We played this game as a whim after seeing it in CABS’s cabinets.  It’s a time-travel/looping asymmetric puzzle game, where one player plays as an evil mastermind, and the other three players try to stop the mastermind’s scheme.  In normal play, to balance things, the players aren’t allowed to discuss anything except between loops.  In our version, their was only one player, which is a bit of an advantage.  However, a lot of the game depends on the players knowing what is possible, and sinctragedy-looper_sapyfde it was our first go at it, that advantage wasn’t there (and made it pretty hard for the player).

In the particular scenario we played, I was attempting to kill a specific character in the game.  There were two people who could do it, who were in the roles of the Serial killer and the Murderer.  Events could happen on certain days and under certain conditions. For example, the serial killer only killed if they were alone with one other character.   Other characters were there as decoys or confusion, and it could take two or three passes to figure out which characters were in which roles.

Knowing which characters do what, and what restrictions there are, and also which roles do what is key for understanding it.  [The players don’t know what roles are in play at first, and have to deduce them by their actions.  But then you need to kmow the palette of interactions that is possible.  That also gives the mastermind some ability to bluff, but only when that would be effective.

I really liked this game, but I was alone in that. It was a lot clearer to me,since I had all the information in front of me.  I hope to play it again,  but doubt we will. Still, getting to play this is why we go to  CABS.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a great review of the game

Board Game Geek page

deadmansdraw_large Dead Man’s Draw is a push-your-luck card game with a pirate theme to it. Kat got the limited edition via the Kickstarter, based on her enjoyment of the video game on iOS.  I believe it’s also on Steam and a few other places, based on my reading of their website.

You need a decent area to play this game in, as every player will be keeping up to 10 stacks of cards in front of you, as well as a draw and discard pile, and another card which gives a special ability. Every t urn you must draw a card and play it, and then you may play another card.  Each card has an effect (drawing both a key and a chest lets you take cards into your stacks without having to play them).  You can stop at any time and take the cards you have, or you can draw more.  Once you’ve drawn a suit twice, you bust and the cards go into the discard instead of into your stacks (of course, there’s a suit that breaks this rule).

The cards have numbers printed on them from 2-7 and the goal is to have the highest possible value of each suit. At the end of the game, the highest cards of each suit that you have are added together to form your score.  Highest is the winner.  The randomized characters give each player a different ability which adjusts how they play — in the first game I had a card which got me all the opponents cards when they went bust, so Kat went super-careful and rarely busted.  She wound up winning both the games we played that day, although I hope for revenge someday soon.

Like Love Letter this is an easy to learn and quick to play game that I suspect we’ll play again. I’d like to see how it plays with more players, although that might really unbalance the powers some.

Love_Letter_Card_Princess We originally went to Toys’R’Us to by a a LEGO set, but they had nothing we wanted. What they did have was the cute little Love Letter pouches on a kiosk.  We’d seen the Table Top Day play of the game on YouTube, and had been considering getting it. We wound up playing it several times, first with just two players, and later with the daughter.  It supports up to four players, but we’ve not tried that yet.

The story of the game is that you are trying to get your love letter to the Princess, and the cards all represent people of varying distance to the Princess, with the rank of the card representing how close, from the Guard with a 1 to the Princess herself at 8.  Every round you  have to draw and play a card, and cards have powers that are triggered when you play.

A good part of the game is counting cards to figure out what is in your opponents hands — and as there is a hidden, unknown card, it’s rare when you can actually say what card is where with 100% certainty. You win rounds by having the highest card available when the draw deck is empty, or by being the only one left.  The latter happens very often with the two player hands as there are several cards which force a confrontation that knocks out one of two players.  You play rounds until someone has a majority of the tokens, and they are the winner.

The game is pretty fast, the two player game is exceptionally fast, some of the rounds are over one one play. Three player games have a bit of strategy to them, and I suspect the four player game is really the sweet spot, as it’s more likely to end with a showdown of cards instead of last-man-standing.

