The Cardboard Curmudgeon

Board Game and life opinions from a jaded and cyncial gamer (who still holds some idealism in his heart). Wimpy opinions need not apply.

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Mover Over iPad, Middle Age Gamers Need Windows 8: No, I’m Not Kidding.

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
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When Windows 8 debuted, it got a lot of hate from many people and there were cries that the world was ending. I was a little nervous about upgrading my non-touch laptop, but decided to take the plunge because the licenses were dirt cheap (probably the cheapest version of windows I ever purchased). Also, while I hate change as much of the next person, this is where things are going and it’s best to get used to it now.

Surprisingly, Windows 8 is not the Great Satan or even close to evil. It takes a little while to figure out, but I haven’t seen any reduction in productivity and it actually works very well with mouse and keyboard. My only real issue is having to drop to the desktop to access the file system. Other than that it is surprisingly easy to use. But a laptop is not an iPad and I love the portability of my iPad.

Enter the HP Envy X2. Staples had the equivalent of a double coupon day for the Envy X2 tablet/keyboard combo. In a state of good-deal frenzy and tax refund euphoria, I bought it. And then buyers remorse set in as I waited for it to arrive. We have a laptop and an iPad, why do we need a mini laptop/tablet? But the deed was done and the X2 arrived promptly. All I can say is that unboxing it and plugging it in for the first time was like that feeling of joy I first felt for my iPad (right before I had to install iTunes to get it running. That was the suck). It was sleek, compact, it had a real keyboard, USB ports, HDMI ports, and it was full Windows 8 (not RT). It gets 10-12 hours battery life due to the additional battery built into the keyboard and the Intel Atom processer (a mixed blessing). I could really gush over how freakin’ cool this hybrid is, but that pales in comparison to what it can run.

I’m betting all you middle aged gamers think I’m nuts right now. Windows 8? Really? It’s okay, I promise. You can survive the learning curve. A Windows 8 tablet hybrid is okay by itself, but when you combine it with the Good Old Games website, it becomes a thing of beauty. So this is really the part where it that whole 40 something age matters. While I’m sure many of the younger gamers would find these older games boring or too detailed (but you should still try them you young punks!), most of us older folks will squeal with joy (yes, I said squeal, so drop the macho men don’t squeal BS) at being able to play Master of Orion II, Master of Magic, all the Infinity Engine games, and pretty much any of the classics you can imagine that do not require a ton of system resources. You can get more powerful Win 8 tablets that will probably run the newer games on the GOG site, just make sure they have a USB port for a wireless mouse as most games, while usable with touch, are just not precise enough.

Every DOS game I have tried from GOG works fine in Windows 8. Balder’s Gate required me to download a few tweaks to get it properly sized on the screen and these were not for the apple it-just-works crowd. To me, these games were brilliant enough to do the tweaks. Maybe not for you. It still runs without them, just in a 640x480 window which is too small for my old eyes on the X2. Heroes of Might and Magic 3 works like a champ as does Heroes 4. The only one that did not work for me was Heroes 5 and I’m not sure if it was the Heroes 5 twitchiness, the limited Atom processor, the GOG launcher, or something in Win 8. I’m still working on that.

The other day, the reality hit me that while I still carry my iPad for news and waiting-in-line/for-appointments gaming , I spend most of my game time on the Envy X2 enjoying retro gaming goodness. When Windows 8 adoption increases, and I do think it is when not if, I imagine board game ports will start showing up there as well. Once that happens, I will probably fire my iPad for good, especially as Apple’s built in OS obsolescence will eventually kill it like the poor iPad 1.

In summary, if you like the games of the 80’s and 90’s you will probably love a full Windows 8 tablet (not RT!) and the GOG website which I like to call the retro gamer’s app store. You will lose a little portability as your tablet really needs a mouse and some type of flat surface, but there are some pretty portable mice these days. The iPad is still superior in portability and the lack of a mouse for its apps, but it doesn’t do old games unless they are directly ported. And let’s face it, you aren’t going to want to be playing Heroes of Might and Magic or Icewind Dale when you’re out and about. These are really for long travel periods (such as on an airplane) or for playing at a destination. To give Windows 8 credit, there are plenty of puzzle/game apps that you can use during other times if you want. For versatility and the ability to play old games, you can’t beat a Windows 8 tablet or hybrid (and they even run office if you actually have to do that 4 letter word called work). To play cool board games and a currently better selection of touch apps, you have the iPad. If I could only own one right now though, it’s a no-brainer, I would take the Windows 8 tablet.
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Fri Apr 12, 2013 6:31 pm
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Why Co-ops Don’t Suck!

