Because you demanded it… Phone Attack!

22 10 2012

My wife says I should start charging for giving people phone advice, and I almost think she’s right at this point. (Don’t worry, this one’s on me.) I’ve actually been giving so much phone advice lately, copying and pasting the same notes from one friend to another, that I figured I may as well clean up my notes and make them available for the masses. What does this have to do with comics and games, you may ask? Well, not a lot, except in so far as our smartphones are becoming an indispensable part of our lives and engaging with comics and games digitally is fast becoming a major part of the market. So I might get into the ramifications of that at a later date, but basically, I just love smartphones almost as much as comics and games and I wanted to talk about them today. So here’s some starting advice for the savvy smartphone shopper.

First of all, yes to Android, all the way. Don’t get me wrong, Apple has a fine product with iOS and the iPhone, but I’m an Android guy, and I think you should be too. If you want simplicity, (for a price,) go Apple. You won’t be disappointed. But despite all their hype, even the iPhone ain’t perfect and you will find quirks that bug the poop out of you and make you want to chuck it across the room. In fact, you’ll find that to be the case with any tech device you get. That’s just the nature of the beast. But if you think Android might be an option for you but don’t know where to start, let me help seal the deal.

To make a long story short, buy the Samsung Galaxy NEXUS, GSM version, direct from Google, for $350, (see my Update #1, below,) latest Google Nexus phone for around $300, contract-FREE, (not to be confused with the newer Samsung Galaxy S3.) Purchase a SIM card from an MVNO like Straight Talk along with a month of prepaid service. Sign up for the amount of service you need from T-Mobile, contract-FREE. (See my Update #2, below.) Activate Google Voice with your Gmail account, (set one up if you don’t already have it,) and port your cell number to Google Voice. (This allows you to keep the same number with no more porting, even if you end up switching services a lot in the future, thus freeing you from one more chain the carriers try to shackle you with.) Then link the number on your new SIM card to your Google Voice account. Finally, cancel your current carrier’s service and pay the ETF; (don’t worry, you’ll still save money in the long run.) Stir in a cup of ice and enjoy.*

So that was easy; if you’re still not convinced, let’s break it down. First, the flashiest part of this whole plan: the phone! I’m an old school smart-gadget guy from way back. I had a simple candy-bar dumbphone for a while, which I struggled to constantly keep up to date with my paper address book, but I eventually augmented its almost nonexistent organizational capabilities with my first Palm OS-based device: a Handspring Visor. Next was another Palm-based device, the Sony Clie. For a hot second, I tried out a Blackberry 7100, the precursor to the Pearl, but quickly dumped it. My first real smartPHONE was the Palm Treo 650. I loved that thing, but eventually it grew old and needed to be put down. Over the course of a year I flew through phones, trying to find a worthy replacement, a Nokia e71, a Blackberry Curve, all the while keeping a close ear on the rumblings about an open-source phone, the Open Moko, all as the iPhone was exploding on the scene. But despite the excitement, I just didn’t see what I was looking for with the iPhone, (even though I used a Mac at home.) Then Google came to the rescue with the announcement of Android and it’s first phone, the G1, aka Dream, (manufactured by HTC.) I had mine reserved on Day 1 of the product release, Oct 22, 2008, and I’ve been an Android guy ever since. I got heavily into modding my phone with custom versions of the operating system, and upgraded to a version of the first Galaxy, the Samsung Vibrant, I’ve helped out with my wife’s HTC Sensation, and I recently made the best step of all to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the current Android flagship phone, sporting the most advanced version of the OS: Jellybean, 4.1.2. All this is to say, I have a good idea what makes a good phone, and for my money, the Galaxy Nexus, (not to be confused with the myriad other Galaxy phones out there, including the latest and greatest S3,) is the best phone out there. Why not the year newer Galaxy S3 that you see all those commercials for? Or the HTC One S? They are spectacular phones, even with better processors and RAM than the Nexus, but they lack something huge: unmodified, vanilla Android.

Jelly Bean is a phenomenal, state of the art mobile operating system and when it launched back in July, basically closed the only remaining gap between Android and iOS. You may have heard people complain that Android was too clunky, or that the iPhone “just works” or is so much smoother. And this was for the most part true. Until Jelly Bean. JB did a lot for Android to streamline the overall experience, both visually and under the hood. In fact, JB is so much smoother that running it on the Galaxy Nexus with a 1.2 GHz dual-core chip is easily a faster and smoother experience than running Ice Cream Sandwich, (the immediately prior version of Android,) on the Galaxy S3 with a 1.4Ghz quad-core chip. And to compare it to the iPhone, there is no longer any discernible user-experience advantage to iOS over Android, and in fact, Android downright performs some tasks better.

