Bad movie night

Mark and I find movies that we know the other would prefer not to see, but we still would like to see them. This movie trial period is called "Bad movie night" Mine usually consist of chick-flicks and Mark's are silly comedies. So after I went riding Friday, Mark was still playing games, so I picked up Shaun of the Dead for Mark and Vanity Fair for me. Saturday morning- in the bright daylight hours, we watched the first, Shaun of the Dead, which is a romantic comedy movie about zombies- has a twist there doesn't it :) Placed in Britain, zombies start taking over- we both loved the actors and were laughing throughout. The only gross part was "zombi gore" for which it received an R rating. Needless to say, some parts were truely gross. But note, this was the best of the three movies we watched Saturday.

Next we watched Vanity Fair- I mainly like these dramas because of the costumes- I am sure that they are horribly uncomfortable, but they look very elegant. We both disliked the main character- not the actress, just the character. We also didn't like her dense friend (pretty easy to figure out since she only has one friend). Overall it was a sad movie and you wonder how anyone could be so dense.

Our final movie was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. We were longing to see this one, but expected more chemistry between the leading man and woman. We thought that the fuzzy picture with comic book-like stylization would have been fun, but it ended up irritating by the end. Perhaps it is hard to act on a blue screen (then entire movie was done in a computer)- but we really think it was the directing (on the up side, Dax was a great character).

Posted by Laura @ 1:26 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Prototypes and Riding Night

On Friday, I went to Brett's and played prototypes of games, something we're trying to do about twice a month. Fridays work well for me as Laura's off riding horses. I found another Madison designer on the Board Game Designer's Forum who's a psych undergrad here at UW, so he came over as well. Todd and Jimi rounded out the group. First we played my Ultra-Violets prototype; there's always one or two more things to tweak before I think it'll be finished, but I'm happy with how it works now. Jerry had some ideas for a word game with blind bidding that worked out well, and Brett's Bonfire was smoking while Todd and Jerry tested out Gene Pool for me. I really like these meetings, as you can only make so much progress on a game by thinking, there needs to be lots of "doing" and playtesting to watch how it works in motion. We'll meet up again next in March.

(Laura) While Mark was play-testing games, I went horse-back riding. I must say that I prefer the warmer weather to the cold when I ride- loosing feeling in my hands and feet makes it a bit hard to perform to the best of my ability. I got to ride Copper again- which I really enjoyed! I have always had trouble with my right ankle- by the end of a lesson it hurts like pins-and-needles. My instructor, Andi, noticed that I was turning my right foot in, putting more weight on my ankle, and by the end of the lesson, my ankle was feeling sore but okay. She said that if you sprain your ankle, it gets weaker and tends to turn into the horse. It was nice to have that bit of knowledge! As for the lesson, we did the serpintine pattern, which is an exagerated snake-like pattern to work on turns and body position. It was fun on Copper, but by the end, we were both a bit tired of snaking in-and-out.

Posted by Mark @ 1:26 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

My New BGG Avatar

It's been almost one year to the day since I first logged in to BoardGameGeek, and this morning, I accumulated enough geek gold for an avatar! Now with all my posts you'll find the friendly face of Despereaux, rushing to save the Princess. And site admin derk noticed and liked our Settlers Pizza image; it's just a BGG day!

Posted by Mark @ 1:44 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Two Cool Things

First, I've been able to add an RSS feed to this site, thanks to some help from Mike Waddell. For a while, I've been using to aggregate all my news sites, and it's really neat to finally have a feed for everyone else to use. The interface is easy to use, no more checking 30 sites a day for news, no sir, it's all at one place.

Second, I borrowed Mike's cuecat and scanned in all the books I own at my office, all 147. It reads the ISBN on the back and saves it to a file, which we can then use with Books for Laura's Mac and make a catalog of all our books. It's great for record-keeping needs, like insurance, or just to have a list of books so we know what we already own and can find a book quickly. Now, it's time to scan the books, CDs and DVDs from home. Technology is amazing.