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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Cooperative games get a bad rap, especially when someone is advertising their own game. Most of these complaints fall on the premise that there is something wrong with the players or there is something wrong with the game.

Let’s take the first premise. There is something wrong with the players. In co-op games some players tend to dominate, some are passive, some will mess up the game accidentally, some will do it on purpose, and some will go Weeee! Weeee! Weeee! all the way home. All of these players can be annoying, but let me ask you this, how are these players not annoying in any game. The difference between a competitive game and a co-op game is more a matter of how these people express their personality traits in the game, not a matter of them magically appearing. If you get a controlling jerk in your co-op, odds are that person is a controlling jerk in other games you play, just acting differently. The difference I see here is in the eye of the beholder. In a competitive game, these players cannot influence my game as directly as in a co-op. If I perceive being messed with as negative in a competitive game, I will likely feel that way exponentially in a co-op. So the game does not suck, my perception makes it suck for me.

On to the next point. Winning. High competitiveness and co-op games generally do not go well together. In fact, my experience is that the higher the level of competitiveness in a player, the more likely they are to be the controlling jerk discussed above. Because they want to win and it irks them if they perceive someone as preventing that. A cooperative game is designed around a group win or a group loss. Railing against not having an individual win condition and saying a co-op sucks because of that is missing the point. It shows, once again, a lack of ability to gain perspective outside of one’s own narrow viewpoint of what a game is.

The second premise is that the game is somehow less fun or not any good because of its cooperative nature and/or it needs to be fixed. A cooperative game is a cooperative game. There is no collusion going on about what it is, you know what you are walking into. If you have no interest in a group game, the possibility that you will need to negotiate with other players, be assertive, and even work things out with other players, then it is likely to be a bad experience for you. I am not discounting the fact that and individual cooperative game could be subjectively bad when compared to other co-ops, but co-ops as a whole being bad is just a silly statement.

What about the limited decisions created by the “robot” game? In co-ops the opponent’s actions are determined in some random fashion. The most mechanistic of these games can seem very robotic to some (I’m talking about you pandemic and D&D games). But you cannot claim that it is less mechanistic than a human player. In any game where the decision of a player impacts another, the other is stuck with a puzzle. This person did A, now I have choices of B,C,or D. What do I do? This is no different from the random situations provided by a co-op. I think what frustrates some players is that a robot mechanism in a game is truly random. You can’t try to outguess it like you can a human. Both are puzzles, but having a human opponent allows you to cheat, in a way, if you are good at reading people. You can guess motivations. No such luck from the co-op. It is inscrutable and implacable. Is that a knock against co-ops? Only if you need your puzzles presented to you by a person.

So semi-cooperatives suck because of king making, game sabotage or the one vs. many issue. On this, I have to give a little ground but it is tempered by, once again, perception. I have noticed that in traitor games (Battlestar Galactica), one vs. many games (Descent, Fury of Dracula), and I win or we all lose games(Insula) that there can be a very negative perception issue among players that can ruin a game. It is generally acceptable to win on the many side and much less acceptable to win on the one side. Time and again I have observed this (having been on both sides), the many are very excited and boisterous when they are winning, but their tone darkens when the one is boisterous handing their collective arses to them. I will note that this is a perception issue, and not all groups suffer from this. I just think it is more common than less. In a group vs. one or few situation, the group does not like the one or few messing up their game. They fail at an intuitive level (if not an overt one) to understand that it is the one’s game experience too.

In Summary, co-ops don’t suck, you do. How you approach the game will have the biggest impact on how you play. The enjoyment you get from a co-op game is directly proportional to how much you enjoy navigating social interactions with others and how you prefer your puzzles to be presented to you. In this case, it really is all about you. You get out what you put in.


Stay tuned for my next article on responding to why another type of game does not suck (Except for Killer Bunnies, I won’t defend that one).
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Tue Sep 25, 2012 8:48 pm
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Pimp Your Fantasy Board Game and Don't Break the Bank too Much.

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
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I recently stumbled across a Kickstarter for Reaper Miniatures. Reaper is the spiritual successor to Ral Partha, if you have fond memories of the old days of D&D as I do. They nominally do wargame miniatures, but primarily they sell fantasy miniatures for the RPG crowd. Recently, they quietly released a "Bones" line of miniatures made in plastic. I've been out of the RPG scene for a long time, so maybe they loudly announced it, but I wouldn't have known. Long story short, these plastic Bones miniatures turn out to be perfect for pimping fantasy board games.

So why should you believe me? For one, as I mentioned earlier, they are cheap. Also, they are white plastic and take paint without need of a primer. They are also flexible but spring back into shape automatically when bent. So what this means is that you can use these with your board games now without paint, you can spray paint them a solid color very easily if you desire, and they are not brittle so you don't have to worry about lots of broken bits. Ino other words these are perfect for board games as is.

