Vatican City failures

My wife and I moved on to Vatican City in our ongoing Codenames Duet campaign game. Things are getting pretty difficult now. We had two attempts at it but failed to win both times. The games were tense and brain-busting.

Otherwise, it was a fairly relaxing day. We took Scully for a nice long walk in the morning.

I watched some cricket… India batted well all day and ended up on 336 runs, just 33 runs behind Australia’s first innings. With two days left to go, it’s going to be difficult for any team to force a win, especially given the forecast rainy weather. It may well be that India has done enough to avoid losing the game, instead forcing another draw, which will draw the 4-game series 1-1. And since they currently hold the Australia-India series trophy, they’ll retain it. Probably.

New content today:

D&D neighbours

I ran into a neighbour from our apartment complex today while we were out walking our respective dogs. His dog is Tex, a chihuahua, and Tex and Scully get along really well. They love playing together, and running rapid circles around the park across the street. It’s always good when they play together, because it wears them both out, and we know they’re going to be exhausted and quiescent during the evening.

Anyway, a few days ago my wife ran into the same guy and he was wearing a Dungeons & Dragons T-shirt. She asked him about it, and told him that I play D&D as well. Today was the first time I’ve seen him since then, so we chatted about it a bit. He said he played when he was a kid, but stopped for many years, only picking it up again recently when 4th Edition was current. And now he organises tournaments and uses them to raise money for charity. So that’s pretty cool.

I’ve noticed for a few years prior to this that another neighbour must be (or have been) into D&D as well. In one of the garages in the basement, a neighbour has a huge pile of D&D books, as well as piles of boxes of gaming miniatures and other stuff. The books there are mostly 2nd Edition, I think, so it’s possible this neighbour hasn’t played for a while. Unless they have more recent editions upstairs in the apartment. So in my building I know there are at least three people (including me) into D&D.

Weatherwise, we had more rain again today. Although it was confined to the morning, and the overcast broke up enough for a touch of sunshine around mid-afternoon, before closing in again. Now as I write, it’s sunset, and I can see some patches of blue sky. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get heavy rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon, so perhaps the morning will be dry.

What I really hate about this type of weather is the oppressive, unending humidity. It’s not hot, but it’s always just so sticky. Towels don’t dry – you can have a shower, and 24 hours later your bath towel that’s been hanging up all day is still damp. And hand towels stay damp all day from all the hand washing and drying. The pages of books go all crinkly from the humidity, and I worry about mould growing on stuff around the house. We have calcium chloride damp removers in the wardrobes and linen closet, and they fill up with water from the atmosphere in a few days, so I’m constantly having to change them. But at least you can see they’re removing moisture from the air. I should stick some more in some other storage places, maybe.

I finished writing that batch of Irregular Webcomic! today, ready for photography tomorrow. My wife returns to work tomorrow, so that will give me uninterrupted time to get it done. We were both concerned that she’d be ordered to work from home, given the current COVID situation here, but her work has told her to come into the office.

The news on COVID in Sydney is not good today. It’s been revealed that two staff at a liquor shop were infected and contagious while working several shifts over Christmas. Over 2000 people have been contacted directly from the customer COVID contact tracing register at the store, and they and all their subsequent close contacts (family and friends) have been ordered to get tested and self-isolate for 14 days. That adds up to probably well over 10,000 people. Not all will have caught the virus, and hopefully the number will be low, but it’s concerning that the potential number is so high, and that it could easily spread further if some people are not diligent in isolating. We’ll see how this plays out in the next few days.

New content today:

Middle Head walk

The cool wet weather continues. I managed to get out for a decent walk during a break in the rain, driving over to the suburb of Mosman with my wife and Scully at lunch time. We did roughly this walk from Balmoral Beach up to Headland Park and back. There are some excellent views of Sydney Harbour from the top of the hill:

Middle Head panorama

Apart from that I tried to write Irregular Webcomic! scripts, but wasn’t in the groove, so didn’t get many done. More tomorrow!!

(I’m actually writing Friday 1 January’s entry on Saturday morning, because last night was fortnightly games night with my friends. With COVID raging in Sydney again, we did it virtually, playing games on Board Game Arena, followed by the traditional Sketchful.)

New content today:

Codenames progress

I forgot to say yesterday that my wife and I finally conquered the Bangkok city challenge in our ongoing Codenames Duet campaign game. It took us 13 attempts and was getting to be very frustrating, sometimes losing in a sudden death final guess that could easily have gone either way. We were so close to winning many times, but never managed to make it until finally yesterday we cracked it.