One thing that really intrigued us about the game is that it sits in a narrative sequence with several other games by the same publisher.  We’re hoping to look at CABS for the others, or give them a chance.  A quick glance on their website tells me that Love Letter is one of the simpler ones, which is also good — we like a bit of crunch and thought. Love Letter is light and quick to pick up, and good for just about anyone to play, experienced or not.  There’s enough strategy/puzzling to keep you alert, and enough quick, random rounds to feel like anyone has a shot.

134533 The Secrets of Cats is a pay-what-you-want setting book for FATE Core.  I backed the FATE Core Kickstarter, and even got a nice, perfect bound hardback copy. One thing about the design of the FATE stuff is that it’s designed to be read page-by-page on an electronic device.  To that end, it’s single-column, the pages look good a 7″ (this is the size of my hardback book as well).  This was the first time I’d run the system, or FATE at all since I rand Dresden Files online some time ago (and that didn’t get very far.)

Secrets of Cats delves into a world that feels like T.S. Eliot meets So You Want To Be A Wizard.  Cats are powerful sentient wizards, protecting their human burdens from the evils of the mystical world.  Cats have four magical powers that explain the odd things that cats do.  True Names are an important part of that, and some cats can control or protect those whose true names they know, and others can discover the true names of others.  Cats can also use their own true name to alter themselves or do odd feats (like leaping in the air, or shaping their bodies in odd ways).

If you love cats and magic this is a fun expansion to try out.

Our group isn’t entirely comfortable with more  narrative games, so I was excited when Secrets of Cats came out as it limited both the skills and types of characters you can make. It still took us a while to find good aspects and to get started. Our daughter actually enjoyed it a lot (and I had to find a way to get other people some spotlight time, and to keep her from taking total control of the narrative — or to be okay if she did). I did incorporate some of her ideas to the narrative, and generally ad-libbed a very basic story.

We had lost one of our cats the same weekend that we played this, so there was some emotional stuff. One of my wives played our lost cat, the other played a character based on Tommy from Breaking Cat News, which gave both of them really nice round concepts.  Overall, I had a fun but exhausting time, although I think our next game will need to be a more traditional murder-hobo type game.  There’s some tension in our group between the OSR, D&D 3.x, and narrative games.  Our  most successful narrative game was Dungeon World, for what that’s worth.

The daughter is ready to play this again, although because of the above reasons about narrative games, I doubt we will soon.  I feel like I still need practice running FATE, and getting the hang of compels and spending FATE points. It also hurts that it takes so long for us to make characters that it cuts into our time and energy for playing.  That, I’m sure gets easier with practice, but I’m not sure when we’ll get the practice.

Dragon RampageIn Dragon Rampage (Board Game Geek), each player plays as the member of a party who, while exploring a dungeon, you accidently woke up the dragon when you were trying to get it’s treasure.  Players roll dice to determine which of several things they do on a turn — move towards the exit, attack the dragon, steal loot from each other, or try to slay the dragon.

This is a bit of a worker-placement style play (though not exactly) where say, only two people can get treasure, and only those who rolled the most treasure on the seven dice actually get to do that, so you can be bumped and not get to do that at all.  The game ends when someone slays the dragon, escapes the dungeon or dies. Players get points for damage done to the dragon, distance along the track, and treasures and gold they retrieved, with the number of points awarded dependent on how the game ends.

We played a four-person round of this on New Year’s Day, and got the game as a check out from CABS.

It wasn’t hard to play, and the dice kept things light and fun, despite this not being a really co-operative game.  My biggest complaint was that it was over so very quickly, with the death of the dragon.  We had no one come close to dying or the exit (we might have made it 1/4 around the very short track).  We even played the “long” game which gave the Dragon more health.  Looking at it’s BGG page this is a common complaint, and there are adjustments to the dragons which make the game more difficult or strategic.

The dragon needs to be hard to kill, or the other two outcomes (losing a party member/escaping) don’t become viable, and it all becomes about who can do the most damage to the dragon, which is how our game played out.  I may have won this game (I don’t remember), but I remember that it was a fairly unbalanced ending as well.