If you're the person who just wants more than cardboard standees or the tiny miniatures you get in most FFG games, then Bones are something to consider. I am a sucker for cool bits so I was naturally intrigued. FFG makes nice miniatures but they cannot compare. And to be fair to them, it's not their bag. They make beautiful games first, not beautiful miniatures.

If you are into painting miniatures, these are still very nice, but not really painting contest quality. The detail is not quite as good as metal and it is noticeable to someone who looks for that sort of thing (like me). these are gaming miniatures, not showpieces. So miniature snob beware. In my opinion that is the only downside. Paint won't crack on them and they have none of the drawbacks of metal for board games (no marks left on the board, dents or just being too heavy).

And what makes Bones even more attractive is that the Kickstarter has been crazy good, and you can get these miniatures way cheaper than in the store. And when I say cheaper, ogre sized miniatures will run you 2.50 normally, so these are pretty cheap. Whether you want miniatures to proxy for your descent 2nd edition conversion kit, or just to make your Return of the Heroes, or other fantasy game shine, you can find something.

I know this blog is sounding like a paid advertisement and I want to be clear that it is not. I am involved in the kickstarter so stand to benefit from stretch goals, and you can scream bias there. But everyone who backs gets those so it's not like I'm getting something extra. Never one to just jump on the bandwagon, I went out and purchased two of the larger bones miniatures (a gnoll and bugbear) to verify Reaper claims about the plastic. And it's true for the most part. They take paint fine but a guide wash (super dilute paint or ink) does not work so well. Not a deal killer for most hobbyists. They need no prep unless you are into fully painting miniatures.

http://www.reapermini.com/Miniatures/Bones/latest/77015

Bugbear miniature link added for your enjoyment

Even if you love miniatures for their own sake and are into painting, I think you will like the bundles offered, but you may want to stick with metal for those really awesome paint jobs. Either way, check it out:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1513061270/reaper-miniat...
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Sun Aug 12, 2012 11:16 pm
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Don’t cry for me Agricola...

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
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I am done with you. It was a great affair. You were young, lean, and a fascinating mystery. I was much older, not so lean, and pretty predictable. Everything was going so swimmingly until your baggage started showing up. First there were the animeeples, which were okay. They fit in your box and if anything, they made you more attractive. Then there were decks. I always thought your decks were well stacked, so why did you feel the need for more. First it was the Z and then the O, and the X (all right, I kinda liked the X), and it just exploded from there. Then came the seasons, and the boards and the inevitable expansion. I never objected to kids, but you didn’t ask if I wanted our kids to be Scottish. And then the worst betrayal, you created a spin off with someone else. There is only so much room at home and I have to put my foot down. It’s time to stop. I’m saying no to bling, no to decks, and no to your hybrid offspring. Goodbye and good luck. I’m sure someone else will want all of you, but I just can’t do it anymore. Maybe if you got rid of the kids… What am I saying?

No, no more. I have a new love in my life. Her name is Descent 2nd edition. I dated her older sister for awhile but she was a little long winded for me and had too many mood swings. One moment she was my hero and the next she was an evil overlord. I’ve made my mistakes and I know that Descent 2nd ed. won’t ever have too much baggage. She promised me that what you see is what you get and she’ll never take over. Although, she did say she had this nice expansion so her sister’s kids could visit. But that’s it. Everything is going to be just fine…
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Tue Jul 31, 2012 11:12 pm
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The art does matter and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise.

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
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I just spent a substantial amount of time reading this thread. I missed it when it originally landed on BGG but it caught my eye when Uchronia resurfaced recently. Looking back on it now I learned a few things. One, I’m glad I never kickstarted Glory to Rome special edition. A year later and people still don’t have their copies. Two, airing dirty laundry on a public forum is absolutely stupid. Three, history repeats itself. Wallace and Bohrer are now joined by Carter and Chudyk. And four, the purpose of this blog post, art matters! I always knew the truism of four, but never felt the need put it down in writing.

For most games, there is no outcry over the art or graphic design. It is what it is, you play it, maybe somebody talks about not liking it, but nobody really gets in a tizzy. Most Euro games fall into this category with nice, one might argue pedestrian art that offends no one and really adds nothing to the game. Look at Goa here:


Easy on the eyes, practical, and does not get in the way of playing the game.