Today we moved on to try Los Alamos, and we won it handily on the second attempt. Hopefully this is a sign of more progress towards completing the campaign after getting stuck for so long.

Today is also New Year’s Eve. It’s a weird one, both weather wise with another in the seemingly endless series of cool, overcast, rainy days that Sydney is having, and also with the COVID restrictions essentially putting the kybosh on any sort of outdoor celebrations. All of the harbour foreshore areas that would normally be packed with a million or more people waiting to view the fireworks are completely off-limits and you can be fined for going there. The midnight fireworks display is still happening, but almost nobody is going to be able to watch it in person, and it’s been reduced from the normal 15 minutes or so to a compact 7 minutes. And the 9 pm family preview fireworks have been cancelled completely.

The Sydney COVID outbreak continues to grow in a worrying fashion. The locally acquired cases are up to 144, with 10 new cases added today. The numbers are hovering unsteadily and it’s still not clear what sort of trend we’re currently in. I think there’s a good chance that my next market date, on Sunday 10 January, will be cancelled. Which will be annoying, but better than risking public health.

I took a long walk today with Scully and my wife. We went down to the local golf course, which is a fair walk, and up and down a lot of steep hills. I drive there when I play golf, because it’s too far to go with a full set of clubs, but it’s close enough to walk to otherwise. And I took single club and a few balls, so I could randomly hit a few shots in between players on the course. Scully enjoyed being leash-free on the course. It’s a very casual course and many people walk through it with their dogs all the time, so there was no issue there.

And for New Year’s Eve tonight we’re having a simple night at home. We always do wine and cheese and crackers on NYE, and tonight we decided to skip dinner completely and add fresh fruit—mangos and strawberries and grapes—to make it basically a full meal. Pretty decadent, but it’s fun!

New content today:

Thoughts on designing games

Prompted by an online discussion, I had occasion today to think about designing various types of games. Specifically roleplaying games and board games. (By “roleplaying games” I mean things like Dungeons & Dragons – the original RPGs – not video games that many people nowadays seem to think you mean if say “roleplaying games”.)

I remember when the only RPG I owned was Dungeons & Dragons, but I wanted to play a science fiction game. So I did what many young gamers do and tried to design my own game system to support it. The result wasn’t great.

When you try to design something given only one prior example, you can easily get stuck into thinking that things have to be done the same way, and the design space that you explore tends to be very restricted. When you encounter a different example, suddenly whole worlds of new design space are made evident and open up to you. You don’t have to use 20-sided dice. You don’t have to make rolling higher numbers more desirable. You don’t have to have armour make a defender more difficult to hit. You don’t have to assess damage by subtracting points off some numerical total.

To really get good at designing RPGs, you need to be exposed to a wide variety of designs. You need to read different rule sets and play games with different mechanics. You need a breadth of experience. I have something over 20 different RPGs, possibly up to 30 (which is actually not a lot compared to many gamers), and so I now realise the first attempts I made at designing RPGs were laughably narrow-minded and amateurish.

On the plus side, designing a roleplaying game is actually not as complicated a task as what may seem easier: designing a board game. A board game is much more restricted in what the players can do, whereas an RPG is open-ended and allows players to do virtually anything. But paradoxically this very difference is what makes designing an RPG relatively easy. In an RPG, if a player wants to do something and the rules don’t cover it, you can wing it. If you’re experienced enough, you can even wing it so seamlessly that the players never notice.

In a board game, on the other hand, you need a clear cut rule to cover every possible situation that can arise in the game. You can’t just tell the players to “do whatever makes sense” or for one player to decide what happens. You have to design the rules carefully and meticulously enough that this problem never arises. That’s really hard.

Finally, in a tangentially related topic, I was playing Scattergories online with some friends today and needed to name a title that people can have, beginning with W. Other answers included the valid Wazir and Wizard. I opted for Walgraf, which I honestly thought was a noble title from some European culture.

However, searching the internet for confirmation turned up virtually nothing! The only two seemingly confirmatory hits were the rulebook for a LARP (live action RPG) named Blackspire:

12.12 Titles of Nobility

12.12.6 Viscount/Viscountess

12.12.6.1 Recommended title for serving a term with excellence as Champion in addition to winning the kingdom Weaponmaster tourney.

12.12.6.2 Recipient may substitute an equivalent title name for this rank such as Vicomte, Viconte, Visconte, Vizconde, Visconde, Walgraf or Pasha.

