Wingspan night

Late Friday update, because last night was fortnightly board games night!

To warm up while waiting for latecomers to arrive, we played a new game: Abandon All Artichokes. It’s a quick and light deck-building game, like Dominion on whatever the opposite of steroids is. You start with a deck of 10 artichoke cards, and you draw from a choice of other vegetables which have various ways to modify your deck, either by adding more vegetables or composting artichokes (removing them from your deck). At the end of every turn you discard your hand and draw 5 new cards from your deck (shuffling your discard pile if you need more cards to draw). As soon as you draw 5 non-artichokes, you win! I was primed to win on my next turn, but the guy ahead of me in the turn order got there first, alas. So I wuz robbed!

After this, we launched into our ongoing game of Legacy of Dragonholt (described earlier here and a little bit here and here). Here’s a shot of the game in action:

Legacy of Dragonholt

There’s not actually a lot to show. The map of the village of Dragonholt is at the top. My character sheet is at the bottom. The only mechanically relevant things are the list of Skills, the Stamina score, and the Items. All of the character personality and background stuff I made up to give me some idea how to roleplay my character.

In this episode we explored the village a bit more, reconnected two old lovers, and explored a creepy crypt just outside the edge of town, where we encountered some scary monsters and prevailed by the skin of our teeth to retrieve what we hope is a significant item. We’re now back at the village and taking a break until next time we play.

Following this we broke into two groups and I joined the group playing Wingspan. This is early in the game, with my board on the bottom right:

Wingspan board game

Later on I’d assembled a good collection of birds (and we’d eaten more of the chocolate):

Wingspan board game

At the end of the game, I managed to win with a score of 93 points, over the second place of 87 points. So I was pretty happy with that!

Earlier in the day… I mostly spent it running errands and doing housework. I had a morning tea at a cafe near the school where I teach Ethics, to meet our new Ethics Coordinator who will be taking over from the outgoing one. After that I did the weekly grocery shop, and then when I got home I did a round of vacuum cleaning, folding laundry, cleaning the shower and bathroom, and then a long overdue washing of the car. There was pretty much no time for anything else.

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Games Night: Istanbul and Mysterium

Late Friday post because last night was Games Night. I arrived last this time, and everyone else was in the middle of a game of Starbase Jeff. I played this game a lot back when it was newer and really like it – it’s very strategic. But while the others finished their game, I did some Italian lessons on my iPad.

Then we got stuck into a new game (for us, but released in 2015), Istanbul.

Istanbul

In this game you lay out a randomised board made of 16 large tiles, representing the bazaar district of old Istanbul. Your goal is to be the first to purchase 5 gemstones. To do this, you need to move around the market, visiting various tiles. Each tile allows you to do a specific action, ranging from collecting goods (jewellery, fabric, spices, and fruit), collecting small amounts of money, selling goods to get larger amounts of money, using money to buy gemstones. Some tiles do other things to make all of this easier: the Wainwright allows you to buy larger wheelbarrows to carry your goods around in, the two mosques let you pick up small tiles that give you bonus actions to do more things, the Caravansery lets you draw special action cards which give you a one-off bonus action.

Istanbul

The thing that ties it all together and makes it tricky is how you move around the board. You have a large counter representing your agent, and a stack of four smaller counters as your assistants. You start in a stacked group at the Fountain. You can move up to 2 tiles, and the whole stack moves as one. To perform the action on the tile you land one, you have to remove one assistant from the stack and leave them there. So as you travel around the board on your turns, you leave a trail of assistants behind. If you land on a tile that already has one of your assistants on it, you pick them back up into your stack to perform the tile’s action. And you need to do this, because if you run out of assistants, then you don’t get to perform the action on a tile you land on, which is a wasted turn. So you’re constantly having to plan ahead, then backtrack or do little loops around the board to pick up your assistants again.

There are a few other details that add strategy and some more things you can do, but that’s the gist of the game. It was a lot of fun, and ended fairly tightly, with two people achieving the five gems and the game being decided on a tie-breaker.

After that we played Mysterium. We’ve played this several times. One player is a ghost and trying to give the other payers clues about who murdered them, so they can solve the mystery. But the ghost is very restricted, and can only give clues by handing the players cards which contain cryptic images of dream-like scenes. The players have to interpret what the ghost meant by them – and it’s very easy to go astray because each card contains many items on it.

I’ve never played this game as the ghost before, so I was keen to give it a try. It’s very challenging, but in the end I managed to clue the others to the correct conclusion, so we shared a victory.

Mysterium

In this photo, for example, I used the card with deep sea diver and Anubis statues to clue the racing car driver (top left on the screen) – because the wheel with spokes evoked the image of the spoked wheels on the driver’s car.

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Writer’s block

This morning I did the weekly grocery shop. Normally it’s on Friday, but I moved it up a day because we were out of milk, and decided I may as well buy everything rather than just go to the supermarket for a carton of milk.