Games with eye poppingly gorgeous art and production values also tend to get a pass even when the game play is mediocre at best. I think this is most exemplified in the FFG effect. FFG can take a ho-hum design and combine it with cool bits and art. Runebound (Second Edition) is a classic example of this. Yes it’s nominally an adventure game but does not really shine compared to other entries. See my comparison review here if you are interested in a more in depth take on it. Other examples include, The Pillars of the Earth (yeah, I’ll take some flak for this one), and Dixit (love the game, but let’s face it, the art is what separates it from any other party game). If you downgraded the art quality on any of these you would likely find fewer people interested. Part of what makes them special is the art.

I won’t even go into bad art and bad game play. I can’t think of there being any controversy about a game like that. Feel free to post one below if you can think of one where people were arguing over it.

So the real controversy comes from good to great games that for one reason or another have terrible art. In the 18 pages of free entertainment that is the GTR article noted above, there were many pot shots about the atrocious art of the game. In fact, with the exception of some brief sidetracks, the bad art carried the whole thread until Ed not so subtly announced that GTR was being redesigned with new art. Personally I think the new art is atrocious (the European art is superior) but I am clearly in the minority. The point is that any new art was better than the original and in less than 3 pages, the thread wrapped up. Venom and vitriol gone and harmony achieved. Quite amazing.

Similar art redesigns have been done for Thebes, Chicago Express, and Cosmic Encounter (yes I am including an FFG game here, they aren’t all pretty with little substance). Is there any doubt that the popularity of these games was increased with the art change?

But art is in the eye of the beholder, how can you make such unequivocal statements? To that, I say, “Bull Pucky.” Gamers fit far more into the Thomas Kincaid world than the Van Gogh, Da Vinci, or Picasso world. As a whole our tastes are middle of the road and as long as the art work is pretty and traditional, we don’t care. We are far more impressed with a functional insert than the brush strokes that breath life into the game board (Okay a functional insert may be art in itself, see Giants). Board gaming may be a niche hobby but looking at the majority of games with “attractive art,” it is clear we do not have niche tastes. And when a truly artistic game comes out, it will likely not find an audience unless the game play is spectacular.

Let’s take one of my favorite games that nobody has ever heard of, Insula. I love the art and feel it is both novel and emotionally compelling. Great art in a board game, I think so. But many of you will be turned off by the bunnies viewed through a psychotic lens. Hugely successful games require pasteurized and homogenized art, not what we would call fine art. Insula will never be a hugely successful game, while boring to tears Dominion is (nothing to offend anyone there).


Insula and…


Dominion

But the game play is the thing. “Moose pucky,” Anyone who has play tested an early prototype will tell you that you can have fun with index cards and penciled in text. Yes, game play is compelling, but you won’t sell enough copies of a game to reach the attention of the masses if each one has hand written lettering, white poster board and index cards. Ain’t gonna happen. Art is required. We can obviously see how little art is required when the design is good *cough* Glory to Rome *cough* but there needs to be something remotely interesting for players to look at.

But I am an artiste, My game is meant to be a reflection of existential angst, paradise lost, my big toe. Fine, you be an artiste in your corner while the rest of us play board games. Sure you might suck someone like me in (see Insula above) but you are going to be marginalized. Hey, isn’t that what being an artiste is all about?

If you get what I’m saying here, stop apologizing for being shallow. I see too much of that here on the geek. “I hate to point this out because I am such a terribly shallow person but the artwork for your game sucks.” We are shallow! While individual tastes may vary, as a group, we have pretty straightforward and basic tastes. We like pretty bits and drawings and our idea of “pretty” favors realism over surrealism or impressionism. While some outliers get by on being different (see Dixit above), the vast majority of games fall into a narrow range of art. And why is that? Because we support this limited art with our wallets. Anyone who thinks that art doesn’t matter needs to go out and pick up a copy of Insula (no shill here) to prove me wrong.
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Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:04 pm
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How not to go about improving your life situation part 3: Attack of the stuff.

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
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Moving is a unique misery inflicted on the self based on how much of a pack rat you are. I am a medium pack rat, but my wife is a major pack rat. She still has a cheap plastic wind up car that her grandfather gave her when she was a little girl. At one point in our marriage she refused to throw out a cracked plastic water jug because it had been her mother’s. I’m sure all of you much wiser people already know that it’s not worth marital strife to argue over a water jug, but my wisdom isn’t there yet. The battle of the jug lasted for about a month, it eventually got chucked, and I was the bad guy for a long time after that. I wouldn’t even think about mentioning the cheap plastic car. I don’t have enough karma stored up to face the consequences of that.

So preparing for the move was a bizarre dance of discussing things that could probably go and getting little accomplished. Whenever I suggested tossing things that were still in boxes from our last move (okay, I admit the car was in one of those), my wife would throw up the, ”You aren’t getting rid of games,” stonewall. Fine! 20 games went to goodwill and I sold another 15. This sacrifice helped move things along and we made 12 trips to goodwill. Then came the pairing down. We started on the stuff we did not want to move. Dining room table, sold. 2 book shelves and 2 chairs tossed. This is the part of moving that is just a teeny tiny little bit fun. There is something freeing about divesting yourself of stuff. It’s like a weight off your shoulders. Even my wife got into the groove. It’s funny how you can desperately hold on to stuff and then suddenly realize, you don’t need it or really care that much about it. I halved my RPG stuff with 4 copy paper boxes filled to the brim going to Noble Knight. I did not get to realize the total worth of them that way, but they paid shipping and it was extra cash. As I said, this was the fun time.

While packing for a move you will ultimately run afoul of you realtor. The realtor is trying to sell your house and wants everything to look as perfect as possible. Packing and moving is messy. You can see where this is going. I would get a room packed up, only to have my realtor tell me that all the boxes had to go because it made the room look smaller. So they went into the garage, which made the garage look smaller, but too bad! The other issue is that people like to come look at your house at random times. Realtors are supposed to call ahead to give you time to clear out but it does not always happen. You also don’t want to sell or give away too much furniture too soon as you realtor wants the rooms to look good. It feels like someone telling you to throw a party but keep it quite. l love our realtor, but there were times on both sides that things were strained.

From part 2 you already know that our first visit to California was a bust. We considered at looking at rentals at the time, but were told they were disappearing 1-2 days after being listed and we would have to pay an entire month and a half of rent before moving in. Doing the math, it was cheaper to just fly out again at the end of October, find something and rent it. Unfortunately, cheaper does not mean easier.

The evening before our flight, I was in the doctor’s office to get a small mole removed from my face. As you get older, these things start going 3D on you and I kept cutting myself shaving with this one. A minor nuisance that I thought could be easily dealt with. I had been feeling under the weather that day and was a bit nauseous. When they sat me down to do the usual BP and temp, my blood pressure was high. I am normally a little high, but it was really high. This worried me until they took my temp and I was riding high at 103. Joy. She put me on antibiotics and said that if my fever broke before our flight, I could fly but otherwise, I was grounded.

After crawling home and into bed, my nausea worsened and thus began one of the worst nights of my life. I have read in any many books about characters being “violently ill,” but had not experienced the reality of what those simple words meant. While my wife was packing for the trip, I was taking trips to the bathroom which each successive trip resulting in me being more unsteady and more pale. By midnight, I had no color at all and looked dead. My wife decided to take the trip without me as neither one of us wanted to rent a house sight unseen.

By the next morning, She was in flight to California, and woke up feeling fine except for the fact that my illness had moved lower down the gastrointestinal track, I was a little shaky, and was somewhat tethered to the bathroom. My fever was gone and I was left thinking, WTF?

My poor wife’s misery had only begun. The rental car agency would not rent her the car because it was in my name (thanks Hertz). But they went ahead and pocketed the money anyway, refusing a refund later on. Beware who you shop with in the car game. Alamo rented her one on the spot and much cheaper. Yay Alamo! She was then stuck running around all weekend looking at houses in a strange in a strange car and staying in a strange hotel. I enjoy traveling and seeing new locations. She does not. I can drive easily in heavy traffic (Sacramento is a powder puff compared to Atlanta), but she is not a fan. So I spent the weekend leaving the house every 3-4 hours for a realtor to show it and hoping I would not need a lavatory and she ended up texting me photos of all the houses. It was brutal for both of us. We had somewhat settled on one when she called me Saturday and said she had put down a deposit on a house. IT was not one we looked at originally but she fell in love with the property. The house was old and small and she was worried our stuff would not fit. But she LOVED the property. Reality sunk in that night when we were talking about it. No central heart or A/C, no dishwasher, and it was a third smaller than our current house. It also only had a one care garage. But I had to agree with her, the property was great. You just don’t find an acre of land in the middle of a city full of every fruit tree you can imagine from loquats to pears. The kids would have plenty of room to run around. At that point she thought we had made a mistake. I couldn’t say because the pictures were not adequate to judge. So she flew back somewhat discouraged and we went back to packing.