Let’s take a moment for a quick primer, in case you’re falling behind. For some of you, this will be obvious, but let’s just make sure. Jellybean. That’s the name of the current version of the Android operating system, or OS, which is a mobile software operating system developed by Google. Similarly, Apple develops iOS, which is the name of their mobile operating system which runs and is sold exclusively on their iPhone. iOS is currently up to version 6, called iOS 6, which ships natively on their newest device, the iPhone 5. iOS is an adapted version of Apple’s personal computer operating system, called OS X, versions of which over the years have been called Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, & Mountain Lion. Likewise, Microsoft develops the Windows operating system, which has had versions called 95, XP, NT, Vista, 7 and soon, 8. And coming back to Android, it launched with Cupcake, and then alphabetically progressed through Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, and now Jellybean, and probably next year will be Key Lime Pie. Why do you care? Mobile OSes are evolving way faster than their desktop big brothers, in large part because they still have a lot of catching up and innovating to do to become fully functional personal computing platforms that are able to fit in your pocket and go anywhere. And in general, having state of the art hardware in your phone makes it a lot easier to get things done with your phone- more so than having a state of the art computer does. With a computer, most people can get everything done that they need to on a simple, $400-or-$5oo machine with zero bells and whistles. The equivalent of such a computer in the smartphone world would be a free or $50 Android phone of last year’s model line up and it would be absolute torture to get anything done with it. So the latest and greatest with phones can really matter. That’s (partly) why everyone clamors to be first in line to buy whatever latest and greatest phone is coming out every few months.

So now you know that Android is great, and why you need Jelly Bean. But currently JB is still only available on the Galaxy Nexus, despite being out for over 4 months. Samsung, HTC, and Motorola, the three biggest Android phone manufacturers, keep postponing their rollout of JB to their newest devices, (like the S3,) though it may have actually very recently just begun appearing. But they are nevertheless notorious for getting OS updates out slowly, if at all, especially as the phones age. But Google’s Nexus line of phones are specifically commissioned, (except for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus, the bastard child of the Nexus family,) to always get immediate OS updates. So that’s why the Galaxy Nexus is the best JB phone you can get.

But there’s one other HUGE reason to get the GSM Galaxy Nexus, direct from Google: NO. MORE. CONTRACT. Are you sick of being locked into an expensive 2-year contract with a cellular service provider who never seems to have your best interests at heart? You can end it all by cancelling your contract with them and switching to a pre-paid monthly MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, who offer you the same service but at HALF the price or even less. (Yes, you can still try an MVNO if you like, but I think T-Mobile’s new plans are the way to go.) You can even shop around, changing from month to month. And the cost difference over the life of what would have been a 2-year contract at a major carrier is actually way cheaper in the long run. Plus, being a contract free GSM phone, you can easily switch SIM cards for international travel. And yes, that’s even WITH paying the ETF, (early termination fee,) to your current carrier. In fact, cancelling your service and paying the ETF SOONER rather than later can save you more money than if you wait for your contract to expire. My and my wife’s contract with T-Mo was up next June, (8 mos away) and even with paying TWO ETFs totalling $400, I’ll still start saving money on the deal by February. We switched from paying $165/mo for our 2 lines on a family plan to just $90/mo,( that’s 2 separate $45 unlimited packages) from Straight Talk. That’s $900 bucks a year. That’s real money. And that’s with T-Mobile, the cheapest of the big three carriers. That more than allows you to buy a new contract-free phone at full price, (usually around $600,) every year or two. Which makes Google’s Galaxy Nexus at just $350 a no-brainer. (UPDATE 5/7/13: I’ve just switched us back to T-Mobile. Their new pricing is now competitive with the MVNOs, and they have better coverage and service. Indeed, I am currently paying to T-Mo $90/mo for both of us, contract-free. That’s with data of 500MB/mo for my wife, and 2.5GB/mo for myself. If this proves too low, we can easily raise either of our data plans for $10, each.)

So there’s my pitch, I hope it helps your decision-making. If you order the Nexus now from Google, you can’t go wrong. That said, there’s still a couple things to keep in mind. The Galaxy Nexus doesn’t have the best battery, and you might want to purchase an extended battery, (incidentally, that’s something you can’t do with the iPhone, EDIT: and also can’t do with the Nexus 4, sadly,) for something like $30. Also, while the Galaxy Nexus is fantastic, it is a year old and Google is poised to announce at least one new Nexus phone, (the LG Nexus 4) on October 29, which will presumably also be sold directly through their Play Store, and which may also likely drive down the price of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, if not immediately, then probably by the holidays. Assuming the Nexus 4 is everything we assume it will be, all of the above still holds true- just replace all my mentions of “Samsung Galaxy Nexus” with “LG Nexus 4.” And enjoy!

