which are spectacular! Some recent videos show how cats can land on their feet from starting falling upside-down! Slo-mo cat twisting FTW!
With beautiful time-lapse animations,Henry explains physics in a manner that even I can grasp! He recently did an animation for a piece narrated by the rock-star of science, Neil deGrasse Tyson!
Vi's specialty is math, and she presents complex mathematical concepts in fashion that I can kinda, almost, maybe grasp. But she also makes hexaflexagons, offering hours of mathematical amusement for the kids I work with!
The Brady Haran Set:
Deep Sky Videos
All of these are from Brady Haran, an Australian living in Nottingham, associated with Nottingham University. Most of the videos feature staff from the university. They're fun, informative and easy to watch. My two favourites are Numberphile and Sixty Symbols, which I've watched everything from, but Periodic Videos has Proferssor Poliakoff, who is always fantastic to watch. He is the quintessential professor!The Nottingham Science channel is kind of a "Behind The Scenes" channel for all the others, and is usually less science-y and more laugh-out-loud funny, often showing off outtakes or interesting extras. Brady and Destin from Smarter Every Day recent recorded a bunch of experiments on Destin's high-speed camera, and we'll get to see the results in 2013!
VSauce, VSauce2, VSauce3
These are more general knowledge channels, rather than the science of my earlier recommendations, with a huge range of topics covered. Like, HUGE! For example, the Mike from The Idea Channel covered topics related to Adventure Time, copyright and what Santa and wrestling have in common in some of their recent videos! Also, because I know a lot of my friends are role-players, let me plug his Can DnD Make You a Confident and Successful Person? right now.
No list of YouTube channels could be complete without mentioning Ze. While he doesn't do the same science-y, educational videos of the rest of the list here, he is, in a way, the granddaddy of them all. Or at the very least, the Grunkle. This is the man who pretty much popularized the concept of a video blog, and inspired many others, not least Hank and John Green. His videos are sometimes random and chaotic, but often funny and profound, and I have a few that I watch regularly when I feel like I need to center myself, or remind myself how special I can be as a person. His mission to bring a little love and happiness to the world has been, and continues to be a resounding success. He's even given a TED Talk or two in his time, which are well worth checking out also.
There are tonnes more out there to enjoy, but these are the ones that caught my attention. I'm looking forward to all the new things I learn through them in 2013 and beyond!
Enjoy, and remember, DFTBA!
Monday, December 31, 2012
Last Christmas was our first one away from our families and friends back home ever, and it was a little tough, a little lonely, and a lot more peaceful. We had minimal decorations and no tree or lights in the apartment, and spent Christmas day together on the couch watching Die Hard. Not the worst way to pass the holiday season, but very different from previous years.
2012 was certainly an odd year for us. We couldn't work for five months due to shenanigans with our work permits, and we lived off potatoes and cheap sausages, or pasta and cheap pork mince. Without work, we were heavily restricted in what we could do during that time, so at the time it felt like forever, yet looking back on it now, it was a good period in general, during which I got to spend a huge amount of time with my wife right at my side.
We got back to work in July and I haven't had a day off since. I love my job, and it was so nice to get back to meeting all the kids and families, not to mention the wonderful co-workers. While Claire's freelance work was going from strength to strength, a setback in October to our plans pressed her into starting a new job that month for a small web development company. This annoyed me greatly at the time, as I had always wanted to be able to support her 100% in her building of her own online business and identity, as well as her writing. I felt that having her start this new job was a failure on my behalf, and it took me some time to come to terms with our new situation. Mostly, it just took me a little time to see that she really was loving her new job and the challenges it threw at her.
All this meant that, as well as a nice bit of savings tucked away, we had some extra cash to spend on each other this Christmas. Because of the break in employment, as well as the move to Canada before that, the effort to save as much as possible before the move, the fact that my job in Ireland didn't pay me enough to save substantially, and a whole list of other reasons going back several years, this was one of the first times we both agreed that we could treat ourselves a little this holiday season.
So we bought some decorations and fairy lights. I made a tree and wrapped some empty boxes to go under it. Slowly, over the early half of December, those were joined by actual gifts and everything felt more like a Christmas I remembered. We wrote Christmas cards and posted them to friends far away. We had friends over to play boardgames and Rock Band in the run up to the final week, and we went out with more friends to play pool, or watch movies, or generally have a good time.
It was feeling a bit more like the festive time of year.
And then it snowed!
Admittedly, it only snowed for a day, but it was magical to wake up to, thrilling to walk in, and resulted in one rather unusual Christmas event that will be forever burnt into my memory, side-by-side with walking on the frozen lake back home in Tipperary in 2010, and the Christmas we lost power at home minutes after the dinner was cooked, resulting in dinner by candlelight and easily the most peaceful, video-game-free Christmas in memory!
Christmas Day 2012 was spent in good company. We were invited to join a friend that Claire had made through writing for Christmas dinner. It was just the two of us, her son and his girlfriend, and herself. It felt very Irish, as they are all from Dublin, and dinner was chicken (turkeys over here are big enough to feed an army, far too big for just five of us) and the most delicious ham I have enjoyed since leaving Ireland. We sat around afterwords playing word puzzles and relaxing, and everyone had such a great time that we've agreed to do it again next year, should the fates allow.
Finally, the last few days have been spent playing yet more Rock Band and boardgames! In particular, yesterday, December 30th, saw us hosting a mammoth 12 hour boardgame day, starting around 1pm and finishing in the wee hours of this morning! We had a Geeky Gift Giving with six other friends. Basically, it was like Secret Santa, only there were no names drawn. Everyone arrived with a geeky gift and we played a bunch of games. Winners picked the gift they wanted. If you had already won, we simply went down the order until we hit the first person who had not yet picked and let them pick one. By the end of the evening, all eight of us had a great time, and everyone went home with a new boardgame, graphic novels, or, in Claire's case, a Nerf Vortex (I fear for my appendages). It was a fantastic night with zero organisational requirements, stress-levels zero, and smiles all around!
2012 was a roller-coaster of emotions and events, ranging from the life-affirming to the life-altering and much in between, but it ended on a high. I'm looking forward to seeing what 2013 has to bring, and I'm ready to take whatever it throws at me, safe in the knowledge that, no matter what trials I may face, I face them with Claire at my side.
So roll on 2013, you beautiful bastard!
- I always enjoyed the Secret Santa back home, and Sinead always did an amazing job of organizing it and poking people to get involved, but if people couldn't make it at the last moment, it threw a spanner in the final gift swapping. Our G3 party required no organisation apart from an email inviting people to join in, and only those who showed up on the day were involved. The downside, of course, is that the gifts couldn't be tailored for any one person, because you didn't know who would get yours.