The Day the movers arrived was a little slice of heaven. I didn’t have to do anything except sign papers and clean up each room after they left. The Kitchen and laundry rooms needed way more work than I had the time to get cleaned up as we were also leaving the next day. My wife had to be in Sacramento in 6 days for a pre-Christmas meeting of the Barnes and Noble staff. Just a quick plug here. B&N is a good company. They transferred my wife, which is nice in a down economy. I know everyone here loves their Amazon, but that love may very well kill most brick and mortar stores. I hope B&N adapts and finds their niche. I would hate to have no place to browse. Besides the Nooks are better readers than Kindle.
So remember that trip across the United States we took over the summer with a 1and 3 y/o. Well, we reversed course and head right back, this time with freshly minted 2 and 4 y/o old in tow. Trust me, the birthdays didn’t make things any easier. Next stop, California and bust.
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Mon May 21, 2012 8:46 pm
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How not to go about improving your life situation part 2: "Relcoation"

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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I accepted my offer in mid-August and was told the relocation company would be contacting me to set up my move and help with selling the house. Shortly after that, I received this nifty contract outlining everything they would and would not do. This was going to be a breeze. I’d never had help moving before so it had to be easier than the past. Right?

We had already determined that the stipend would not cover everything. I was not a VP or anyone important enough in the company to have them sell my house and cover my entire move. I was concerned the most about selling a house in a down market, so we planned on letting the relocation company handle that end. We solicited moving estimates from multiple companies, including the one through the relocation company (Graebel). We also had a realtor lined up who was honest and trustworthy, not realizing until we had the contract that we had to get competing quotes.

And then the wait… until I finally received a call from the Graebel relocation specialist in early September. I had been pestering people on my end since I accept the offer. The housing market was down and we were wasting valuable time getting my house to market. Winter is a terrible time for selling a house. Anyway, the Graebel rep was friendly but when I started asking her questions about my relocation contract, she admitted that he had not read it. She did so and got back to me later in the same week with answers and we set up the Graebel realtor and our realtor to get an estimated sale price. Ours was in by the end of the week at 169. The Graebel recommended realtor came and looked at the house. She said it would not go higher than 155 and then did not send her estimate to Graebel. So we waited some more. She used up the full 9 days they are given to provide an estimate and then came in at 138. I was willing to acknowledge that our realtor was a bit high and he did also, but she came in under the comparable homes she listed for comparison. I lodged a protest and the Graebel rep agreed, saying they were too far apart and we would have to have a third estimate done. I noted that my contract did not provide for this, and it only said it would average the two estimates. There was nothing about a third. Graebel insisted, so we were stuck waiting for a third estimate from another realtor provided by Graebel. The third realtor came out with her high pressure sales partner. Without having looked at the house, he said it would go no higher than 150 but they would list it at 155 and it would be guaranteed to sell in 4 months. We were now at the End of September. Another month to sell the house gone. The move was planned for November (the week before Thanksgiving), so this was getting a bit ridiculous.

Then my Graebel rep was out on vacation. So her colleague called to tell us that we had to throw out the high quote and take the average of the two lower quotes (the Graebel recommended ones). I pointed out that my Graebel rep had agreed that the low quote made no sense as the data did not match the number she arrived at and that’s why we had this third estimate done. She insisted that this was how it was written in my contract. Is asked her if she had read my contract as there was no provision for a third estimate and we were already outside of it. She forwarded me on to her Graebel supervisor who said this is how it was written in my contract and we had to follow that. I asked her if she had read my contract and she had not either. At that point I blew my cork, and long story short, fired Graebel from the house selling part.

Unfortunately, I could not fire them in their entirety as my company was paying them to manage my stipend and assist with the move. So it was going to go toward a move and costs for purchasing a new house, except that we were now in October and there was no way we could purchase unless our House miraculously sold immediateyl. We went with our original realtor and listed that house at 159 to give some wiggle room. We considered 155, but figured this would be the price at which we would walk away from the house without paying anything. What we owed and closing costs would eat up any profit. It seemed like the best course.

Trying to sell a house in October is a horrible thing. We had flown out to Sacramento to look for houses at the end of September (we had actually planned it in August and had the tickets). The realtor showed us available houses in our price range, but it was a bit of a waste as we knew we would not being buying any time soon and these houses wouldn’t be here when we did. Meanwhile, many people were looking at our house, we had a lot of foot traffic, and interest was high online. But no offer materialized. And neither the realtors who showed it nor the prospective buyers thought it was overpriced. The reality was that there was just too much choice and unless someone loved the features that made our house special (like we did), they could probably find their own dream house elsewhere.

Meanwhile, my wife and I had already arranged our entire move. My Graebel rep only got involved in that long enough to delay our quote from Graebel. Per her report it was to make sure we got the special discount for the relocation company being part of the move. They came out 3000 higher than another major van line. I explained this to her and she was "shocked." Of course, she said that if we used Graebel, we would not have to pay for the move and then get reimbursed, it would be automatically deducted. We sucked it up and said we would handle the move ourselves and just request reimbursement after it was done. That was the last real intervention that Graebel did with us until they cut the check at the end. My company paid them to slow down our house getting on the market by a month and a half, and make sure I didn’t blow my stipend on some silly thing like gambling or board games. At the end of the move I did fill out a very strongly (but not rude) worded survey for Graebel . The survey noted they would contact me if I had any problems listed. Needless to say they never contacted me. I did make a complaint to my HR rep about how not knowledgeable and disorganized Graebel appeared to be but I doubt that went anywhere.