And the second is a campaign log for a D&D game set in the Greyhawk campaign setting:

There are a few snickers in the small crowd of nobles, especially from Lord Galans and Walgraf Deleveu. Lord Galans owns lands that now border on the Watchlands, and Walgraf Deleveu holds title to the lands between the Watchlands and Celene.

Now… it’s odd that both of the references to the noble title of “Walgraf” on the net are related to RPGs. I thought it might be possible that the word was invented by an RPG author and I’d learnt the word from some of the old RPG books I own. I checked the World of Greyhawk books, and they have a list of noble titles, which includes “Graf”, but not “Walgraf”.

So this is a mystery. From where did I learn the word “Walgraf” as a noble title? And why does it appear in two places on the net, both of which are related to fantasy roleplaying games? I am truly stumped.

New content today:

Catch up lunch

Today I had a lunch appointment with a friend to catch up and have a chat. We don’t see each other much since he left the company we used to work for, so I like to schedule lunch every now and then, where we can just chat and share stories about what we’re up to. This guy is a major creative inspiration for me, and he’s always working on various projects. He’s into creating board and video games at the moment, and told me about the interesting game mechanics he’s using, and the creative backstory writing he’s trying to do.

We ate at a place called the Old Paint Shop Cafe, which was indeed an old paint shop, now converted into a cafe. My friend recommended the burgers, and I had one, which was both amazingly good and amazingly good value.

Apart from the trip to lunch and back, I relaxed after yesterday’s exertions on the golf course, and worked on Darths & Droids comics, writing and production. That’s about all to report for today.

New content today:

Friday Games Night post on Saturday morning

It’s been a busy 36 hours. Last night was fortnightly Friday night Games Night with the guys, and our second in-person meeting since COVID-19 shifted us to virtual back in March. We only had four attendees, but that was a good number as it meant we could all play the same games together. It was also hosted at a friend’s house near where we used to work, and I suggested we get dinner from the Thai place where we often went for lunch. It’s possibly my favourite Thai place in Sydney, and I haven’t been there for ages. I was missing their delicious massamam curry, as well as all the other dishes they make. SO we did that, and it was just as good as I remembered.

I was the third to arrive, and played a few games of Klask first, which the host had recently bought. It’s basically a miniature air-hockey table, with magnetic paddles and a ball and a couple of other little complications. It was amusing fun, and when our fourth arrived we had a short knockout tournament.

The first three of us also played Arboretum while waiting for the fourth. This is a simple looking card game, but the strategies are complex and brainbusting. Naturally, I did poorly.

When we were up to four players, we launched into a game of Treasure Island, a new one for most of us. This was a lot of fun. Each player is a pirate, but one is the infamous Long John Silver, and the other pirates have initially captured him and are now searching for Long John’s buried treasure before he escapes and goes to dig it up himself. Long John’s player mark a secret map with the location of the buried treasure, and then according to the rules of the game is slowly coerced into handing out various clues to the other pirates. The other pirates all race around the island and try to find the treasure by searching in areas that they actually draw on the board using erasable markers. Long John tells them if they’ve found nothing, or perhaps if they’ve found another clue. (Or if they indeed find the treasure, they win instantly!)

Treasure Island

Here’s my friend drawing a search circle on the board. You can see a few other circles in various colours, and also lines which mark where pirates have moved, or areas of the board where Long John has given a clue that the treasure is not located. Oh, the other thing about the clues is that Long John is allowed to lie, but only a limited number of times, and you don’t know for sure if he’s telling the truth or lying about any given clue, but you can privately inquire into this – so it ends up with each pirate having a unique set of knowledge about where the treasure might be, which overlaps that of the other pirates. So you can also get hints by watching where the other pirates go to search.

Treasure Island

Here’s the board late in the game, and you can see my secret miniature map of the board behind the screen, where I’ve marked areas where I am sure the treasure is not located shaded with hatching, and there are also some areas I’ve marked off where Long John has told me the treasure is not located, but I suspect he may be lying.

As the game progresses, each pirate narrows down the search area. But at some point Long John escapes, and he gets to move directly towards where he knows the treasure is. If he gets to it first, he wins. As it happened in this game, one of the other pirates found the treasure just one turn before Long John was due to escape, so it was a tight game.