We liked it — the process of playing it was fun and pretty smooth. There weren’t a lot of detailed rules, until you got the scoring, which might have affected the outcome if we’d  understood it.  That’s not a particular problem if you play a game a few times.  We returned the game to CABS, but will probably play it again there. It’d be good between a couple of more complex games as a palette cleanser, as long as you had a tougher dragon to go against.

I doubt it’d stand up to many repeated plays, and won’t become part of our personal library.  That’s pretty typical of us, and why we have a CABS membership in the first place.

Bread on my lips

My feet flat
on the floor
on the ground
on the earth

Energy fills me up
and reaches deep
into the center of the world.

Up and up and up
mantle, core, crust
to land, to supple fields
of grain

Grain ground baked cut sliced buttered
picked up by my hand

placed on my lips.

I am one with the earth, and she is one with me.

One of the other things I wanted to add to my goals was that I want to make some things that are actually things this year.  I’m hoping to attend a Screen Printing class in the next month or so. I want to do something with wood, but I don’t know what (we actually need some short stairs on our porch).

In terms of things which are not things which I want to make:

  • Better themes for my sites, particularly Tortugasms
  • A site for my games or something
  • a 2d tile set to use in a top down or sidescrolling game (better decide which first! 🙂

As I wrote recently, I want 2015 to be a better year for me and for my sanity.  The Guiding Principles for me are twofold: Make More Stuff and Deal With My Anger.  These two goals are actually interrelated, as not doing the first fuels the second, and the second burns up all the energy and focus for doing the former.  The good news is that I see the cycle, and I know how to break it.  I make one of these posts just about every year and how I feel about my life at the end of the year is often directly proportional to how well I planned this.  While I was pretty tired and in a lot of new situations at the end of last 2013, I had a pretty amazing year for writing and making games.  Last year I didn’t really write anything (that I published), I didn’t finish any coding projects (although I started many of them).  I also didn’t ever get around to writing a list of yearly goals, either, even in March when I finally felt like it.

So, first and foremost, these aren’t resolutions.  A lot of people make resolutions like “Exercise more” or something similar. They resolve to be better, but that’s pretty useless, for two reasons.  First, there’s nothing concrete to it — no actions are specified, so it’s just a warm fuzzy feeling, not something to do. Second, it’s not measurable, so you never know if you actually did it or not. You might do it, and think you didn’t because you didn’t measure it to know. You have to have real, actionable, measurable items to determine your success. In 2013, for example, I wanted to publish a new story every week, and write a new game every month. I made it to mid-October on the story writing, and to August on the new games.  (That’s when I started my new job and everything went wonky for me.)

“You might say, we’ll that’s like a 75% on the one goal and only a 50% on the second.”  Then you might say, “weren’t there some other goals you never did?”  Then I’d have to nod and reckon you were right, but I’m still happy.  Because the third rule for me is that these are aspirational goals, if I achieve them too easily, I could have done more. I work best when there’s not quite enough time and energy to get everything done.  This is tricky because if I decided to say, write a novel every week, I’d know that was impossible and just give up. But if I said write a novel every two or three months, that might be doable, and I’d give it a go.  If I got two novels done in a year, that’s better than a lot of the authors I love, so go me.

Deal With My Anger

Dealing with my anger is the hardest principle to write goals for. I’m not even sure if the goals I come up with will help. That’s not really a problem either, because any project (such as trying to have a good year) can be renegotiated. Most everything is negotiable here, since it’s all me.

I’ve always kept a journal. Twenty years ago (in May, anyway) I decided to start doing it online. In part that was a reaction to my ex-girlfriend reading my private journal. In part it was an exercise in reaching out during my loneliest time. That journal has mutated from GeoCities to LiveJournal to a CMS I wrote myself to this very blog.  As time went on (particularly in the LJ days), I learned that it didn’t really replace a private journal. As more and more of the people in my life became internet people (instead of, or as well as face-to-face people I knew in the “real” world), I learned that I couldn’t support my relationships and say whatever I wanted, so I edited myself a lot. Things were pretty good and just writing regularly (or even kind of erratically) was good enough.

Now I have very personal stuff I need to process, and I’m used to writing on multiple computer and devices, so I need a cloud version, and I need it to be private, but I need to be writing a personal journal again. I’m going to go for my try every day, but do it five times a week as my metric. I’m not going to worry about word counts, or anything. I am going to try to keep track of the things that are making me angry, figure out what they are and deal with it.  I will bring some of it here, once I’ve got it better organized in my  head, probably. Or maybe only I care about that, but there’s something about this sharing that matters to me.

I’m also going to go to a support group, a long with some of the other parts of my family.  One of the things making me angry will be helped by this support group, and that’s all I can say about it — it’s not my issue to air, although it affects me, and I need to learn to deal with the parts of it I can affect (aka: me).  I’m hoping to do this a couple of times a month. We might shoot for more earlier.  As I haven’t done this in a long time, I’m not sure if it’ll stay on this list or expand.  As a teen I went to a couple of Epileptic support groups but I was neither self-aware enough nor having that big of a problem to need them, so I never went twice.  We’ll see.

Finally, I need to funnel this into my writing. I’m having this upheaval, and unlike the last time I felt this lost, I’m more aware of it, and a better writer. I want to make characters that can say what I can’t, that can feel and go through the stress I’m going through. Better more real characters. If this is going to block me from writing, it’s going to ultimately support me in my other major guideline, making more things.

Making More Things

This is more quantifiable and I’ve been struggling with it. Part of the goal here is not just working on things, but to actually finish them, and try to get them out into the world.  This year, I’m not going to worry about writing weekly. I’m not sure how I feel about the 2013 experiment; certainly a pressure to produce weekly got words out the door, but I don’t feel like regular writing brought eyeballs to my work. I struggle with this — the feeling that I make things and no one looks at them. While making things is good for my soul, the feeling of shouting into a big empty warehouse is like friction against that, and by October of last year the energy output to keep it up couldn’t overcome the friction, and I stopped. (And the total energy had dropped because of other things).

So, this year, what are these goals?

  1. A new short story to novella every month, posted to Tortugasms (nsfw, eh?).
  2. Two e-books, one of which is half done already, published to the various e-book sites for sale.
  3. A new small game or experiment every month.
  4. Two major coding projects, one of which is a game

This feels very non-ambitious to me as I write it, but I know that I’ve got some work to do, and I want to do something bigger. One of the coding projects right now, is my already started JavaScript parser engine + game.  The other is either a project I’m working on with a friend, or another game. I need some way to track incremental progress on these, so I’ll know that I’m working on them.  I plan to post more about the projects here, as I talk about design and technical issues as they come up.  I also want to learn TDD as part of the program, and better plotting as part of the novel writing.

I’m also on a monthly schedule now of getting paid, instead of weekly like I was in early 2013. The heartbeat of my life is a bit different, so I’m going to go with that.

And I can always rework goals as I need, which I have to tell myself as this post has been open for a week, and in my mind for a month. It needs to go out to the world now.

Tsu's registration form Last week (and then again today) I went to Tsu, the new social media hotness, to create an account.  I stopped when I got to this form to the right.  Actually I stopped when I got to the “Gender” drop down, and saw that 1) it’s a drop down, and 2) the only choices under it are “Male” and “Female”.  That’s the point that I closed my browser and forgot about Tsu until I saw someone else mentioning the link and I clicked on it again.

I do like setting things up on new social media, although I don’t use them much or at all (ello…?) But sometimes I just get stymied, and this is one of those times.  I’m probably not the only person who has problems with this form, or with entering data about themselves on a form somewhere.  It’s a personal peeve, and I’ve developed some best practices over the years.  It annoys me when people get this wrong — and I try to teach it to people I mentor.  Also, I just want to remind everyone that I’m a CIS white dude, so I probably don’t know all the ways I can screw up. I know a bunch of them, to help the people who make these kinds of forms do a better job, as most of them are also CIS white dudes.