Now let me tell you, I am not an organized person. For my wife and I to have arranged all the logistics of our move, house hunting and ultimately house renting was a monumental task. And to have the supposed experts be so much worse (and more expensive) was stunning. I’ve heard of government beaurocracy being bad, but I think Graebel has been taking a page from the congressional playbook. When you are going through a geographical transplant, it is important for the surgeon to not kill the patient.

I know I promised a section on moving as hell, but that will have to wait for part 3.
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Wed May 16, 2012 5:27 pm
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How not to go about improving your life situation part 1.

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
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Since last July, my life has felt like one long slow motion train wreck. People running everywhere, explosions, the agonized sound of twisted metal and me trying to get my family clear. That part seems especially slow motion. The train keeps getting closer and while it looks like it is slowing down, I’m not sure if it will come to rest before we are crushed by it. I’m betting that a lot of people have been having this feeling over the last couple of years. But mine was self inflicted. Maybe this cautionary tale will prevent someone else from doing this.

It all started when I came back to work in Georgia from a two week vacation in Oregon. We flew out for a week and drove back as my father was getting a new car and his old one had about 50,000 less miles than ours. We cut a deal to get it and had a very good time crossing the northern US in the summer, even with 1¾ and 3¾ year old boys. I was calm and at peace on that day.

The general manager popped his head over the top of my cube and said, “Were have you been? I’ve been looking for you for a week.” Then he said that he had a job in mind for me that I might be interested in. It was in Northern California. My ears pricked up. Most of my family was in California and while I preferred Oregon, we would be much closer. The contract would startin January of 2012, so we would have plenty of time to move and get situated except that we owned our own house (more on that later).

One other thing. The account I was currently working was looking rocky and there was a good chance that it could go away. Having been on the short end of the business gone away stick in the past, I was a little nervous. At his request, I applied for the position. My wife and I discussed the move and she was only for it if it was a substantial move up for us financially and she would get the same support from my family that she received from hers. Yep, my wife’s family lives in Georgia. Before we got married, I had told her up front that I planned to move back to California. I liked it better there. Of course, after we got married that went out the window with kids and she was very upset the one time I suggested moving (while being out of work for a month post the company I worked for folding).

So here I was interviewing for a job that I knew my wife did not want to take, but she trusted my judgment. The interview went very well. This new position would be high profile and at the office of the customer. In addition, the contract was for 8 years barring either party getting really pissed off at each other. From a career standpoint it seemed ideal. They specifically wanted someone who new my company and could work well independently. And I was flattered that they wanted me.

After some not very vicious salary negotiations where I threw in everything I could imagine, including raise, cost of living change, bonuses, moving assistance and house sale assistance (which they agreed to all of it), I put the offer before my wife. And she agreed to it.

You can probably already see some of the mistakes I was making here. I had a job and even more, I liked it. I had a house which we both loved. We both had friends and supports in Georgia. Our kids were doing well and I even liked the Fall back east (it was the other three seasons that were awful). Let’s face it, during an economic downturn, we were both employed and doing well overall. Why was I looking at taking another job? Isn't that inviting the fickleness of fate?

It’s funny how sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of you.

Stay tuned for Part two: The reality of moving an entire house (and game collection) across the United States is barking dog ugly.
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Wed May 16, 2012 1:14 am
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Before there was Superman, there was John Carter.

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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I'm taking a breaking from game related subjects to write about something that makes me smile every time I think about it. "John Carter" is coming out in theaters March 9th. If you had told me two years ago that an Edgar Rice Burroughs hero was coming to the silver screen, I would have sighed and expected another Tarzan epic. But apparently, there are quite a few geeks like me who know about the first hero Burroughs created, John Carter of Mars.

Burroughs wrote prolifically about John Carter and the planet Barsoom (aka Mars), enough to fill 9 slim volumes. If you were lucky enough to find them when Michael Whelan was doing the cover art, you have something special in my opinion. The first story that would eventually be compiled into the first book "A Princess of Mars," originally appeared in a pulp magazine in 1912. Yes, he was writing Science Fiction, and even somewhat lurid science fiction around the turn of the century. Could you imagine the readers of the day reading about a planet where everyone walked around naked except for a "harness" that they used to carry items around (usually ray guns and swords).