For more information on these topics, here’s a good article written by a pro who DOES get paid for this sort of thing.

*Do NOT put your cell phone in a cup of anything, let alone ice. It’s technical, but you might damage it.

UPDATE #1: Since first posting this, I’ve learned some stuff, particularly regarding Google Voice’s glaring lack of MMS support, which I detail in the following paragraphs:

As the market stands now, I continue to advise everyone to buy whatever the most current Google Nexus phone is at the time. (The Nexus 4, at the time of this writing, April 2013.) The freedom of choice this allows you is unparalleled, plus you’re guaranteed to always get prompt updates to the OS, usually at least MONTHS before the next closest third party phone, if they even get them at all. Not only is your OS always up to date, but it functions the way it’s designed to, which I think results in a more consistent, modern, and pleasant user-experience. Buy it direct from Google, as they subsidize the cost of it themselves, so it usually runs around $250-$300, $300-$400, but contract-free! Also, get the largest storage capacity model available. With the way the technology evolves so swiftly, you won’t be sorry. (EDIT: Other phones aren’t bad options either, see my Update #2, below.)

As for carriers, T-Mobile’s new month-to-month plans look great, and you get the comfort of a major carrier. However, their plans still run rather high, in the $60-$70 range, as compared Their plans start at $50/mo, similar to the smaller MVNO competitors. Mobile Virtual Network Operators, like SIMply Mobile, Net10, StraightTalk, etc., lease coverage from the major carriers, like AT&T, T-Mobile, etc., so a plan on an MVNO has identical coverage as if you were with the big carrier, but at a fraction of the price. Net10 is the cheapest right now, at $43/mo. I just bought AT&T network SIM cards from them for my and my wife’s two phones; I’ll be switching our service to them from StraightTalk this month. The drawback with MVNOs is potentially weaker customer service.

The last factor is your phone number. I used to advise people to port their number to Google Voice, and then they are free to switch carriers while always retaining the same phone number. This is an undisputed advantage, however a couple caveats have come to my attention since making this switch myself in the summer of 2012.

First, and most dramatically, Google Voice is utterly incapable of either sending or receiving MMS messages. I am not speaking hyperbolically. I cannot send MMS messages from my Google Voice number, (the only number people know as mine,) nor can I receive them from anyone, (except notifications from Sprint users- more on that later.) EDIT:(There’s not a lot of solid information on this problem, mostly rumor. What follows is my best understanding of the issue, as gleaned from the aforementioned rumors.) It’s a political issue more than a technological one. The big carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mo, and Verizon actually have agreements with each other to route MMS messages across their networks. In an effort to shut Google out of the game, they refuse to route MMSs to or from Google Voice numbers. (SMSs, ie. *normal* text messages, and phone calls route just fine.) This has been the case for the several year history of Google Voice and doesn’t look poised to change any time soon. Google and Sprint did finally work out a small deal last year, so if you have a contract plan with Sprint you can send and receive MMSs with a Google Voice number, and non-Sprint Google Voice users will receive a notification SMS that an MMS has been sent to them, as well as the content of the MMS forwarded as an email to their Gmail account. (The Nexus 4 is GSM-only, ie. AT&T and T-Mo only. Having a GSM phone is advantageous, though less so if you don’t travel. If you simply must have MMS AND Google Voice, Sprint is your only option, but I don’t know their limited phone selection well enough to suggest one.)

And just to be clear, when users of all other networks, (except Sprint,) send me an MMS, I never even know about it. This is not a technological issue that can be solved with a clever workaround or app. The entire Google Voice network never even knows I got sent an MMS, because AT&T or Verizon, or whoever never even bothered to send it on. Now this wouldn’t be a huge problem if MMSs were only photos. (Email, or social network sharing, is a much better protocol for sending photos.) But most phones, “smart” and “dumb” alike, including the iPhone and Android, when composing group text messages, by default change them into MMS messages, which allows for Reply-All functionality amongst other things. (Some phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S series can have this default function switched off, so that group texts are sent simply as multiple SMSs.) So if someone sends a mass-text to several people including yourself, lets say in order to book people for a job, you will never even know you missed the text. Which is obviously a big deal.

Since realizing this, I’ve been thinking hard about what to do about it. One of my employers who I knew frequently sends texts regarding work to a group of people, I actually explained the situation to and helped him change the default setting on his Galaxy S III so that it doesn’t automatically convert group texts to MMSs. This helps some, and I don’t think I’m missing too much other communication about work, (again, I’d never know if I did, unless the individuals followed up with me about it later,) but it still is worrisome to me at best. Knowing that I don’t seem to be missing too many texts, for now I’ve decided to wait it out and see if Google’s rumored Babble service may help solve the problem. (It’s hoped Babble will be announced at Google I/O developers’ conference in May and more information may be known then.) Babble may even replace Google Voice, which has been a product mostly ignored by Google, and which many users are becoming concerned may be cancelled, ala the recent Google Reader.

So that’s my two cents. I got my wife a Nexus 4 for Christmas and she loves it. We are very satisfied with our MVNO service and especially at the money saved. (We used to spend $160/month to T-Mo, and now spend $90. The savings is so dramatic that it paid for itself, even with TWO $200 Early Termination Fees within about 7 months.) Google Voice is great and provides the best solution for texting from your PC I’ve ever seen, (Growl Voice on the Mac!) But the MMS issue is always weighing on my mind.


Most of what I say above still holds true, but here’s some addenda:

1. While a $300-$400 price for a new Nexus phone direct from Google remains my favorite phone option, don’t discount manufacturers’ flagship phones like the excellent HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4. You will sacrifice some freedom in not having stock Android direct from Google, but, especially if you’re not interested in always being state-of-the-art, a manufacturer skinned phone like these can work well. Also, if you really don’t need anything fancy, (I’m looking at you, Mom,) budget smartphones can be had in the $100 range, like the Samsung Galaxy Discover. You will likely suffer some lag and slowness with the cheaper hardware, but if you’re not going to be putting the phone through its paces, this will not be much of a problem.

2. Also, I’m changing my recommendation of MVNOs. I’ve spent the last 6 months or so researching them all and trying both Straight Talk and Net10, but with various annoyances, from inconsistent conditional call forwarding (required to properly utilize Google Voice voicemail,) to poor service performance forcing me to continually try different SIM cards, to all but non-existent, Asia-based customer service; all this, along with the spate of recent changes at T-Mobile, I’ve decided I’m going back to the magenta-hued carrier. First, T-Mo is offering new plans which make the advantages of an MVNO no longer unique, (contract-free, unlinking the phone subsidy price from the coverage price, month-to-month.) T-Mobile is now only marginally more expensive than the cheapest MVNO, and with the bonus of real customer service and proper conditional call forwarding, and much better cellular and data coverage, (at least here in NYC,) it’s well worth the cost. Also, the plans really are simple, finally. As one reviewer put it: “I am the first person to admit that I don’t trust wireless carriers. It always seems like they are trying to squeeze more cash out of their subscribers. But when I look at the new T-Mobile plans, I can honestly say that I don’t think T-Mobile is cheating anyone.” This, along with their merger with Metro PCS, their continued LTE rollout, their awesome spectrum gains, and finally offering the iPhone 5, T-Mobile gets my vote as the carrier to beat.


Obrigado Futebol: The Story of Little Ant. You must read this.

25 09 2012

I don’t read many foreign language or web-comics, certainly not near as many as I’d like. They just fall under my radar most of the time. But every once in a while I get lucky. And now you are, too. Obrigado Futebol: The Story of Little Ant is a beautiful comic. Fans of Brazil, football/soccer, and comics in general will be amazed by this piece. I’m not going to spend any time telling you why; it’s a swift enough read you’ll soon find out for yourself. Enjoy.

Read me now.

There’s nothing like an August Quickie.

10 08 2012

I just made up that phrase, so I have no idea what it means either, but if you’re reading this then it did the job!

It’s hard to believe that my next Game Night review will be written in the Fall. Here at the end of what’s seemed an endlessly hot summer, I suddenly don’t want it to end. August’s Game Night was last week and it mostly left me wanting more. The expected seven were reduced by one, as Fitz suddenly had to work late. The rest of us made do without his august company, (Hey, see! I used it in a sentence! But then where does the quickie come in?) Myself, Daly, Faith, Fix, Stuart, Dav, and Mathilda, our gamer-in-training, enjoyed an old favorite, Bang!; a new favorite, Silverton; and a game that’s been burning a whole in my shelf for years now, finally hitting the game table for the first time: Citadels. While Mathilda practiced with an old deck of cards, the rest of us enjoyed Faith’s delicious chicken balls! Thanks Faith!

The rest of the group played Bang! as I sat out, attempting to refamiliarize myself with the rules for Citadels. Bang!is another in the genre of Mafia-style games, augmented with cards providing the players with various abilities. The players assume the roles of the Sheriff, some Deputies, Outlaws, and a Renegade, but only the Sheriff’s identity is known to the public. The Sheriff and Deputies must kill the Outlaws & Renegade to win, the Outlaws must kill the lawmen to win, and the Renegade only wins as the last man standing.