Posted by Mark @ 5:03 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Last Tuesday Games of February

Our good friend Arman showed up for game night tonight! Arman was a CS grad like us, but graviated to law school after a few years. Since he was first, we pulled out my prototype Gene Pool, for a good 20 minutes of manipulating DNA, and I got some advice about copyright and the rights of designers. Matt showed up in the middle, so he and Laura played a few rounds of Cathedral, a quick area-enclosure game.

Mike and Kathleen came over next, and rather than stretch to a 6 player game, we split into two groups of three. Arman, Laura and Matt played Carcassonne, where Arman did quite well for his first time, while Mike, Kathleen and I played 3-player Ticket to Ride. With only three, it was a much tighter game, as there are no double routes available on the board. So once a route is played, it's gone. We all scrambled to fill the board quickly. I scraped by with an unlikely connection overlap, while Kathleen and Mike blocked and parried in the south-east. In the end, Mike almost won, but missed connecting one city for a loss of 17 points, enough to put me in the lead for victory.

Both games were done about the same time, so we moved on to 5ive Straight. I remember my parents enjoying this game with their friends, but somehow I never remember playing it myself. On a recent trip home, I found they had two copies, so they graciously let me take one back for our game group to try out. Tonight we had 6 and needed a quick closer game, so it was time for the 5ive Straight magic. It was weird to play a themeless game, being so accustomed to medieval settings for our game night regulars.

As we'd just played Ticket to Ride, I noticed a few similarities, as your turn is either draw a new card or play a card and put a peg on the board, and it made explaining the rules that much easier. Our teams sorted out to be Matt and Kathleen, Laura and Arman, and Mike and myself, and we were off. We started playing in the 90s quickly, each of us going for three in a row quickly. But it seems we were spoiled by Attika, where you can sometimes leave the blocking to the last possible player. With partners, it was much easier to make connections, and the game was over after three rounds, with Matt and Kathleen victorious.

There seemed to be more here than what we were playing, so we stepped up our efforts to block and began again. Once again, we were playing for the 90s first, moving toward some low numbers, but we missed some key blocks, giving Laura and Arman the quick win in three rounds this time. Hmmm, this game is harder than we thought, and requires some co-operation!

Not to be defeated so easily, we tried one more game. This time, our blocks came out quickly, sometimes even before there were three pegs in a possible row. The 90s were not as well focused, and the attention turned to the 60s and 70s in the upper-left corner. Each of us made an effort to connect, and the game went about 6 or 7 rounds, but eventually we all ran out of cards, except Laura and Arman. They moved in for the end pegs, Laura playing a low card and Arman following up with the last peg for the win, while we all drew cards and watched.

This is a game that takes some effort to block, and some hand management so you don't run out of cards. It's definitely a classic that we'll be playing again, and not as simple as it seems.

Posted by Mark @ 3:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Snowy Weather Fun

We had a packed weekend meeting with old friends and enjoying the weather. Last night we ate dinner with Ben Fowler and Matt Lavine at LuLu's. The witty humor keeps you on your toes and the food was delicious as always. This morning we ate brunch with Melanie Barton and her boyfriend Sasha. It was wonderful to catch-up with Mel- now that she lives in Washington, D.C. we don't get to talk too often. She is such a wonderful friend, it was good to hear that she is well and to meet her very nice friend!

When we got home, we made the a snowman with the sticky snow covering the ground. Last year we didn't get good sticky snow- so this year we made up for it getting eachother with a couple of well placed snowballs and making a snowman. Since Mark has had more experience (being from West Virgina) with snowy creations, he led the way and we put together a 5'6" snow man with a top hat, corn-cob pipe and cute arms using a snowman kit Nancy got us for Christmas several years ago. It is good to know that we will never be too old to play in the snow!!

As for cooking, I made another batch of frozen rolls to enjoy, cabbage and turkey sausage (our version of bangers and sqweekers), and lastly chicken and garlic with cream of mushroom- the best yet! I also made some biscotti following Julia Child's recipe, but I didn't prefer it to the version we had a Burr and Natalie's.