Much of the rest of the day I worked on Darths & Droids writing, but it wasn’t as productive as I hoped. I got completely stuck on coming up with a joke for one strip, and stared at it for a couple of hours without any progress. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

My wife is back to working in the office full time, which meant today I had to go in and pick up Scully at lunch time and bring her home for the afternoon. I took her out to the dog park later in the afternoon for a bit of a run around. It’s getting very pleasant in the late afternoon down by the waterside now, as the sun is going down earlier due to the end of daylight saving, and the progression of autumn. The “Gobi Desert” part of the regular walk we do with our dogs isn’t nearly as bad as in the middle of summer.

One productive thing I did was actually while reading reddit, I stumbled across this post about how to reward player creativity in a roleplaying game. The response mentioning Old School Hack (a free RPG game system) struck me as brilliant. Putting it into my own words:

Establish a pool of “Awesome points” (or some other cool name), initially with some number (1.5× the number of players if following Old School Hack’s suggestion). Allow the players to award points to other players for good/creative character roleplaying. Players who have been awarded points may spend them for some game benefit (a reroll or dice bonus, or whatever works in your game system). The GM should add an extra point to the pool whenever they (a) introduce a plot complication, (b) acknowledge that a character has done something disadvantageous due to a character flaw.

This encourages players to roleplay creatively and cleverly, and also to bring their character flaws into play. I’ve made a note of it in my general notes file for RPG game mechanic ideas.

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Good Friday… was good

Good Friday is a public holiday in Australia, second only to Christmas Day in everything being closed for business. A few cafes and restaurants are open, but basically all retail stores and other businesses are closed. So my wife had a day off work, and we slept in very late this morning. She spent much of the day sewing her dog bandanas. I did some catching up on various small tasks that I needed to get done – tax accounting and answering emails and so on.

I also worked on a travel diary for my recent road trip to Port Macquarie a couple of weeks ago. I expanded the posts I made here and inserted many more photos. I haven’t done a proper travel diary for a couple of years due to COVID restrictions on travel, so it was good to do one. It’s now complete and viewable here.

Tonight was the inter-fortnightly virtual games night between face-to-face games nights. Normally we have a turnout of 6 or 7 people, but tonight most people were either doing family things or were away on vacation with their families for the Easter weekend. So I played a couple of games with one friend, and we called it a night to go do our own things. We played Parks on Tabletop Simulator, followed by CuBirds on Board Game Arena. I won both games, which was good!

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Parks and Recreation

A late daily update, because last night was fortnightly games night. We’re well and truly back to in-person board games with COVID restrictions pretty much entirely lifted here now due to the zero level of transmission.

We played Devil Bunny Needs a Ham as a light starter while waiting for everyone to arrive. Then we moved into a game of Parks, a new game which the owner was very keen to play. This was followed by the next chapter of Legacy of Dragonholt, the choose-your-own-adventure-ish roleplaying style game we started a fortnight ago. And after that we ended with a few rounds of No Thanks.

Parks was really interesting and fun. The theme is visiting the various National Parks of the USA, and each one is represented by a card with absolutely gorgeous artwork. I am seriously tempted to buy this game just because of the art. As the owner explained the rules to the rest of us:

We each have two hikers. They move along this randomly configured track – each turn you can move one of them as many spaces as you like, but they have to land on an unoccupied space. Unless you use your campfire, in which case you can land on an occupied space, but your campfire goes out and can’t be used again. Each space gives you one or more resources of various types: suns, water, forests, mountains, or animals (he shows us the little wooden tokens representing the resources). Notice the animals tokens are all different animals (he shows us: there’s a moose, a bison, a mountain lion, a bear, etc. The tokens are very nice). The animals are wild. On some of the spaces you get the opportunity to spend your resources to buy equipment, which provides various benefits, and on other spaces you can spend your resources to buy one of the displayed National Park cards, which are worth points. And at the ending space of the movement track you can choose to either buy equipment, a park, or to go first in the next round. We play four rounds and add up our points.

Parks board game

There are a few other details and ways to score points which I’ve omitted for brevity, but they’re not important to understanding the flavour of the game. The important thing is that although you can move your hikers as far as you want, you actually want to move as slowly as possible in order to pick up as many resources as you can, balanced with desiring certain types of resources and wanting to get to that space before anyone else, so you don’t need to spend your one and only campfire. This mechanic is very similar to the movement mechanic used in Tokaido, which is a glorious game.

Parks board game

Anyway, we started playing, and collecting various resources, and buying the National Parks. Three parks are displayed for purchase and replenished as people buy them. We noticed they required various amounts of sunshine, water, forests, or mountains to buy, but after a few more parks were revealed, I said, “Hmm, none of the parks so far require animals.”