As I said, it was a lot of fun. But honestly much of the fun is generated by the interactivity with the map board, moving your pirate around and drawing lines and circles all over the board. There’s a large luck element to the game, as it’s possible for a pirate to luckily search the correct area on the very first move of the game and win instantly (although given the area involved this will happen very rarely). And although each pirate is using logic to narrow down the area, it’s still luck involved when one of them actually searches in the correct place. So it’s a lot of fun, and there is logic and strategy involved, but I think the luck factor dominates in determining who actually wins. You could be the best player in the world at this game and still win only 25% of the time in a four-player game. I’d call this more of a shared experience like a roleplaying game, than a cut-throat competitive game.

After this we played a quick game of Railroad Ink as it was getting too late for another long game. This is a lighter game, but definitely with more skill involved in determining the winner. It was fun too. Pretty much everything we played was a hit tonight, and we all had a great time!

New content today:

My personal summer

Today I began my usual summer ritual of switching to cold showers. Yesterday I had my last warm shower for the next few months, barring unusual circumstances. I do this every year, usually some time in November, switching to cold showers for the summer. I usually reach the end of March before going back to warm showers; sometimes a week or two into April, depending on the weather as it cools down into autumn.

The weather here has really started to warm up in the past week or so. More than that, it’s gotten humid. Last year it didn’t really get humid until about February – the early summer was very hot and very dry, which of course led to those awful fires we had. But the switch to a La Niña pattern in the Pacific has brought a cooler, moister trend to eastern Australia. So hopefully a lot milder fire season, although the problem this summer may be storms and flooding.

Today was a relaxing Sunday mostly. My wife and I took Scully on a long walk this morning before it got too hot. We stopped at the bakery to buy some bread, getting a white sourdough load, and also a fig and walnut sourdough loaf for a sweet treat. My wife wanted to get some challah, but I remembered when we arrived and didn’t see any that they only bake that late in the morning, so it’s only available after about 11 am. So I chose the fig and walnut loaf instead.

Both loaves were still hot from the oven, and even after walking all the way home (over 2 kilometres), the fig and walnut loaf was still deliciously warm as we cut it open and had some simply spread with melty butter.

My wife and I played a couple of games of Codenames Duet, continuing our campaign after a bit of a break. We successfully completed the Bogota city game, but failed with a first attempt at Dubai.

And finally this afternoon we had Luna from next door over to play with Scully for a while. It’s a bit weird having another dog around. Even though they look somewhat similar, I feel like Scully is very familiar and I know her personality very well, and she’s almost like a little person. Whereas Luna just feels like a dog and is somewhat unpredictable. She’s also very face-licky – you need to be on your guard unless you suddenly want Luna to run up and lick you all over the face. Scully doesn’t do that, thankfully!

New content today:

Face to face gaming

At last night’s games night we had an attendance of five, plus the two daughters of the host (ages about 8 and 10). They joined us for a game of Sushi Go Party!, followed by Mysterium.

After they went to bed, we continued with a game of Tournament at Avalon, which is described as a “chaotic trick-taking game” – which is about right. It’s fairly complex and took us a lot longer to play than I’d expected at the beginning.

It was good meeting friends again for the first time in eight months or so, having some pizza, and playing some games while we chatted about what we’ve all been up to.

Today I dedicated to housework and writing a few comics. Not really much to report there.

Oh, I had a weird dream: that shopping centres everywhere were advertising this revolutionary new change to make it easier to navigate large complexes. They said they recognised how difficult it was for new customers to find their way around in shopping centres, and this change would make it incredibly easy. The entire change was: Instead of calling them “levels” or “floors”, they would now be called “stacks”. So instead of needing to go to Level 3 to find a shop, you would now got to Stack 3. All the signs saying “Ground Level” or Level 1″ were changed to read “Ground Stack” or “Stack 1”, and so on.

Yeah, amazing, I know.

New content today:

Cyberpunking

Further to yesterday’s mention of Cyberpunk 2020, I had an idea for a game. Use the world setting as given in Cyberpunk 2020, but have technologies that exist in the real world but which don’t exist in CP2020 appear as newly emerging tech within the game.

For example, CP2020 basically has virtually no concept of wireless networking. To access a network you have to physically plug into a connected system. So imagine some megacorp within the game has just invented WiFi. How will this shake up the world? The PCs might be hired to steal the technology, or prevent it from being monopolised, or something.

Also further on gaming, tonight is the first face-to-face meeting of my fortnightly gaming group since March. We decided that with COVID apparently well under control here in New South Wales, we would start up meeting in person again. (We just reached the milestone of 14 days in a row with zero new cases, apart from residents newly arrived from overseas and already in quarantine.) So I’m writing and scheduling this post early before I head over. Should be fun!

New content today: