Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Christmas Catchup: Board Gaming

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[1] tabletop game from Fantasy Flight Games. I'll try to write up some reviews of those when I get to enjoy them.

[1] - 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

Catsitting 2012

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!

2012 In Video: Part 2: Entertainment

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.

The Yogscast
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.

Corridor Digital
Sam And Niko (Behind the Scenes for Corridor Digital videos)
Freddie Wong
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.

Sync
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.

2012 In Video: Part 1: Education

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!)

Crash Course
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).

SciShow
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
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!

Minute Physics
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 Hart
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
Nottingham Science
Numberphile
Periodic Videos
Sixty Symbols
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!

CGP Grey
PBS Idea
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.

Ze Frank
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!