Posted by Laura @ 10:37 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

A Prototype is Requested

So, for about a year now, I've been designing card games in my spare time, some of which you know about if you read this blog. It's my favorite hobby, and something I wanted to do for a while but didn't know how. After reading some articles at The Games Journal, I found my way over to the Board Game Designers Forum and read so many helpful resources and messages in their archives. I'd come up with designs from everywhere, Laura would suggest themes, and we'd have a blast trying them out and playtesting new suggestions. The feeling is similar to writing a computer program, with all the logic and loops that go into making the rules, but the hardest part is the playtesting, trying to make your game compile and be fun. You can't program in the fun, it has to happen for some other reason, like building tension, interesting decisions, or engaging player interaction.

Last summer, I packed up some games and headed out to Protospiel 2004, a mini-gathering of game designers, and had a fabulous time meeting other like-minded people, giving and receiving feedback on a number of interesting games. A friend who went with me now works for North Star Games, and I made some contacts with other game designers as well. It was very encouraging, so I continued to work on the games, playtesting with friends, making tweaks here and there. I found another game designer here in Madison, so we're getting together every two weeks and playtesting some games and trying to design new ones.

One game has stood out, getting requested over the others, with a few people wanting to buy the game from me right after playtesting. So, I started investigating how one gets a game published these days. The first step is to find a company which produces similar games and is looking for submissions. You email then with a short description, and if they like what they see, they'll ask some questions or request the rules. If they're still interested, they'll request a prototype so they can play the game themselves. It's a publisher's market, and they receive many, many more game submissions than they could ever hope to publish, so it's always a long-shot to get noticed.

All this to say, I've achived my goal of having a game worthy of being reviewed by a big-name company. They said it sounds "somewhat interesting," so I'm sending a prototype this weekend, and then hope to hear back from them within a month or so about their decision. Either way, having them just take a look at it is an amazing feeling, given that they probably recieve 100 submissions a year and only look at a few. Thanks, unnammed board-game company, you made my day.

Posted by Mark @ 11:08 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

Cookies & scary stories

For the last two years, around Valentines day, Burr and Natalie host a cookie making party. Last year we made stained glass cookies and decorated sugar cookies, but this year we each got to make a unique recipe for sweets of our own. Burr made orange peel cookies, Matt Lavine made sugar cookies, someone else made chocolaty bars and surprise bars. Mark and I scoured the books and made mint chocolate chip biscotti- I was really impressed with the recipe and look forward to recreating it in the near future.

When we got home, we watched our recorded LOST and were pleased to learn more about Saywer's sordid past (I particularly enjoyed watching the hobbit husk a coconut :) ) and Alias where Syd and her sister were working together (although it was a bit annoying that Sydney kept putting Salone down). As we went to sleep much later than usual, we were happy about our full and exciting day!

Posted by Laura @ 8:31 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

Riding the Rails to San Juan

Yesterday was Valentine's day (although we exchanged gifts a little early this year). Laura picked out the third Harry Potter movie for me, and I ordered another mushroom log for her. This year it was Laura's turn to plan our evening, so she cooked up some fabulous Chicken Parmesean with a side of mushrooms. The recipe was from Best Recipe, one of our favorite cookbooks, and as always, turned out amazing! We settled in for an evening of watching Harry's adventures at Hogwarts. This really is the best movie of the series, there was so much going on in the background, the acting was much more mature, and the visual feel of the movie was great; I especially liked the shots that took you through windows.

Tonight it was a Tuesday Games night. It took a while for everyone to arrive, so Laura and I played Gobblet four times in quick succession. Laura was in fine form, winning the first three games. I still have no idea how to play this game, Laura sees something I don't and is very good at responding to threats and putting me on the defensive for the whole game. Ad it takes about 5 minutes per game, which is a great filler while you wait.

Matt, Kathleen and Burr showed up all at once, so we pulled out one of our current favorites Ticket to Ride. This was Burr's first time playing, so we explained that it was going to be the most tense game he'd ever played, and the first half hour we wouldn't talk much, as we're so nervous about making our tickets, which turned out to be true more or less. The eastern seaboard crowded up very quickly, and I was almost cut off from having any transcontinental connection. The board became very dense, with much unintentional blocking (we still haven't given in to the dark side of blocking yet, but I know that day is coming...) and people started grabbing more tickets. I stuck with my initial two, Portland to Boston, and Montreal to Seattle, barely finishing them before the last round. Kathleen had the longest route and many more tickets, and sailed into the win with 120 points, ending the group anxiety-attack at last.

With Laura off to work and study for her class, Burr, Kathleen, Matt and I played San Juan. Laura and I have played this as a two-player game to much success, so it was interesting to see how it would work with larger numbers of players. Burr and Matt had played Puerto Rico before, so they had some intuition of how the game worked, but it was Kathleen's first role-selection game besides Citadels, and it works so differently in that game anyway. In this game, the councillor and prospector were called into play much more frequently as a way to get new cards, instead of the produce and trade method I was used to. We each got a bonus in either production or trading, and Matt and Burr built the Library for double privliges, with Kathleen going for monuments. It was a very close game at the end, all of us above 30 points, and in the end, Burr was successful with triumphal arch and two monuments to put him over the top. A relatively quick game with a deep feeling as you play, I'm more inclined to play this than Puerto Rico because of setup, and the neat trick where everything in the game is a card. See you next week.

Posted by Mark @ 11:39 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Flank Steak Delight!

(Enter Laura) This week we tried a new recipe from our new magazine subscription to Cuisine At Home. I really got hooked on the first trial issue Cuisine sent us. Now these are not "healthy" recipes but they sure taste wonderful! Our first meal was Argentinian Flank Steak- it was amazing with Fontina cheese, grape tomatoes and steak- Mark said that this was definately his favorite meal (even toping his spegetti and chicken parmasan recipe- I never thought that would happen). To add to our creation, we had pan baked garlic potatoes- they were so much better than french fries (and I like to think healthier). Mark also cooked a lovely pork stir-fry- this time we used half of the cabbage and were very happy with our creation! To top these meals off, I froze some dinner rolls (an idea from Mike and Yolanda's dinner party) that we ate all week long. It was easier than I thought 1. make a recipe of milk bread (my fav) and let rise once 2. push down the dough and divide into golf ball sized pieces, putting them in a zipper freezer bags and into the freezer. To use- 1. just remove the number you need and put them on a plate and microwave on high for 30-45 seconds 2. let rise for 20-30 minutes then pop in the toaster oven at 400 for 15 minutes- enjoy!

(Back to Mark) This weekend, I finished making a piecepack set. A piecepack is like a deck of cards, but for board games; there are four suits, each a different color, which have tiles, pawns, coins and dice with them. There are about 150 games so far up at the piecepack website and the piecepack wiki that we'll now be able to play. It's also a ready and willing source of playtesters if I design any games for this system. Right now, I'm working on translating a solitare puzzle called Cell Management to use the piecepack and hope to have some more designs soon. If you playtest it, please let me know how it goes, thanks!

Posted by Mark @ 10:38 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Second Playfest and Horse-riding Adventures

Last Friday, Brett, Julie and Jimi, Clyde and Todd came over to playtest games, in our second playfest session. We're going to have to get a name and make these a regular thing, as it's very helpful and the people are really cool. We first played Ultra-violets, Brett went for being the Club President all the time, which worked too well. He brought out the pests for all the other players and hindered what they could do while constantly buying back his high-valued plant. It was good to test out the pests, as no one had gone for that strategy yet, and it needs to be changed. Either make the pests weaker, or change up the play order, I think those might work. We then played Brett's two-player bonfire game again, it's getting better each time, while Jimi and Clyde played Gene Pool. We finished up the evening with some games from Protospielers, Metamemes, a brainstorming game where you use word cards to inspire new ideas then vote on the best, and Why did the Chicken?, a game where you complete riddles to make everyone laugh. Our best ideas for Metamemes turned out to be a first-person Doom-like full-size pinball game and a Tamagochi Civilization, and you can read my session report for WdtC on the geek.

(Enter Laura) Last Friday I continued with my horseriding lessons. It is still a thrill to go to the hoofers stables. I love the smell and the sounds of all the stabled horses. This time started riding Shadow- a rather slow little paint with a round tummy. But half way through the lesson I switched to Copper- a perky chestnut. There were lots of people working their horses in the arena so it was really difficult to direct any horse around collision free. While Shadow could care less about any other horse- Copper hates other horses. Therefore, the end of the lesson was a bit tense as my muscles got progressively tired and Copper more and more irritated with the other horses. But I did enjoy riding Copper much more than Shadow- hopefully we will ride together again!

Posted by Mark @ 10:36 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Munchkin Gaming

Following tradition, today we made doughnuts. As we were out of sour cream, we turned to the Joy of Cooking for a recipe for Milk Doughnuts, and they turned out tasting great! We'll have to add this recipe to the list, as we need to keep making it in future years. We ended up with about 30 doughnuts, which was perfect food for game night!

Matt showed up first, so we told a long story, convoluted story beginning with Once upon a Time, there was a younger brother banished to the dungeon, who escaped via a talking bird and found his lost sister, turned into a monster, but was restored once the ring was returned to the King. Our stories are getting weirder each time; I seriously need to practice my continuity skills. Then, it was on to Zendo for some brain-crunching Inductive logic. Adam and Priscilla joined us, and we kept to using the provided cards, so that our rules didn't get out of hand. Everyone puzzled for a while over the meaning of the sculptures, until the lightbulbs hit. Each of us had the opportunity to win once and become the Zendo master.

Burr and Natalie joined us in the middle of Zendo, so by then we were up to 8 people, and it was time to split into groups. Rarely do we get this many people, even with 16 people on the weekly mailing list. Burr suggested Munchkin, one of his favorites and one I hadn't tried yet. All but Laura and Natalie were up for some dungeon exploration, opting instead for some two-player games of Cathedral, Gobblet, Yinsh, Checkers and Perudo. Munchkin is a game related to Dungeons & Dragons, which none of us had played, but found the cards entertaining none the less. We all were trying to be the first to achieve 8 levels, through killing monsters and selling found loot. There was a lot of interaction, as you can either help someone kill their monsters, or try to make the monsters very strong and cause damage to the other players. The game was interesting in the middle, should I help or hurt, but at the end, the only real option was to hurt the player just about to win the game, in the hope that they'll be defeated, and you can survive when it's your turn. I'm sure I'll play again, and things will go faster next time around, if only there was a way to fix the "bash the leader" syndrome.

Posted by Mark @ 11:32 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Saturday Games and Philipino Travels

Today was the first Saturday of the month, making it a Madison Board Gamers' all-day gaming event. Laura and I are going to dinner later at Mike and Yolanda's, but I had time for a few games this afternoon. Our first game was The Penguin Ultimatum, which I taught to Brett, Mike (different Mike) and Sky. Mike made some high-scoring moves, while Brett and Sky concentrated on having a little influence everywhere, while I tried to come in last and claim the performers, which in the end made the difference in this close game. I enjoyed it more this time than I had in the past, perhaps it grows on me the more I play it.

Next, we played my prototype Ultra-Violets, joined by Blake as Sky went off to other games. Blake picked this up quickly, while Mike was having a hard time, mostly due to my poor explanations of the card distributions per deck (next time, show one whole deck when explaining the game...) I've found it's a hard game to explain, since all the parts are interconnected and there's no real good place to start, else you're always asking "Why do we need this?" The mechanics seemed to work well, no one went for the "all president, cause the pests" strategy, and it took about eight rounds, which is what I was hoping for. Blake made a killing with Red Doubles, finishing around 80 points, with Brett close behind, while Mike and I lagged behind, with poor timing of buying the grow lights influincing our scores the most. We then played a prototype of Brett's involving Bears and poop, which was very abstract and has promise.

