Saturday, December 27, 2008

Black Christmas

We had a pretty good Christmas (in spite of the title of this post) but it was not without its surprises and setbacks.

We had intended to travel to Oregon to spend the holiday with Helen's relatives, and to celebrate our nephew's fourth birthday. But our hosts, her parents, got snowed in. On the evening of the 22nd, we had to call off our anxious weather-watching and admit that nobody was going to gather in Oregon that week. (It is now Saturday after Christmas, and they're still trapped! They're safe, but likely won't get out until Monday or so.)

So we had two days to suddenly gear up for Christmas at home. A tiny turkey (store was sold out of the larger ones), mashed potatoes and gravy pre-made from Whole Foods (very good, too), salad fixings, Pillsbury crescent rolls (and cinnamon buns for breakfast), bottle of wine, and a mince pie made a very nice, small-scale feast. Helen had already spent a couple of days baking cookies: she has a half-dozen recipes that are all incredibly good, and she makes plenty every year.

We meant for dinner to be ready at 6, and we have no idea why that tiny turkey took so long to roast. It was 10pm before we sat down to eat! But it was very good (even without allowing for hunger as a sauce), and there was enough for everybody plus a little left over for a couple of sandwiches the next day.

The weather was odd. Periods of bright, calm sunshine alternated with the most amazing squalls, one of which took down a power line across the street. We weren't affected, but half of our neighbors had no power from about 9am Christmas morning until maybe 6pm the following evening. (They are the ones who had the "black Christmas"!)

We spent much of Christmas Day playing games (we had a lot of time while waiting for that turkey). We played Pandemic, Stone Age, and Ice Flow: all fairly new games for us. It was the first time in quite a while that the four of us had all played a game together, the kids now being grown enough to have their own social lives. It was a good day.

We have a number of new games in the house: unable to go to Oregon, we spent some of the traveling money on games to console ourselves. Le Havre and Siena we had already recently bought as Christmas presents for ourselves. We then went out and got Stone Age, Ice Flow, and Princes of Machu Pichu. And then Christmas is also Helen's birthday: I got her a copy of Galaxy Trucker, but it turned out her mother had gotten her that also! So we took the one I bought back to the store and traded it for EuroRails, TransAmerica, and Set. And we know there are more games coming, as soon as the relatives dig themselves out and can reach a post office. I think it's time to get that "Owner of Too Many Games" microbadge over at BoardGameGeek.

Stone Age looks like a hit. Ice Flow is interesting, but may be a bit dry, or else just sensitive to the number of players. We've played Princes of Machu Picchu just once so far, two-player, but we liked it. It's by the designer of two of our other favorite games, Antike and Imperial, so we had high hopes and it looks like we won't be disappointed. I want to play it again, soon. (And I want to get Brass back on the table, too!)

Not much game design news from me, but I have had a couple of ideas for spicing up the rail-game-formerly-known-as-Rails-Across-America. I hope to work with it some today, and I'll let y'all know how it comes out.

I hope you've all had good holidays too, and we can all hope for a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

All the Good Names Are Taken

Stumbled across a reference today, and discovered that there's a PC game named Rails Across America. Oh, well—my design will probably never be published anyway. But it's frustratingly difficult to come up with a good name for a rail game these days. Even Martin Wallace's latest has a poor name: Steel Driver (with its picture of John Henry on the box) would be a great name if the game were primarily about building rail. But it isn't; it's primarily about buying stock in railroad companies, an activity that I suspect the Steel-Drivin' Man never indulged in.

Anyway, if you're a copyright lawyer you can stand down. I'll find something else to call my design.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Blahs

"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..."

That would be me, that goose. About a year and a half ago I strained something in my wrist and had to lay off fencing for a few months. Then it got better (or so I thought) and I returned; but a month or so ago it was getting bad again. Now I'm again not fencing—and at Christmas, when there's far too much tempting, fattening food available. So far I haven't gained more than a couple of pounds. My wrist is feeling better and I hope to return to fencing in January.

An old friend of mine just got laid off from a job he'd held for well over a decade. That's not news in this economic climate, but it's depressing. Fortunately he got a good severance package and a lot of notice. He may need both; I have other friends who've been out of work for years.

Other "blah" non-news: no advances on any of my game designs. Somehow inspiration hasn't been striking. Had to work about ten days of intensive overtime, finishing up last week: fortunately it was not in vain, and we met the deadline. Really not much new, and really I'm writing this entry just to show that I haven't given up on the blog.

I have had a minor revelation (not an especially helpful one, alas) about my Rails Across America design, which has been languishing because I don't find it very original. It's that even my starting notion of a rail game that focusses on junctions as much as connections is not very original. I just wasn't remembering a number of games with that mechanic. One of them, embarrassingly, was my own Spatial Delivery. Another is Martin Wallace's excellent Brass. I played this game last May and enjoyed it, and Helen and I now have our own copy (after waiting months for a pre-order of the second edition). I can't recommend Brass enough, at least for experienced gamers. It's a tightly competitive game of linking towns and cities in Lancashire during the Industrial Revolution, and although the canal and rail links themselves are worth victory points, you get most of your score from building industries in the towns (using the links to transport building materials, and later products) and making them pay off.

Brass is great fun, but the rules are not trivial and are filled with difficult-to-remember exceptions. The second edition's rulebook was re-written and is apparently much improved over the original; but the rules themselves are still somewhat baroque. It's hard to play the game correctly the first couple of times. But if you stick with it, it's a great game. Helen and I were pleased to find a two-player variant on BoardGameGeek that some fan of the game designed. It works quite well. There are other two-player variants that we haven't tried, as well.

Finishing on an up beat: it turns out that idle blogging is not completely useless. Just talking here about Brass and Rails Across America gave me a new idea to spice up my design. Something to think about over the holidays!