The owner said, “No, the animals are wild.”

I said, “Yeah, we know they’re wild, you told us… but why aren’t there any on the parks cards?”

He said, “They’re wild. You can use them as any resource.”

And everybody else around the table simultaneously went, “Oohhhhhh!!! You meant they’re wild!!”

Followed by a hubbub of hilarity in which we all said things like, “Yeah, we remember you told us they were wild and we just thought sure, they’re wild animals, obviously, duh…”

After we’d all stopped laughing for five minutes we resumed playing. It was great.

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Board games night

This entry is a few hours late because we had board games night last night, in person at a friend’s place. After the obligatory pizza, we played two new games: Legacy of Dragonholt, and The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine.

The first is about halfway between a traditional roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, and a giant choose-your-own adventure book. Up to six players create characters using a very simple system: choose race, class, then pick skills from a list. You have a Stamina score of 14, but it’s reduced by 2 for every skill above 5 that you choose. Then write yourself a free-form background, appearance, and personality notes.

We had a catfolk rogue, orc brawler, gnome apothecary, human wildlander, dwarf knight, and I played an elf sage. Although I had archery skill (which I took from my elven background), I decided my character was a man of the world – a traveller interested in all things foreign, keen to learn new things about other people and cultures and history. So I liked meeting people, and having fun, and attending fancy parties, and enjoying the finer things in life.

The game proceeds by one player (or in our case we used a spare person as a pseudo-GM) reading entries from a large booklet, describing our mission to travel to the village of Dragonholt to assist a long-time friend, who has sent us a letter asking for help. There’s a physical letter that we opened and read, and then the booklet describes our journey to the village. Without spoiling what happens, the text comes to various decision points, where you need to choose from a range of possible actions. At each decision point, one of the players must choose what action to take, and then that player spends their action token. Once spent, you can’t decide anything. So after five players have made decisions, the next decision, whatever it is, must be made by the only player not to have yet made a decision. Once all players’ tokens are spent, they all reactivate.

Some decision options require you to have certain skills. For example (made up by me, not in the game), if the decision has the options to try some mushrooms you found, or ignore then and continue on the road, then the option to try the mushrooms might only be available if the character making the decision has Alchemy skill. So when it comes down to the final character deciding something, sometimes your options are very limited. In this game there was one decision point where there were 7 or 8 options, but the character making the decision only had the skills to choose from two of them. Various events that happen depend on your Stamina or may reduce Stamina, or may deprive you of skills temporarily. And several events and choices depend on what previous things you’ve chosen to do, and how much time has passed.

The opening part of the adventure ended when we arrived at Dragonholt. The game suggests this is a good time to take a break, so we did. There were a lot of decisions, but the first part felt quite linear, like we had to eventually make it to the village. I expect the next part will be more divergent and open-ended. The game is well-written and was a lot of fun, especially with our pseudo-GM adopting amusing accents for all the characters we met. It was very light on rulesy stuff, and no dice rolling, so it felt very light compared to D&D, but there was plenty of scope for character roleplaying. This game definitely suits character roleplayers over crunchy game mechanicy dice-rolling fans. We had a lot of fun, and I recommend it.

The second game, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, is a lightly space-themed card game. It’s basically a trick taking game with cards numbered from 1-9 in four suits, plus a fifth suit of trump cards numbered 1-4. It’s cooperative, rather than competitive. The players are ostensibly a space crew, working together to survive on a space mission. To survive, you need to complete an increasingly difficult series of tasks.

Each mission is a round of the card game. You deal out all the cards. Whoever has the 4 of trumps is the mission commander, and will lead the first trick. Normal trick-taking rules apply (follow suit, etc.). Before leading the first trick, however, a set of “challenge” cards are turned over. This is a small deck with copies of the non-trump cards. For an easy challenge, you just turn over one of these cards, and the commander takes it. To win the mission, each person with a challenge card must win the trick containing that challenge card.

For example, the commander gets the challenge card “3 of yellow”. The commander must try to win the trick containing the yellow 3 card. And everyone must help. As soon as the commander wins that card, the mission is a success and you stop taking tricks, and go to the next challenge. If the commander fails to win that card, the mission is a failure and you need to re-attempt it.

The first challenge is easy. It ramps up in difficulty pretty quickly. After several hands we were at a challenge where three different players had to win specific cards, and those cards had to be won in a specific order. (Earlier challenges had multiple cards but you could win them in any order.) This was getting quite difficult and we had to repeat this challenge 3 or 4 times before we won it. I don’t know how much higher in difficulty the challenges get, but it could end up being a real brain-buster. It was fun, but yeah, you really need to hone your trick-taking skills to do well in this game.