“I bang you!” “Nope, missed me.”

Players play “Bang!” cards to shoot at each other, augmenting their shots with other cards to give them further range with a rifle, for instance, or to dodge behind a barrel card for cover, or various other effects. In addition, each player is assigned a character, each with a unique ability. The game plays nicely and swiftly and is fun for a larger group. This time the Outlaws, Stuart & Faith, won the game.

Once they were through with that, I finally felt up to speed again on Citadels, a game I’ve owned for years but only ever played a couple times at another friend’s house a long time ago. The theme of Citadels is slightly reminiscent of Dominion, as players attempt to earn cash to purchase buildings of various point values for their town, but the gameplay is very different. Players play buildings into their city from their hand by paying the amount of cash indicated, usually between 1-6 gold. They may draw new building cards from the deck on their turn, or collect more gold from the bank. Some buildings give added benefits, such as letting you earn even more gold on your turn. But the real hook of the game is the character cards. Each round, the players shuffle the 8 character cards, discard one face down, and then take turns examining the remaining cards and selecting a character to play as for that round. (A game usually last around 10 rounds or so.) Each character grants that player a special power. Some powers are straightforward; the King always goes first and collects 1 extra gold for each yellow building in his city,

It’s good to be King.

(each building card is designated one of five different colors,) while others are malicious; the Assassin chooses another character to kill, causing them to lose their turn. The trick is that players choose their character from the remaining character cards that are handed to them from the right, always starting with the current King, (if another player chooses the King, she will pick first on the next round,) so they never know for sure who the other players are until the round begins, and even less so if they are seated several seats from the King. Really getting inside your opponents heads, trying to guess who they’d choose, and how to either attack them or defend yourself from them, based on just GUESSES, is the real meat of the game. As you can imagine, also knowing well what each character’s abilities are and how they tend to interact with each other gives you a leg up in this game. Since we were all basically new to the game, it was still a fair play, but the high advantage given to experienced players is what has soured me to this game in the past. Nevertheless, we had a fun time with it. Dav won, as is his wont, with 37 points, creaming everyone else- the next highest was Fix with 28, and Stu & I pulled up the rear with 17 & 21 points.

Finally, we ended the night with a 3-hour stretch of Silverton, the game of Colorado railroading! We first tried this out at our Hamptons Game Night and really enjoyed it. I was anxious to see how it would play with so many players. As we discovered then, while the rules initially seem complex, once you get playing, they begin making sense. Particularly enjoyable again was the market mechanism, utilizing supply & demand to drive the prices for coal, silver, gold, and lumber. As we only had 3 hours left in the night to play, we only got through something like 10 rounds, which was not nearly enough time, especially with so many players. Like Monopoly, and not in a good way*, there’s significant luck involved in getting the properties, (railroad lines & mines,) you need to earn money to progress in the game. In this case the randomness of dice rolling is replaced with card drawing. Thankfully, Silverton mitigates this luck factor; as the game goes on, each player will inevitably begin scoring railroads and mines which they are situated to take advantage of. However, this does take time and the game is supposed to be played with 24 rounds, (6 in-game years!) and is even suggested to play till 30 rounds! 9 hours is expected to be able to play a full and fair game. Despite this, the game is enjoyable, perhaps because you don’t really seem to realize how badly you are losing as much as in Monopoly. Fix won this time, with $14,600, followed by Daly at $12K, and Faith at $8,150. For a nice change of pace, Dav wasn’t even on the winners’ podium.

THIS is the board we play on, the first edition. Thankfully, the game-makers have issued a graphically improved edition, making the game much easier to follow.

As usual, Game Night this month was a big hit, chicken balls, bangs, quickies, and all. See you next month!

*IS there a good way to be like Monopoly?

I like butt nuggets!*

2 08 2012

Or so said someone at our epic Geek Weekend North: Hamptons-style! Earlier this summer, Dav, Fitz, and myself joined Fix at his parents’ summer place in the Hamptons for a weekend of games, games, beer, and more games!

Will we play them all?

Will we drink them all?

The drive out there took a few hours, so we left early on Friday and managed to arrive in time to catch Fix in the shower after his day of yardwork. We sat there ringing the doorbell for several minutes until I finally decided to begin walking around the house where I discovered Fix in the outdoor shower, blessedly with a sufficient fence surrounding it. Seeing his dripping mop of hair and goofy grin peer at us over the fence was quite a sight, and quite a fun way to begin the weekend. Being dinnertime, we fixed some food first, surprising ourselves at our collaborative culinary competence. Dinner that first night came together with flair: a nice salad, sauteed portabella & kale, & thanks to Fitz’s foresight to bring lunchmeat: sandwiches! I know it doesn’t sound like much, but just look at it!


Finally, after feeding, we got down to the business at hand. GAMES! Dav brought an excellent new acquisition, Silverton, the game of Colorado railroading. The game seemed daunting at first, with an intricate board and complex rules, but once we got rolling, we all got into it, especially enjoying the elegant mechanics the game uses to monitor supply and demand and have the market represent appropriate prices for the riches we were supplying to the towns. I had more coal than I knew what to do with, and suffered it’s low prices throughout. Then I was shot dead. Then, when I couldn’t possibly draw *another* bad card, I got sent to jail. The town of Crusted Butt wasn’t sounding so bad. Fitz positively OWNED all the lumber in Colorado, as well as dominated the southwest, and all the players managed to get lucrative silver mines, except myself. But Dav triumphed when, in a single game-ending move, he earned $19,000 and won the game. This was a great game that I can’t wait to try again. Incidentally, there is an updated version of the game with fancier graphics, which we suppose may make the game initially easier to understand.

Notice our railroad baron pretzel-rod cigars?

Sometime between Silverton and Saturday’s epic War of the Ring we managed to squeeze in a couple light games of  Zombie Fluxx. In the first round, no one won, as the Un-Goal card came into play. And in the second Dav pulled off another slick victory.

Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful, perfect beach weather, so we decided to skip over to the bay, just a 5 minute walk around the corner, and take a refreshing morning dip… before locking ourselves back inside with stacks of cards and dice! After enjoying on the deck a delectable pancake breakfast, smothered in real maple syrup and cottage cheese, and made complete with bacon and black coffee, we began the laborious process of setting up and going over the rules for War of the Ring! An hour later, we began playing. Dav & I played as the Free Peoples of Middle Earth versus the evil might of the forces of Darkness, as commanded by the Black Lord Fitz and the Smelly Lord Fix. It was a tight game and easily lasted the bulk of the day, but we managed to just eek out victory, with only Frodo, Sam & Gollum surviving to dump the One Ring in the Crack of Doom, just before succumbing to the total corruption of the Dark & Odiferous.

The Ring shall be mine!

For lighter fare, we embarked on one of our group’s long-standing favorites: Shadows Over Camelot, and for the first time with my newly acquired Merlin’s Company expansion. One of our favorite parts of this game is the possibility that there may be a traitor in our midst. One of everyone ELSE’S favorite parts of the game seems to be accusing ME of being said traitor. So when Fix decided that my questionable moves were evidence of treachery, he wrongly accused me of being the traitor (just because he couldn’t understand the higher-level thinking and planning I was doing!) and then dubbed me Sir Bumbleton, the loyal, but confused knight. Of course, this erroneous move laid extra black swords on the table, helping the real traitor, DAV, who we managed to out before the end of the game. We then embarked on a looooong end-game and almost managed to pull out a win. There were 11 swords on the table, 7 of them white, and a quest was about to end, which would have placed the 12th and final sword, ending the game, with White winning! However, the quest ended such that it laid another Siege Engine on the table at the same time- the 12th Siege Engine. Which LOST the game to Dav and the Dark. Talk about the skin of his teeth!

Dinner on Sunday was another treat, as Dav grilled up a delicious pork tenderloin, to which we added a parsley pesto, salad and couscous. Fitz has photos of these- maybe he’ll be so kind as to upload them somewhere and link to them in the comments. I don’t know why we don’t eat this well back home!

Not content to rest, we crammed in one more new game before bed, the new Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep worker-placement/resource-management game. It’s basically just like Agricola, but faster and easier, (there’s less of the “Oh, no, my family’s gonna starve!” in the game.) It’s easy to understand with gorgeous pieces and we enjoyed two quick games. I won the first, and Dav the second.

Proof that Geeks neither dissolve in water nor catch fire in sunlight!

Sunday morning saw another quick dip in the water, lest we be accused of not taking proper advantage of our vacation in the Hamptons, an easy breakfast of cereal and eggs, and then rampant diseases and destruction as FIVE diseases ripped round the world in Pandemic, played with Fix as the Bioterrorist from the On The Brink expansion. We got lucky by curing a disease early in the game, which led to a really looong and drawn out game. It should be noted that at some point during the game, Dav uttered the words “I’ve held a guy’s package at an airport.” I don’t know why, but it’s written down in my notes from the weekend, so it must be important. Anyway, despite locking Fix in jail twice, as the game dragged on, it finally became clear we were not going to win. We even managed to cure 4 of the 5 diseases, but still managed to lose.