RULE 1: Almost everything about a person is socially constructed.

I want to say “everything”, but I’ve been a programmer too long to be sure.  

Here’s what you can know for certain about a person who comes to your website: they are a person. (Let’s assume you know they aren’t some sort of automated tool.) It’s a good bed they have a birth date. Since it’s a website they came to, the probably have an email.   Emails, at least, are defined by an Internet RFC, so you’ve got a good chance of knowing what that data should be like.  Pretty much every other identifying piece of information on this screen has problems, and they’re only asking for 3 or 4 pieces!

Let’s start with the Name.  They’re asking for a first name and a last name. Even if someone fills that in, you really don’t know their name. Despite the privacy concerns of giving someone your real name, or full name, what’s a name anyway? Names are socially constructed — their order differs from culture to culture. In some cultures the family name goes first, in others it’s last.  I could go on, but what I know about names is: I don’t know all the ways names are constructed.  You really only have one good choice for names, and that’s to give people a simple text box to type in.  They can enter there what they want you to call them and what they want others to see.

The only reason I ever saw to split up names was so you could call people Mr. Tortuga just say “Joe” to be friendly. But if you don’t know which is the surname and which is familial, that is going to break.  If someone has some sort of complicated long name, what do you do? Text box.  Just let people manage it.  Also make it arbitrarily large. I tend to make it a TEXT even though I’ll never need that much space.  Who knows? Also you need to accept any unicode values into it that are available, and just deal with that as well. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s the best I know how to do.

Next up is Gender, and whooo boy.  If you want to ask someone for their gender the first question you’ve got to ask is: why?

It’s a serious question, why do you need to know that? My 1’s and 0’s are the same as anyone else’s, so why do you care?  Again, the only reason I’ve seen for this is to do market segmentation and prove things to your backers about usage. The thing is, if you’re building a global service then what gender means across cultures also changes. Even within the US there’s not really a consensus about gender.  Among the people I regularly hang out with, some are aggressively one gender or another, or no gender or something else entirely. Again, what I know about gender is that I don’t know enough about gender to make a radio button list or a drop down list for it.  Personally, I even have a problem with “won’t say” or “other” (For the latter, the people who aren’t “Male” or “Female” won’t thank you for reinforcing the Other-ness they get from the rest of society; you don’t need to add to it.)

Again, we’re talking about people, and what you don’t know about them.  When in doubt, it’s time for a text box.  Let people type what they want.  You can figure out the data on the back end (my understanding is it’s not that hard).

The thing is, people with normative genders, those of us who are clear on being “Male” or “Female” won’t ever notice that we had to type it in, and it won’t hurt our feelings (and who cares, we’re pretty privileged that way anyway).  The people who are used to being shut out of services because they ask an unanswerable question will appreciate it, and when  you have an internet service, buzz is good. Good buzz is better.

I don’t know who made this form, but it probably wasn’t given a lot of thought. Marketing people said, “we need this information to do market segmentation.” Or someone just thought this was the sort of stuff we need to know [One of the things that attracts me to TDD is that we don’t add things unless they have a purpose at the end — if we’re not using Gender anywhere, we just won’t even include it.]

Just remember RULE 1.  Everything you think you know about categorizing things, people, types of apples, shades of color: it’s all socially constructed.  You have learned what they are and how to discern them because of the culture you are in or were raised in.  But we live in a multicultural world, and there’s much you don’t know about others.  You don’t have to know everything, you just have to know you don’t know.  And make a text box for people to type in.

Gambit, y'allSo, we were watching Korra last night, and discusing the titles of the different episodes and excited we were by them (for me, specifically “Operation Beifong” had me wanting to watch the show badly.  I mentioned to the daughter that the next episode (there are only 3 left, egad!) is “Kuvira’s Gambit”.

The dotter (who is 12) asked “What’s gambit?”

I really had to supress putting on my deep Southern accent and say, “Now, how can ya’ll not know who Gambit is?”

Instead, of course, I pointed out that she already knew what a gambit was from chess club.