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Multitasking Friday

So many things:

  • Took Scully for a long walk this morning to distract her from the fact that my wife was going to work without her. She gets upset if my wife leaves home and leaves her behind – but is okay if I take her out for a walk, and get back home and my wife isn’t here.
  • A bit later I took Scully to doggie daycare, which was the reason why my wife didn’t take her to work like usual.
  • Got home and started working on some comics.
  • Realised I was supposed to do the grocery shopping today! Raced off to the supermarket.
  • Had some sushi for lunch. Since I was out at the shops at lunch time now.
  • Worked some more on comics.
  • Went to pick up Scully from daycare.
  • Went out for dinner to the local pizza place with wife and Scully
  • Now doing inter-calary fortnightly games night online with the guys. We’re playing Draftosaurus.

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Super surprise escape birthday

Friday night was scheduled fortnightly games night, but the wife of one of our team hijacked it for a special birthday surprise for her husband. She organised an evening for the group beginning with an escape room followed by dinner at a nearby pub. The rest of us arrived at the escape room early, and then the birthday boy showed up, blindfolded, having being driven there by his wife and kids. He had no idea where he was, so it was a good surprise.

We had a team of 7, and we did the hardest room that the company had. The (slightly contrived) premise was that we’d committed a murder. The police had begun investigating, but had gone on lunch break for one hour, and so we had returned to the scene of the crime to retrieve a crucial piece of evidence, before the police find it. So we had an hour to enter the room and find the evidence before leaving.

What followed was a series of three connecting rooms, with an array of puzzles and tricks to navigate. We had to find the combinations of several locks, which opened to give us access to further clues. At one point we realised we needed a battery to power a certain item, and so we had to search the rooms for something that had a battery in it and remove it to use it. There was a computer which we had to break into by finding the password, and once in we had to print a file on the attached printer… but there were no sheets of paper! So we had had to search the rooms and unlock something else to find a sheet of paper. We culminated in figuring out the combination of a safe, which opened to reveal a bloody glove – which was the evidence we needed to retrieve. We completed the challenge in a little over 45 minutes, and it was very satisfying and a lot of fun.

I’d never done an escape room before (I think only two in our group had), but being keen puzzle creators and solvers we never really felt lost at any point, and our teamwork was really good. Everyone contributed, in ideas, in spotting clues that we needed, and in various physical manipulations that we had to do with equipment. It was a really great experience.

A few others joined us at the pub afterwards for dinner, and overall it was a great evening. Thanks to birthday boy’s wife for organising it!

Apart from that, really the inly thing I did earlier in the day was work on my slides for the Human Vision class I’m preparing for Monday. I’m nearly done, but still want to add a couple more.

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Virtual games night

Tonight is the interstitial virtual games night, between our fortnightly scheduled games night (that was face-to-face last week). I also have freedom to play because my wife is having a girls’ night out with her friends (and Scully).

I spent nearly all day working on Irregular Webcomic! strips, assembling comics form the photos I took on Wednesday. I managed to get all of the strips made, which was a marathon effort – it normally takes pretty much a full day to do this for a batch. I also started writing some of the annotations, but didn’t get far through those.

For dinner for myself I went for a walk to the fish and chip shop. Normally I get lunch here, and this may be the first time I’ve ever gone there to get dinner. It’s a nice change to the regular dinner things.

Now during games night so far we’ve been playing: Can’t Stop, Luxor, 7 Wonders. We’ll probably move on to Scattergories and Sketchful as the night goes on.

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Long weekend day 2

The heatwave has really hit today. Yesterday was hot, but today was hotter, and also more humid. Fortunately near the coast we had a sea breeze keeping things somewhat cool, and the CBD registered only 34°C, but some outer suburbs reached above 40°C. Over in South Australia Adelaide city reached 43°C and some suburbs got as high as 45°C.

So mostly today we rested indoors, trying to keep Scully from wanting to go outside too much. She has a weird thing she does when she goes outside in very hot weather. As soon as she leaves the shade and enters the sunlight, she lies down on the ground. I’m not sure if she likes sunbaking, or if it’s just suddenly all too much and all she can think to do is collapse. She doesn’t lie in the sun in cooler weather.

My wife and I made three more attempts at Codenames Duet Vatican City in our ongoing campaign. The first two games ended quickly as we picked assassins in early turns. But the third game was a nailbiter, and we got down to sudden death time with only one spy left to guess, and I had a clue, but it was very loose, because she’d had to indicate three words with her final clue. Unfortunately I chose the wrong word, and we lost by the closest margin possible. We shall have to give it another go another day.

We also watched the Doctor Who special “Twice Upon a Time” – the one which ends Peter Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor and begins Jodie Whitaker’s. Yes, we’re a few seasons behind still – this is the first time we’ve watched up to this point.

And… for dinner I made potato salad. With purple potatoes. The local supermarket recently renovated a bit and now they have fancy potatoes, so I thought I’d try the purples one. They taste… just like potatoes. But they do look cool!

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