At this point, Fitz had to leave us to attend a friend’s wedding that evening, lest Rachel leave him. After dropping him at the train station, (he was positively EAGER to go, Rach, honest!) we got in a quick and fun game of Munchkin, in which Kris DESTROYED the other players and then we began… wait. Let me just say something. We thought War of the Ring was epic. This next game made WotR look like Candy Land. Space Empire is not for the faint of heart. After nearly 6 hours we still hadn’t even come close to finishing and I had become completely lost. So I wimped out and forfeited. Well, it was a bit of feeble ending on my part to an absolutely fantastic weekend, but them’s the breaks. After packing up our games and swimsuits, we wolfed down some BLT sandwiches and headed back to the city. Altogether, I estimate we managed to squeeze in some 50 hours of gaming! Let’s do this again sometime!

Where’s all the Beer gone?


*I think it was in reference to mining gold nuggets at Crested Butte in Silverton. I hope.

We’re the Knights of the Round Table, we kick traitor-ass whene’er we’re able!

4 07 2012

July’s Game Night came with heat and a side helping of sweat. But that didn’t deter our dedicated dice-rollers from daring to deploy three different games! We even had two new players this time, the lovely Faith and the largely Mason*. It’s always nice to have new players and I hope to see them again soon!

The night began with a couple of light rounds of The Resistance, which was thankfully able to accommodate all 6 of us, (myself, Dav, Fitz, and Daly also in attendance.) Resistance is a great variation on the traditional Mafia party game. In this version, 2 players are secretly selected to be spies and are known only to each other. The entire group must use successive rounds of voting to hopefully ferret out the villains. The mechanics are simple and quickly taught- it’s the assessment of other players’ trustworthiness, (and eventually the yelling, as Dav pointed out,) where the game really gets exciting. It’s a fun one for me. We played two games and in the first, Fitz and I won as the spies, and in the second the group won against Faith and Dav.

Next we played Bohnanza, another good game for a larger group, this one focusing on barter. The rules for this one are relatively simple, but are somehow always difficult for me to teach. Nevertheless, we soon got rolling and the serious trading began. It’s always fun making promises to get what you want… Keeping promises, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say I like having new players who don’t yet know not to trust me. Not, mind you, that it did me any good. New kid Mason creamed everyone, winning the game with 16 points! The next highest were 11, 11, 10, 7, and 5. Better keep an eye on him from now on.

Then we wrapped the night with a hardcore nerd game, as Faith had been promised that she’d get to see just how geeky Game Night can get. Shadows Over Camelot with the Merlin’s Company expansion filled the role nicely. After explaining to Faith what a “hit point” was, the rest of the rules explanation went relatively painlessly. Mason, meanwhile, being an old-school D&D player, took to it like a pig in mud.  The cooperative nature of the game was a nice change of pace for the night, but the challenge was intense. A Traitor was indeed in our midst, suspected early on by the valiant King Arthur, (me.) But the game played oddly long this time. Our Evil card draws were never too terrible and we mostly spent forever watching the Grail and Excalibur quests go back and forth, never quite reaching full victory or defeat. Even after a good 90 minutes, there was only 1 or 2 swords, (out of 12) on the table. It was just incredibly slow. Eventually Squire Mason had to leave, but not without having had a fantastic time. I have a feeling he’ll be back. Not long after, Sir Dav also had to leave and nobly sacrificed himself on his way out in order to give each of the rest of us an additional hit point. This left just myself, Lady Faith, Sir Fitzy, and Lord Daly. Finally, we managed to get Excalibur, but I had a strong feeling it was due to lots of good cards being secretly thrown away into the Lake by none other than the shifty-eyed Lord Daly. He’d been a little too quiet the whole game and really seemed to spend too long gazing into the depths of the Rulebook. Now that we had the white swords from the Excalibur quest secured the Round Table held 4 white and 5 black. If we could just get 3 more white swords, we’d win… unless the Traitor then revealed himself. Since the Grail Quest was nearly complete, and would give us all 3 swords in one step, I moved my token there and began assembling the troops. I assigned Sir Fitzy and Lady Faith the task of staying home in Camelot to search for new Grail cards which I could then trade from them on my turn with my special power. But I continued stringing Daly along, right up until I determined we were possibly within one round of winning. And then I accused his traitorous ass! Which he was! Standing fully revealed in his aura of Evil, the Dark Lord Daly exercised his taunting power and swiped a card from Sir Fitzy: the last Grail card we needed to win! Arghhh!!! The race was on. The Knights raced to deliver me the final Grail card with the last of their remaining strength. Finally, I acquired a Special White Card which allowed me to move Merlin to the Quest of my choice. Summoning the wizard to my side I was now able to draw white cards on my own. Finally, on my next turn, just like Mel Gibson in Maverick, I drew a White Grail Card and won the game! What a finish! And what a game! Shadows frequently lasts only about 90-120 minutes, but this session lasted over 3 hours!

