Who Killed the Merchant This Time?

Only one published game tonight. With Matt, Kathleen and Mike, it was time for the return of Citadels. It's one of Matt's favorites, but Laura always seems to eek out the win, and tonight was no different. Matt hung around for a quick playtest of Schism with the revamped rules. It worked better than I thought, but it still has some problems, of trying to visualize all the different positions and the balance inherent in the cards. Like my other games, it's a work in progress still.

Posted by Mark @ 11:21 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 2005

Following Matt Anderson's traditional sushi on Easter eve, Burr invited everyone to sushEaster last night at Ginza of Tokyo. We started out with delicious edamame and some tampura (sliced potato, sweet potato, shrimp, carrot, broccoli, onion, zuccini dipped in a thin batter and fried) with miso soup. While I am not adventurous enough to try the "raw" dishes, Mark and I enjoyed Philidelphia rolls (smoked salmon and cream cheese), New York rolls (shrimp and avacado), California rolls (cucumber and avacado), Unagi (eel- that was a push for me, but it really is delicious- sweet with a smoky sauce), and shrimp sushimi (shrimp on a egg of rice). Everything was cooked (the smoke "cooked" the salmon) and nothing had a "fishy" taste. For desert we all got some ice cream- Mark, Natalie, Burr and I got tampura ice cream (fried ice cream) with a lovely strawberry sauce on top while Sarah got a heaping bowl of green tea ice cream.

After sushi, we headed over to Natalie and Burr's while Sarah headed out for another hot spot. We watched some old (1960) episodes of Bullwinkle- all amazed with the changes in technology and groning at the jokes we use to think were so funny :) We also talked about traveling, Burr and Natalie had spent 5 weeks in Europe and have learned many great tips and suggestions. I need to remember to get a travel towl from REI and the "lonely planet" travel book.

What a lovely night to spend with friends and a wonderful way to spend Easter Eve.

Posted by Laura @ 9:29 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2005
Cheese, Bridges & Horses

This is spring break, and I have spent most of it reading my sci fi series by Kate Forsyth while Mark has been making good progress on his paper. Today we decided it was time for a trip- our first stop: a local cheese factory. The Cedar Grove Cheese Co. has a six man operation- that is six certified cheese makers. Mark and I have made cheese at home using natural acids (like lemon juice) to curdle the cheese. On our tour we saw a machine to heat up the milk enough to kill any bacteria and then cools it back down before returning the pastrerized milk. Next were the large vats heated on the sides and bottom with steam. The cheese makers were just starting to cut the pudding like cheese with knives to evenly cut the curd. Next large spatula-like paddles were placed in the vats to stir the curd. We also got to see a vat in the final stages of seperating the whey from the curds, the workers pushed the curds to either side of the vat to "squeeze" out as much whey as possible.

All that extra whey (only 1/10th of the originial milk is used as cheese) is drained off into large tubs inside a greenhouse. These tubs contain hungry bacteria eager to eat all of the solids. Having put together a pond with my dad, I was very impressed with their effecient setup. It takes three days of rotating through three different tanks to produce clean water. I was surprised that more plants weren't used in teh cleaning process- I remember a tour at a human waste treatment facility, and water hyacinths were used to purify the water as it settles in large holding ponds. At Cedar Grove, the "sludge" is placed out on surrounding farmlands to enrich the soil. A really amazing process. Without this setup, the cheese factory would have to store their waste in holding tanks and have the waste water picked up weakly.

After picking up some sharp cheddar and calmer colby, we headed up the road for Natural Bridge State Park. Just a short walk took us to the Natrual Bridge carved out of sandstone with a roomy cave underneath. All the striking formations we see along the highway are also made of this stronger sandstone! As we walked around we saw many signs with information about herbs and their uses- I can't wait to come back when the plants are green and map them in memory. After a tuna fish sandwich picnic we headed home along the scenic back roads.

After a fun morning in the country I headed out to horseriding. Today I got to ride Queenie- a lovely flea bitten gray with a wonderful temperment. While she was a bit bouncy, she responded wonderfully to leg pressure and we had a great time!

Posted by Laura @ 5:34 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Return to Catan

Early bird Matt arrived first tonight, so we broke out our latest quick, small number of players game, Clocktowers. You're building towers, but they have to be built in a certain order: stories, clocks, then roof. And then there's mice and cats to avoid being in your towers, and restrictions on the height based on color, and the game quickly becomes a tight hand-management game where you never have all the cards you want or need. There's more here than meets the eye.

Burr showed up next, followed quickly by Mike and Kathleen. Not sure if there would be others, we popped open King Me, a quick game of setting up nobles for succession to the thrown, only to be vetoed by the other player. It's lively with 6, and it helps to count the No votes each person has left, to know if you can get away with another round or not. With no-one else showing up, we settled down for a large 6 person game of Settlers of Catan. We played with a balanced setup, and everyone got off to a good start, after the pre-build complication was cleared up in the first round. Soldiers started drumming, cities were erected, and the longest road war began. When the dust finally cleared, Kathleen emerged victorious, with the rest of us close on her heels.

Posted by Mark @ 5:12 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

FRIDAY, MARCH 19, 2005
Survival of the fittest

Yet another fun movie night- I rented three, one for each of us and one that I thought that we would both like. The first was Flight of the Phoenix- rather interesting if unbelievable that taking one plane a person could redesign and build a new, smaller, working plane and fly to freedom... I was hoping to learn some desert survival skills, but all I learned was that you shouldn't trust roving bands of bandits- I hope I knew that one already.

The second movie was for me- Cellular- again hitting the survival theme I was laughing and shocked all through the movie. It was nice to have a strong female character- and makes me rethink about some of the high school science skills I learned showing me that some of it was actually useful. While I still find it hard to believe that anyone could reconnect a phone without detailed knowledge about phone construction, I really enjoyed the realism and story!

We were really bummed out about Napolean Dynamite- this one was for Mark and we had high hopes- but it was hard to watch how weird some high school kids are- maybe I missed this stage- We had thought the show would be similar to "Freaks and Geeks" which we both enjoyed about the horrors of high school we all would like to forget... but this one was just no fun.

Posted by Laura @ 5:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 2005
Usonian games

Our friday playtest group has grown to over 5 people, so Brett and I thought it was a good time to name the group and get properly organized. We set up a Yahoo group under the name Usonian Games, applying Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian ideas of modest designs for everyday people to our game designs. Our inagural meeting was at the Red Gym on campus. We were joined by Todd, Cam and Jayson from the Madison Board Gamers, Jerry and friends, and John and JonMichael, who just had their game Cineplexity picked up by Out of the Box Publishing.

We tested out Cineplexity first, then moved to two groups, one working on Jerry's word game, and the other playtesting some of my designs, Ultra-Violets and Schism. It was a blind-playtest for UV, and it showed some warts in the rules that I need to get fixed before sending it off, but the streamlining has helped and it could use a little more to make everything connect. Schism didn't fare so well, bogging down and chaning rules a few times through the testing, but I think I have some ideas of where to go next, might be a complete overhaul of the system. Todd pulled out his Good/Evil card game for a round and it was good, I look forward to playing a whole game. We then looked at John and JonMichael's newest game Push, rolling dice and having fun, and wrapped up with some two-player games from Jayson, Brett and myself. A very successful evening with lots of game types hitting the table, I hope we make it a monthly tradition.

Posted by Mark @ 5:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

We can see you now!

My parents just got DSL- we have had DSL since we moved into our current complex and I have been oooing and ahhing about the wonders and delights of DSL. To celebrate, Mark and I got a web camera and set up yahoo messenger so we could see my parents- It seems like forever since we last saw them when they visited us at New Year's Eve. Around 11pm my dad got thier web cam working too and we were talking with full picture. For anyone with a highspeed connection, I recommend trying out a web cam! Hopefully about once a week we will be able to talk with the camera- the set up time does not take long, but sometimes you don't want to be glued to one spot in the house.

Posted by Laura @ 10:27 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Texas Hold'em Poker Night

For a month or so now, ever since Matt got cable, he's been enamored with the idea of having a Texas Hold'em Poker night for game night, and tonight was the night! We all headed over to Matt's apartment for the change of venue and some high-stakes bluffing action. Kathleen and Mike brought some high-quality clay poker chips, and Burr, Natalie, Laura and Matt rounded out the marks, I mean players. We each took some starting chips and let the cards fly.

We all took some time remembering the hand rankings and the details of Texas Hold'em, but Kathleen, the on-line poker pro, was glad to help us out. You each get two cards, and then five cards are played in the middle of the table, with betting in-between the cards being laid down. It cuts down on the luck of normal poker and makes the hands much higher and closer. Each of us had our ups and downs, with Matt, Burr and myself in one tense bidding match, where Matt whipped out his hand of 4 jacks to crush us both. We ended the evening with an "all-in" round, which Laura won, and hope to play again sometime soon.

Posted by Mark @ 11:28 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

SUNDAY, MARCH 13, 2005
Sa Bai Thong celebrations

I just found out that I will have a summer job!! Yeah!! I will be teaching cs354 (for those not affiliated with University of Wisconsin-Madison it is a machine programming job). It feels like ages since I taught last- other than class presentations; the last time I taught was last summer- so it has been ages. I have high hopes to make some more adjustments to class projects and lesson plans- even though this will be the fourth time I have taught the course, I don't want to get stagnant.

To celebrate, Mark and I went out to my favorite Madison restaurant- Sa Bai Thong- I had my usual #57 with delicious straw mushrooms, hard tofu and veggies while Mark tried a new and wonderful dish- a red squash curry- his new favorite (and almost mine). We eagerly put down butternut squash on our seed list in the hopes of recreating the dish this summer with our wonderful garden produce!!

Posted by Laura @ 10:31 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Farmer's Market and L'Etoiles Croisants

This morning we met Kelly Sorensen and her son Nathan at the Winter Farmer's market. Mark and I had never been and were impressed with all of the people and wares. When we got there, there was a man playing the harp, the breakfast cafe was open and brimming over with people. Although this was the winter market, there was lettuce and spinach including the more traditional winter fare frozen meat, jams, honey, potatoes and eggs. We picked up some Yukon gold potatoes for Easter dinner, 1/2 a dozen eggs for our Easter cake, spinach and some lovely buckwheat honey.

Afterwards we all headed over to L'Etoile's for yummy croissants. Mark enjoyed a salmon pastry while I eagerly ate and herbed-chevre. L'Etoile's has changed a bit since the last time we were here (about a year ago) and it was very nice to not have to deal with the usual farmer's market crowd of summer- we actually found a place to sit down!

Posted by Laura @ 3:38 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Island Game night

Different night, rescheduled because of the Chamber Singer concert, and same regulars for gaming. Matt showed up first, and we played our newest puchase, Clocktowers. It's a deceptively simple game from Alan Moon, building towers in a certain order and color, and trying to keep cats and mice out. There's a lot of sacrificing of points just to get some towers built, and player interaction is subtly present in the way you watch what everyone else is building. It seems like you never want one of the top cards, always the next one, but you have to take something each turn. It's quick and fun, perfect for 2 or 3 people to get things going.

Kathleen came in next, so we broke out a four-person game of Trias. Dinos were being dumped quickly, and we scattered Pangea into a few continents as we fought over control. It's so hard to not eat the dino meeples, they look just like Flinstone's vitamins, and the meteor always seems to come one turn to quickly.

Our final island game was Samurai, which once again followed the "stay close to your side of the board" mentality. I went for Kyoto, but didn't get much else, while I look forward to using my swap tile each game, I forget there's three other players who can also make a swap to foil my plans. All three games were tense competitions, and a bit of quiet fun for the evening.

Posted by Mark @ 10:30 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Chamber Singers in Madison

Tonight brought back memories from College, good and bad. My old college choir, the Kenyon College Chamber Singers, were in town tonight at a local church. Every year for spring break, the choir travels around the country for a week, giving concerts each evening. It was fun being in choir, I really enjoyed learning all the music and the choir sounded great, but also stressful, staying in a new location every night, being crowded on the bus, standing for two hours every night. Laura had heard the choir before when we went back for a Kenyon reunion, but this time the 2005 choir sang some of the songs from my years, Bach's Singet Dem Hern, Mata de Anima Sola, and others. We sat next to alum Matt Lavine, and enjoyed the concert; I was tapping my feet along with the music, and realized the notes for Bach were still etched in my brain from those 7 years ago. We met a few more alumni, and picked up a CD of the latest tour. It was good to see the directory Ben and his wife Kay again, they made the choir atmosphere very fun and inviting, and always kept up their spirits. We'll be on the lookout for tour dates next year!

Posted by Mark @ 10:32 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Rosetta Stone Super Heroes and Pavlovian Dog Jeopardy

It's a Tuesday, time for board games. We have a mailing list of about 16 people now, but only 5 or 6 show up, some I've never seen but keep inviting, maybe they'll get the board game bug someday if I keep asking them about it. Laura and I started off playing Once Upon a Time. While the story doesn't stick in my head, we had a good time changing the roles of characters based on our cards and whimsy.

Matt showed up first, so we broke out Metamemes. I met the designer at Protospiel last year, and the game is an "early adoption" release, so we're sort of doing playtesting, but not really. It always takes a while to get started, cranking up the brain with creative ideas, since the best ideas are ones that bounce of other ideas. Our second game, when Burr showed up, went more smoothly. The best ideas for the evening were the Rosetta Stone Super Heroes, defending the world from an outbreak of Babel; no one can understand other languages unless the three super heroes combine, and the Pavlovian Dog Jeopardy, where contestants answer questions, but unfortunately salivate whenever they hear the buzzer. All of which are new upcoming shows on the All-Kids All-The-Time network we imagined up and was the running joke of the evening.

With four of us, we broke out the main course for the evening, Alhambra. It was much less chaotic than the last time we played, fewer players means more planning and a better chance of getting what you want. It was also a closer game, with good competition for high-scoring Gemachers and Turms (we have the german version, mostly language independent...). I keep liking this game for the tough choices you need to make, similar to Ticket to Ride, but a little less stressful.

We ended with two rounds of Geschenckt, a quick game about giving other players negative points. Very simple, but the choices can be hard, should I take the card now or let it go around again? I'm sure we'll bring this one out again, and maybe even replace our home-made card with the actual game someday.

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