Game of Thrones Game for Free

I bought the Telltale Games app of the Game of Thrones game a month ago. Now and for a limited time, that game is free on various platforms. I’m still early in Episode 1, and am considering just going ahead and getting the season pass while it is on sale for 25% off. I wish I had waited instead of buying it, because I haven’t gone very far in the game at all. I could have saved $5 and used that towards the season. Oh well, it is all Amazon coin funny money to me anyway.

Sagas of the Icelanders Game

I stumbled across an Indiegogo campaign the other day for an interesting sounding game. It is called Sagas of the Icelanders and is a role playing game about the Norse who settled Iceland in the 10th century. It has 31 days left at the time of this writing and the goal is met so it is well into stretch goal time for this campaign.

If you were, as I was, a fan of the Northlanders comic book, the last cycle was set in exactly this time and place. The Northlanders series finished with a cycle of three different three issue stories about one of the founding clans, starting with the original family and tracing descendants over a hundred years or so. The line I particularly liked out of the first sequence: “If that pup is born a Belgarsson, I’m catching the next boat back to Norway.” If you read it, you’ll remember that.

If you are looking for a game to play that isn’t the same old thing, this seems like an interesting way to break out of the standard molds. I’ve got a growing fondness for this milieu, the history and culture of the Nordic countries. I also have a copy of the Kalevala on my Kindle that one day I’ll read. I’ve been interested ever since I listened to Ellen Kushner’s episode of Sound and Spirit about the work, a decade or so ago.

Drop Target Zine Review

I’m a fan of cartoonist Alec Longstreth. I read his blog, buy his comics, have met him at Heroescon several times and even interviewed him once. I was pleased a few months ago when I saw him blog a reference that he was working with fellow cartoonist Jon Chad on a good old fashioned paper zine devoted to pinball called Drop Target. It combines three of my interests in a nice package – comics, pinball and zine culture. I’ve referenced multiple times on this blog my desire to be more involved with reading and making paper zines as an antidote to the ephemerality of internet culture. This seemed like a great beachhead from which to start that campaign.

I ordered issue #1 from their online store, paid via Paypal and received my copy about a week later. It is a nice package with multiple text features and a long memoir comic about hunting for and playing pinball machines. The text includes some basics of the parts and mechanics of a pinball machine, an interview with the former editors of Multiball magazine, reviews of specific machines and venues with machines. All told, it was a fun and diverting way to spend an hour or so and a great melding of several of my interests. If you like comics, the memoir is satisfying as comics. If you enjoy pinball, the pinball content is informative and enjoyable on that level. If handmade zines are your thing, this is a very good example of that form.

I like zines for the same reason I’ve been a proponent of podcasting and blogging. It rewrites the economic equation by making it so cheap to publish that one can tackle a niche topic and really go for it. This is a great example of that ethos. The second issue is listed as coming in Spring 2011 and I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to pursue trying to interview one or both of these guys for my podcast and I’d even be happy to contribute to their zine. This is exactly the sort of thing that has been making me happy of late. Even as I pull back from social media and the always connected digital world, I’m reconnecting with the tangible artifacts of our real world.

An Utter Fiasco (The Fun Kind)

Last week I met up with a few folks to play the game Fiasco. I had first heard about the game right before XCon last month, and Darren Miller was running the game at the convention. I very briefly met him him then but didn’t have the time to sit and play a full game. It was quite fun. I am not an RPG player, and I really appreciated how the game mechanics were minimal and mostly existed to keep us telling the story. When in doubt, don’t sweat the details and tell the most entertaining story, which I found a very fun way to approach a game.

Darren has posted a play report of our session. As we wrapped it up, I think most of us said the same thing, which was that if the story we generated was a movie, we’d watch it. My character was “Wally Smalls”, the hardware store proprietor whose attempt to use the family inheritance to flip a shady real estate deal drove most of the mayhem. My favorite Coen-esque wrinkle was when Paul aka my uncle “Cliff” accidentally maimed (and had thought he had killed) the guy I was on my way to murder. I think I truly surprised Darren when we met up at the post-murder dumping ground and I shot his character. I had that in mind for a long time. His character was the one coercing my character into the act, who didn’t want to do it but due to external pressures agreed to it. From the first moment we set up the rendezvous to dispose of the body, I knew that “Carl” was going in the same place as the other corpse. It wasn’t a sheer power play, because I also wanted my character caught for his crimes right in the middle of the act. It put me in mind of one of my favorite moments in any noir film or Coen Brothers movie, the scene in Blood Simple where after burying Dan Hedaya’s body in the field we see the sun slowly rise and as it does, we see the field is empty dirt with giant thick tire tracks leading straight to the shallow grave. The feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as you watch that was what I was hoping to get out of the game, and did I ever!