July Game Night was a grand ol’ time and I’m looking forward to the next one!

*6 feet and 8 inches full of hit points and d20s!

Panic Station + Space Alert = Don’t Panic! ah… H2G2 makes me smile.

22 06 2012

Hey there, hi there, ho there, you lucky game-o-philes! That’s right, I’m finally getting around to the written wrap-up of our monthly gaming adventure! So without further ado…

Groceries! That’s how I began the night, anyway. Arriving late to my own Game Night due to the need for sustenance, and even keeping poor Stuart and Fix waiting. But it was worth it since I bought a giant bucket of cheese balls. I’ll tell ya, those things look tempting, and they even taste tempting, kinda like crack, but, oooogggg, they sit like a rock. Especially when you all but finish 2 gallons in an evening. But enough about our gastrointestinal issues! The highlight of the night was our new addition! (No, Stuart and Zoe’s baby did not come early.) Friend Will recently moved to the neighborhood and we managed to trick  convince him to join us. A weary Dav rounded out our group at five. (Mathilda’s teething, apparently. See what you have to look forward to, Stu!)

We started our gaming this evening, (this is a blog about games, remember?) with Dav’s new Panic Station, which is basically Mafia, (or Werewolf, or Resistance, etc,) but with a really nicely done modular tile-based board game/exploration mechanic wherein the players actually have to turn over new map tiles and move their tokens to explore the map and destroy the source of the infection, as well as killing off the infected. The infected, of course, have to try to keep their status secret and move to be in the same room as another player in order to infect them. This added physical aspect of the game, (which reminds me a lot of Zombies!!!,) is a really creative addition to the Mafia base game. I wasn’t sold entirely on it being worth playing over The Resistance, but that may have been because I was the infected and managed to lose miserably, infecting a total of ONE other player, and that only at the very end of the game. Everyone else seemed to have a lot more fun- go figure!

Next we played Space Alert! which is fast becoming a major favorite. Wil looked a bit intimidated as we explained the basics, but performed admirably in his first tutorial mission, which we WON! Too bad it was only a simulation. With our spirits buoyed we tried a real mission, complete with internal threats, the C button, and robots. Naturally, those fickle, fickle robots, being so hard to control, were the death of us. Thinking I was so smart, I managed to pull a Daly instead. Yep, I flew off with the robots to cover our ass with the short range fighters but launched with the wrong card, triggering a mulligan, which then forced me to land, and subsequently our ship was destroyed by the last enemy attacker. Nuts. I hear the expansion is really great, (it scores a 8.75 on BoardGameGeek!) but I really think we need to get better at the game to justify buying it. Especially considering I’ve just bought two new games: Dungeons & Dragons- Lords of Waterdeep, and the Shadows Over Camelot expansion, Merlin’s Company.

I finally did a bit of maintenance and have logged my entire game collection on BGG. So now we can peruse it remotely and maybe even decide in advance what we’d like to play! (Yeah, right.) Anyhow, you can check it out here:
Mr. Burp’s Games!

Until next time!

Oh, and guess whose letter was printed in a comic this month?? 🙂

Phlying Physics Phun!

22 03 2012

Quick tangent today. (Oh- tangential tangent that’s not as removed from this blog as the original tangent: Remember Tangent Comics? What the heck was that? From Marvel or something? I can barely remember, but I think it stunk.) #Video Games, #Casual Gaming, #Android, #Rovio, #Angry Birds, #Space!, #NASA!!!!

Biiiiirds iiiiiin spaaaaace!

This is amazing. I just didn’t dream Rovio would have such a smart innovation up their sleeve for this latest iteration of Angry Birds. Even as I launched that first red bird, I just didn’t know what was going to make this game special. And then…, just as I thought I missed the pig on my first shot, my bird got caught in the gravity well of the asteroid, slingshotted (slingshat?) around the asteroid once, twice, and then took out the pig! This game is going to be epic fun.

But wait, there’s more. Here, watch the NASA trailer video:

Angry Birds on the ISS!

Rovio’s got lots of good videos advertising this game, but this one’s by far the best and most exciting. Space is back, baby, and MATH makes it possible! And Angry Birds and Rovio help show how it’s FUN!!!

So, yeah, I heartily recommend this game. It’s fun, and I admire and applaud Rovio for trying to do something so noble with it at the same time.