John Carter was an earth-man mystically transported to a Mars that is a dying world. Everything is shades of desert, yet the population of the world apparently thrives as everyone is always killing everyone else off. As a man from the heavier gravity of earth, John Carter soon discovers that he has the equivalent of super strength on the low G Martian landscape. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, kill titanic monsters with a single blow, and wrestle anything on mars to the ground. It reminds me of another traveler from a strange planet that finds himself having super powers because of the nature of the planet he is on. He generally carried on rescuing damsels in distress, swashbuckling, and otherwise acting like a proper hero of the era should.

I'm not going to tell you that this is great literature, but I think Burroughs managed to get in touch with his inner adolescent boy and channel that in the stories. The women were royal, beautiful and naked, the men were handsome and noble. The bad guys always acted nefarious but never really too evil. You knew the super strong Carter would come through in the end and save Dejah Thoris (his wife and the princess alluded to in the title of the first book). There were always strange new creatures, generally larger sized versions of earth creatures with double the number of limbs, and super science to keep you enthralled. Cliffhangers abounded. The first book alone was begging for a sequel as soon as it was released.

Looking back on those books now, it is clear that they are dated. The formula is repeated with different characters but the same outcome is reached. They are pretty sexist, and one could argue there is some implicit racism as well. Of all the different colored people on Mars (and there are many different colors) only the white man is superman. And perhaps most damning of all, they are very chaste by today's standards. But that may also be part of the charm. Nothing is intentional, they are products of a different time.

So this new movie is coming out, 100 years in the making, and I smile. I know they will sanitize it to fit it more into a modern sensibility. Dejah Thoris will be more than a plot twist. They'll have to show that women are just as capable as men, and they will be very careful with how race is portrayed (of course the white man is still superman, but at least he looks a little goth). And that's okay, because all they really have to keep the same is the high adventure and sense of wonder that these books have given to countless boys and young men. A tall order, but I have faith in the director.

And If it's not very good, there's always the books.
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:36 pm
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Never be the one to bring the dungeon crawl!

Jason Farris
United States
Citrus Heights
California
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I have learned some hard lessons as someone who love dungeon crawl games. The good news is there are plenty of dungeon crawl games and the bad news is that many are competitive. Competition is good right? Cooperative dungeon crawlers suck because the AI is scripted and there is no feeling of a malevolent threat trying to take you down. We all want a human intelligence opposing us and giving us a run for our money, but therein lies the problem.

The first is that someone must play the dungeon and the other players play the heroes. If you are the one who brings the games, odds are you get elected to have the bad guy roll. Maybe you have that perfect group who all love dungeon crawls and all know the rules to them all so you can rotate. Great for you. But if you’re like me, you show up at game night and you never know what you are going to get. Which means you play the more complicated baddies and the players divvy out the easier to understand heroes (because there is only one per person). This is fine occasionally but is annoying wwhen you rarely get to play the hero.

Secondly, everyone wants you to play hard as the baddie but nobody wants you to win. I know you say, “That’s not true, some of my best games were ones we lost.” I think that is a sincere belief that most people have, and I think it’s often not as true as people believe. I’ve had numerous times, in the excitement of the game, Players yelling things like, “Take that,” “Come to papa,” and “That’s how it’s done,” while playing the heroes. I have noticed those very same statements looked on negatively when the villain player says them. And I’m not even talking about extreme versions. Let’s say the party tank wipes out a ton of minions, but one of the minions still manages to finally take him down. The villain players’ exclaims, “Yes!,” and there is silence in the room. It’s an almost unwritten rule that the players can tap dance on the monster’s grave but it is not okay to do it the other way around. Heroes can celebrate victory, but the villain player should be contrite if he/she wins. After all, if the villain player wins then everyone else loses.

I have some theories about why this is. People who really get into a game identify with their hero so it hurts (even if it’s only a little bit) to lose them. I think that it is often not okay in a subliminal way for one player to rejoice at the expense of others but it is okay for the majority to rejoice at the expense of one. How dare the hopes of 4 be dashed by one. Also, I think it messes with narrative, the bad guys are not supposed to win.

Some would say the solution is for the villain player to be more like a “DM.” They are meant to challenge the players but not win. Then why make a competitive game? Why have a win condition? Why not just play D&D?

Personally, I think everyone should be able to be excited without unhappiness from others and everyone should be a good winner. Yet reality seems to fall a little short. It always feels like there is a lot of freedom in being a hero but a lot of unwritten constraint on the bad guy, which strangely enough, is the opposite of real life.

So trust me, unless you have that “right” group, don’t be the one to bring the dungeon crawl.
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Thu Feb 2, 2012 10:47 pm
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