I highly recommend this game, and I think it is a good one for people who aren’t that into RPG. It’s all about story, and if you are willing to contribute, you will have fun.

My First Kindle Purchase

I’ve had my Kindle for a week now, and I am truly digging it. Because of my busy schedule I haven’t had time to sit down and just read a book but with what little time I’ve had to play with it I have been impressed with the quality of the device, the ease of use and the easiness on the eyes of reading on it.

I put a lot of my Fictionwise books on there first, which got me 100 short stories and novels to read almost from the very beginning. I converted a few more review copy books that I had in soft copy. Yesterday I made my first actual purchase from the Amazon website, and I’m deliriously happy with it. The book was Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed, which I started reading today at lunch. It’s a fun and breezy read. When Gus won the Aussie Millions tournament in 2007, he had a little voice recorder with him and after every hand he captured the details. This book covers every hand he actually played all the way from the first round to the last hand. It covers what he had, what he thought his opponent had, why he called, raised, shoved or folded at every point. In some cases it breaks down the math for his calculations of expected value of different plays.

On top of all this, which sounds like it could be heavy, it is written in a compulsively readable, breezy style. Gus is a character, and reading this book I can hear his voice in my head with his Danish accent. There are all kinds of jokes here and it is downright fun to read it. Interesting to me is the number of mid suited connectors that Gus plays. He seems happier playing 89h than a pair of 7s. I know it is a leak in my game that I fold too many of these strong drawing hands, particularly when I’m in position. With Gus as my tour guide, maybe I’ll try to open up this part of my game.

All in all, I recommend the Kindle highly as a device (full review to come after I’ve read a whole book with it) and I recommend Gus’ book from just reading the first 20 hands.

Two Plus Two Pokercast Steps Up

I’ve been a listener of the Two Plus Two Pokercast since their previous incarnation, before they hooked up with Two Plus Two publishing. Most shows range from OK to quite good but the episode from March 10, 2009 flat out rocks. Not only does it have a great and illustrative interview with Huckleberry Seed (one of my favorite players) but they have a long hand analysis of a particular pot from the High Stakes Poker TV show that really opened my eyes. The take-home was that Tom Dwan had Ten-rag in a spot where both other guys in the pot had him beat on a 10-2-2 board on the flop – one had AA and the other had 24. However, by having the ten, Dwan knew that the range of another guy having the pair of tens to complete the full house was reduced with him holding a 2nd ten. That meant that a big balled bluff was that much harder for both the other guys to call, and he ended up taking down the pot with the worst hand.

That’s the sort of thing I never think about but I’d be a much better player if I did. Online games go fast, but I need to make a habit of jamming as much analysis as I can into those dead seconds while I wait for other players to act. Rather than impatiently wait for the action to get to me, I should be thinking ranges every available second and preparing for my range of actions depending on how things go. Can I call a raise here? Do I check behind, or reraise regardless or fold to any action? I am an above average and profitable player. I’d really like to be so much better though. I appreciate when poker podcasts take time away from taking about which players have the nicest Rolexes and cars and actually spend some time on the game itself. I hate all the flashy lifestyle stuff, I’m about the game and nothing but.

City of Heroes

On a complete impulse buy, earlier today I picked up the install DVD for City of Heroes at Big Lots. At least one person on Twitter thought it was odd that I would be involved in such a thing when I’ve gone on record as being underwhelmed by things like Second Life. My problems with Second Life are that the interface sucks and has a serious learning curve, that it is hard to figure out what to do and that the aimlessness of it is a barrier to entry. The conversation goes like this:

Me: “What can I do with this that is interesting?”

Second Life Dude: “Oh, it’s wonderful. You can do anything!”

Me: “Ooooooooooookay.”

As I said earlier, if I’m going to fart around with any MMO, I want to be able to punch bad guys through walls. My hope is that this has enough structure than unlike Second LIfe I’m not stuck wandering around boring things wondering what to do. If anyone reading this wants to join up and do whatever one does with other people, let me know. I have yet to start up the game because I first installed the program it had 1.8 gigabytes of updates to download. I assume that the MMO part means that I can hook up with friends to go on missions or what have you. Come join up with me and we’ll fight bad guys together! I don’t know how to do that yet, so it’s all learning curve.

Update: I’ve tried this under VMWare and Parallels and neither one runs it. This might be an epic, or it might be an EPIC FAIL!

FInal Update: Neither VM solution nor running under Boot Camp allows me to play City of Heroes, so this is done. Sorry guys, it sounded like fun but I am saved from myself by my MacBook.

Chris Ferguson on Running Bad

Chris Ferguson is far and away my favorite poker professional. He has a post on the Full Tilt website about how to handle it when you run bad. I think this is all good advice. I’ve found his bankroll management tips to be the single best advice for the meta-game. It’s possible to avoid situations that will make you broke even if you play horribly. This kind of thinking is some of the most valuable you can have in poker, and I’m very glad Ferguson is keeping it out there.

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Board Game Geek Gift Guide

I’m not really much of a gamer of any stripe. I have a tendency to buy games like Netrunner and INWO and then never actually play them. I used to listen to and enjoy the Board Game Geek Geek Speak podcast even though I had almost never played any of the games they talked about. I am not really a member of their community although I drive by now and then. For those of you looking for some ideas on games you might give as gifts this year, BGG has published their 2007 Gift Guide. There is some good looking stuff on there. It’s wasted on me since I’d never actually play, but cool nonetheless.

You Suck At Poker

I had a comment left on here that I really had a hard time telling if it was a spam blog or not. I dug around the site and decided not, and while doing that found an article I liked. It is the negatively titled but nonetheless accurate 7 Reasons Why You Suck at Poker. I definitely have a few of these problems. I limp in as small blind too much, I check the flop too much, I fold the big blind too much, and especially late in tournaments I lay down the best hand too often. I know the way to play is to only play hands I’m willing to pursue aggressively but that’s easier said than done. I’m working harder at putting my opponents on a range of hands and trying to discern from betting patterns whether I’m ahead or behind. I do find that just putting out the continuation bet on the flop, especially late and near the bubble, gets everyone to fold to me shockingly often. I never think that will work and am always pleasantly surprised when it does.

Good advice here. If you are interested, check it out.

R/C Jousting Knights

I got an email from Think Geek about these Radio Controlled Jousting Knights and for a second, I had that “I’ve got to have this” feeling. I don’t need them, but the concept is just so funny and cool that I wanted them. However, Think Geek got too clever for their own good.

They have a You Tube video of people playing with them, and it is pretty obvious from that they aren’t nearly as much fun as they seem like they’d be. Because of the lack of very fine control, rather than jousting the knights spend a lot of time trying to get close to each other and missing. The one bit of contact was a demolition derby style t-bone of one horse into the other, not really what you are signing up for. In the olden days, you might have had to drop the $40, get these shipped to you and fiddle with them for 10 minutes to realize they are a disappointment. Now you can get that without even making the purchase. Thanks, Web 2.0!

0 to $10,0000

Over on Full Tilt Poker, my man Chris Ferguson is in the middle of an interesting experiment. He is trying to turn an initial $0 stake into $10,000. He writes up his progress here, which includes some very good rules for bankroll management. Ferguson is my favorite of all pro players which makes sense because he’s a straight out, unapologetic nerd. He spent like 15 years in grad school, is a programmer and a geek, and he looks really good in a cowboy hat and black suit. As a fanboy of his, I’ve tried to adopt some of his style at the table. I do much better when I play like him than when I play like me.

Subgenius Colony in NationStates

In the Mac Geek Gab, Dave and John have been pushing people to join NationStates and then joining their “Geeks Unite” region. I decided to do that, but to make it interesting I decided to create a nation devoted to Subgeniusness. When a decision comes up, I decided according to Subgenius thinking. If there is no clear Subgenius dogma on the subject, I just dismiss it. We’ll see how this experiment goes. What I like about NationStates so far is that it takes about 30 seconds a day to maintain it. There’s a game compatible with slack!

More on Second Life

A few more opinions on Second Life. After my first post, PJ had some comments on it. In a similar vein, Eric Rice weighs in prompted by Chris Pirillo’s post. Chris’ experience is about the same as mine.

The countervailing opinion of the boosters seems to be that those of us who are bored and perplexed by SL have the wrong attitude. They say we should be looking at it as a freeform tool for creation and interaction, rather than as a game that will entertain us. PJ says I should be looking at it as a 3D modeling tool; Eric says it is true participatory media. All I know is that I was looking for something intuitive and I found something that presented me with a learning curve that I didn’t particularly want. Eric says ‘[…] it’s this wide open “The Earth: What do you do on it?” thing that is way different that something with a specific purpose’. Well, you can put me in any American city and I guarantee I can make something interesting happen faster than I’ve been able to in Second Life – which as yet I never have. I already know how to work the world and don’t need to read the manual. The world has a less shitty interface.

The basic thrust of the SL as a substrate for creativity argument doesn’t much sway me. In fact, every time I’ve shut it off in disgust, I’ve turned around and put some work in something more immediately tangible to me – AmigoFish or a podcast or something. I’m not wild about using my money to buy assets or my time to build value in such a non-portable way. When someone else can flip a switch one day and turn off my work, I don’t like that situation. Lest you protest the unlikeliness of that, I lost a lot of my writing when GEnie shut down, and it’s about to happen again with Dueling Modems. It’s not a question of if but when with this sort of thing. I’d rather have more control over my output than this.