It was time for dinner, so Laura and I headed over to Mike and Yolanda's, joined by Kristin and Roger. The theme for the evening was the Philipines, Yolanda's family lineage, so the food was prepared as close as possible while accounting for all our allergies. We found the Philipines on the map, and ate Adobo Chicken, green beans, dinner rolls and two types of fruit salad, with a wonderful sherbert punch to drink, all very tasty and keeping us coming back for seconds.

Mike nominated us to bring some entertainment, so we pulled out a few games that worked well with 6 players. First up was King Me, which worked much better with 6 than before with 3. After a quick overview of the rules, it was a tense game whenever a noble was up for vote. The first round, we voted almost everyone off the board before a King was chosen. Luckily my secret nobles were at the bottom of the pile this time, so I scored some points. Next round, everyone decided to try and put their favorites at the bottom, and the 4th level was almost empty. We were a little more judicious in our vetos, so a King was chosen about mid-game, so many people were able to score. The final round was a quick one, with a King chosen after the fourth nomination. We'll pull this one out as a closer more often than an opener, since it seems to work better with more people.

Our next game was Once Upon a Time, where we told the story of a married, cursed woman being married (again) to a King, going on vacation, being stolen by a Giant, killing the Giant then returning home to an usurper, who relented the throne once the King gave up his wife to her original husband. Roger was quite the story-teller, keeping us in awe that we all forgot to interrupt him and just let him finish the story for the win.

We finished the night with Carcassonne, using the Inns and Cathedral expansion tiles but not their extra abilities, making the game much simpler. Everyone scattered trying to make castles and road, while the farmer competition became fierce between Laura and Roger. They ended up with a tie after everything was tallied. Mike and Yolanda generously gave us more rolls and Adobo chicken, and we headed back home.

Posted by Mark @ 11:27 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

German Game Gamut

We're back to Tuesdays for game night, and it was one of the most popular for a while, with 7 people in all here throughout the night. Mike showed up first, so he and Laura played a game of Tom Tube. There were some misunderstood rules, but things went smoothly after a while, with rhombi being played, energy cubes being placed, and astronauts being slid. Much of the game seems to be up-front, in the maze-building part, and deciding when to start floating. Meanwhile, Kathleen showed up, and I demoed my prototype Gene Pool for her. Removing the random gene draw and having a choice for difficulty has really helped things, as it was too random before. Now only the sequence is random, as well as what cards you draw, the rest of the game is planning and thinking how to make your gene, which I like much better. I submitted an overview to a company, and now am waiting to hear if they want the prototype to test.

Matt and then Natalie showed up in quick succession, and Laura had to do some coding for work, so the rest of us put on our train conductor hats and played Ticket To Ride. It was Natalie's first time, giving us a good opportunity to review the rules, and then we were off. Kathleen, Mike and I played track in the first round, making a quick claim on some important routes, signaling a tense game and congested board. There was no intentional blocking although opportunities arose we could have exploited but chose to keep the game friendly this time (although unintentional blocking is par for the course). We all lost track of our score about mid-game, and Matt accidentally shuffled his cards back into the deck once (karma of not blocking came back to get him). By the end, the board was full, and Matt ended the game before the rest of us could finish our last ticket, giving him the win by two points over Kathleen.

Burr showed up right as we ended, fresh off his first FAWM recording, and since Mike and Kathleen were heading out, we opted for a quiet four person game of Samurai, bringing Burr and Natalie up to speed with the rules. Understanding the tiles and surrounding rules are straightforward, only the end-game win conditions are tricky to see the first time around. But straightforward rules do not make for straightforward decisions, as each of us continually scrunched our foreheads trying to see what moves would be good. Another very tense game, where you want to do so much more than you're allowed. It's a game where you have to pick your battles, and we're learning that playing high tiles early is not always the best move, as the other players are reluctant to help you surround cities where they receive no benefit, and you are left doing all the work for your pieces.

Posted by Mark @ 11:56 PM CDT [Permanent URL]