Note that as in all such things, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of liking it. I’m saying that based on my experiences so far, this thing ain’t for me. In fact, I deleted the client off the laptop after the last unsatisfactory experience. Wake me up in a few years and maybe I’ll try it again.

Second Life Less Interesting than the First

It seems like everyone and his uncle is always on about Second Life, so I downloaded it maybe 2 months ago. In the time since, I’ve used it maybe 60 minutes total. My sessions always go kind of like this: fire it up, try to figure out where I am and what I’m doing. That fails, so try to figure out how to make something interesting happen. Walk into or through walls, fly around, look for anything that seems the least bit involving. Finally, quit the program in a combination of frustration and boredom.

I just fired it up for the first time in several weeks. I had an invitation to attend a casino. I pressed the teleport button and was taken there. I spent a few minutes wandering about, at which I decided it was not the slightest bit interesting. It took several more minutes to figure how to get the hell out of the damn place, at which point I was asked to tip in appreciation. I finally got out of the building, flew around, got bored and quit. At this point, I’m thinking I might as well delete the damn program off of my computer. I can’t make the fun happen, and I don’t particularly feel like investing lots of time into learning that skill. I’ve always got something productive I could be doing but If I’m going to be wasting time at the computer, it seems like at the very least it should be enjoyable. I have yet to have one second of fun in Second Life.

Gamer Hassled by the Man

Greg Costikyan reports on a kid who, during a search on the Waterway Ferry from New Jersey to New York had a had a White Wolf book confiscated because it was “inappropriate.” Costikyan is outraged, pointing out that the role of these searches are to find things like bombs and guns, not decide whether passenger’s reading material is to the liking of security guards. Also reproduced in that post is the text of the letter he wrote, as well as the responses he received. It sounds like the organization is hunting down the rogue guard who did this action, which is the correct response. I like the idea of these abuses of power quickly being brought to light, followed by vigorous actions to purge the organizations of such abusers.

Steve Jackson Gets It

As a teenager, I was a big fan of Steve Jackson Games. I loved Car Wars and Illuminati. Later, when I began browsing the web in 1994 via lynx on a shell account, their webpage was one of my favorite destinations. As an adult, I got into their Illuminati: New World Order card game (which I would still play if I had any partners.) I’m predisposed to like the guy, even if he did stand me up for a radio interview at Dragon*Con one year.

They have been thinking about selling their game books in digital form for a while. It makes perfect sense – printing is expensive. It would allow them to have publishing tiers where some smaller audience games that might not support the cost of paper printing could be “straight to download” games, older out of print games could be returned as downloads, etc. I was very pleased to see this passage on the most recent Daily Illuminator:

“Will the PDFs you sell be user-limited with some sort of digital rights management scheme?” No, they won’t. We understand this is a hot issue right now because another company just opened a PDF store with encoded, “protected” PDFs that won’t even work on some computers. We looked into that whole issue, and decided that copy protection would create far more trouble for our users than it would save for us. The l33t g00bs will break it anyway, and it annoys the honest people.

Steve gets it. If he went with DRM, it would just piss off the faithful and wouldn’t really prevent determined people from getting it. He has always been forward thinking on the internet (they had one of the earliest web pages on the WWW and they even started their own ISP a decade ago) and this just shows that he’s still got it. Way to go, Steve! I hope this works out very well for you.

X-Arcade Dual Controller

Here’s a review of a good looking joystick, useable with MAME and others. If I buy another joystick to use with MAME, it will have two joysticks such that I can use it for Robotron (my favorite arcade game of all time). I’ve played it in manners other than two joysticks, like two sets of keystrokes or one joystick and one set of kets and none of it compares. When I would go to Ground Kontrol in Portland and play the actual arcade game, it would remind me of what a sham playing Robotron on MAME is without the proper controls.

Paranoia XP

I saw this morning in my aggregator that a new version of the classic game Paranoia is in the works. The press release is funny, written in the same style as the game itself, starting from the opening line:

The Computer says that failure to feature this announcement prominently is treason. Treason is punishable by summary execution. Thank you for your cooperation.

I liked the game 20 years ago and would be interested in checking it out again. What I didn’t get out of this is any sort of ETA. At first I thought it was saying it is available now, but this appears to be the announcement that they are working on it. Greg Costikyan continues his streak of being highly organized, at least as it comes to dealing with me. Years ago when I interviewed him for the radio, not that long after he sent me a note thanking me for interviewing him. Well, this morning shortly after I saw the release in my aggregator, I got an email from him with the same text, sent to folks who link to his blog. Wow. He seems to go the
extra distance.