Die Wichtelmänner

The Board Game Designers Forum is sponsoring monthly design challenges, to give your creative design juices a workout. The format is they give you a Theme, Genre and a few Mechanics restrictions and you come up with a sketch of a design in a week. They're posted anonymously and then for one week you vote for the best. This month, Brett (from Usonian Games) and I came up with Die Wichtelmänner, a game based on the Grimm fairy tale "The Shoemaker and the Elves." Voting ended today, and we tied for second! Yay! It was fun even if we didn't score highly, it's nice to have a new design to work on a tweak, and collaboarting with another designer was fun. Check it out (we're entry #9) and let me know what you think!

Posted by Mark @ 8:04 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Exploding the Volcano

Upon reading about the decision not to reprint Zendo over and, we headed over to Pegasus and picked up a few more stashes of pyramids. Now with six colors, we should be able to play almost all of the games designed for the system. As tonight is game night, we pulled out all the pyramids and set up Volcano. It's an abstract game but with a theme that seems to fit, as you're popping off tops of pyramid stacks like volcanoes and moving the rest around like lava in the hopes to capture sets of pyramids you need to score. Matt, Kathleen and Keith joined us for this one, and even though I taught a rule wrong, we had fun; there aren't too many abstracts that work for more than 2 players.

Matt noticed Space Walk, one of our thrift-store finds on the shelf, and since it's a quick one we brought it out next. People must think I want to be an astronaut, with all the constellation and space games I have. Space Walk is a variant of Mancala with a twist where you want to put other people's color in the black holes instead of your own. The setup of the board was most of the game, and then it quickly turns a vicious matter of bumping people into black holes whenever you can and trying to save your ships in the process. Suprizingly, it's another no-luck abstract that works for multiple players.

Our final game of the night was Foil, a word game Keith used to play with his Dad growing up. The main object was to draw letter cards until you can make words. Then, you jumbled your letters up and people had to guess what words you were making. As they get points for being correct, it is helpful to make words that have anagrams as to confuse them. It had a nice incentive to make longer words, as they score more points and are harder for others to guess, all in all a nice end to the game night.

Posted by Mark @ 7:45 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2005
Mexican Week Redux

Sometimes I get such a craving for Mexican food- this week was one of those times. We started out the week with amazing enchiladas- modified from the usual corn tortilla version to contain flour tortillas which both Mark and I prefer. Inside the tortilla's we put shreaded chicken and on top we put a flavorful tomato sauce. While I am not an enchilada fan, this was a dish that I could eat over and over again.

What would Mexican week be without Fajitas. We found a season packet from Old El Paso that we really enjoy. Adding a bit of chicken, bell peppers and vine-ripened tomatoes and we had a dish to remember. In between the previously mentioned two lovely dishes we had beans. Beans are an amazingly flexible dish you can have plain, mashed with chips, and on top of rice with cheese- an infinate number of possibilites. My fav is the Texas ranch style beans- can't beat 'em.

Posted by Laura @ 7:44 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

SUNDAY, APRIL 24, 2005
Grass is our Enemy

This morning I worked in the garden. Now that it is getting warmer- the morning time is the only realistic time to work in the garden without getting exhausted by the heat. While I like to think of myself as a very flexible individual when it comes to accepting "wild" plants in our garden, I seriously dislike grass.

If we could live off of grass, we would be set for life- nothing seems to deter the stuff from growing where you don't want it to grow. At Eagle Heights, some paths get redone every year due to weather and other natural or human calamities. Two years ago, part of the path in front of our garden was destroyed by a combination of lots of rain and a larger mower. After the path was fixed, they seeded with fescue- that cute grass they put on golf courses.

Now we have quack grass- which tends to grow runner everywhere you don't want it to grow and the bunch grass fescue. Well I have given up on trying to tame the grass and we have a grassy entrance to our plot- but I am not done yet!

Posted by Laura @ 7:43 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

FRIDAY, APRIL 22, 2005
Robot Tennis

Riding today went well, but I was really tired by the end of the lesson. I rode Copper, a skinny copper colored gelding, and he was a bit feisty. Personally I like the slow leisurely trot where you can sit the saddle (and won't have a sore bottom the next day), but Copper was having none of that. Thank goodness for posting, we had a fast-paced trot the entire lesson- I did get lots of practice passing other horses and doing circles to slow him down some :)

After I got home, we relaxed with a couple of movies. The first was Robot Stories. Another good Mark pick. The movie consisted of three short stories, each really interesting with that "what if" science fiction aspect. One note, I really don't recommend watching the "special features" short- I was about sick at the end of it. The second movie was Wimbleton (a Laura pick). If you are in for a light romantic comedy- this fits the bill, I was rolling with laughter and tears throughout.

Posted by Laura @ 7:42 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Long days

Today I have been up since 4:30am. I am not a masochistic person by nature, this morning I had to do rounds at the UW hospital with the residents and attendings. Now you are thinking- did she switch to med school and not tell us- the answer is no. For my Industrial Engineering Program Evaluation course I am mapping out the different tasks associated with getting patients out of the hospital (or patient discharge process). I have learned several things about hospitals, visiting with the staff-

1. You can not work at a hospital unless you can multi-task. I am shocked to learn all that the staff has to do and all of the small considerations that need to be taken into account for each patient.

2. The nurses know a large amount of information, so ask them your questions (they tend to have a better manner than some of the doctors or soon-to-be doctors). I may be a bit bitter here since my residents were rather whinny (it was early, but still), but it never hurts to ask for more information.

I have definitely earned a greater respect for the tasks of a hospital and all of the irritating paperwork that has to be done.

After having meetings back-to-back most of the day, I was looking forward to shrimp scampi by Chef Mark. Yesterday we bought some shrimp by the side of the road- that sounds rather scary, but there is a shrimp truck that comes periodically throughout the year and sells Galveston, TX shrimp next to Steve's Liquors on University Ave. The long lines of people always at the truck convinced us to give it a go- and we are glad we did! They were delicious!! We feasted on 2 wonderful pounds of shrimp tonight- clean and fresh tasting! Tomorrow it is salmon and fresh garden asparagus!! This is a seafood-special week!

Posted by Laura @ 9:00 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

games & Sports

Yesterday, we managed to get in two sports, Tennis and Quidditch. Quidditch? Laura had bought me the EA Games computer version of Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup, and as I'd just reformatted the hard-drive and picked up a sound card, we could finally fire it up. It was set up very well, giving you hints and training lessons for all the actions you need to do, and even has a built-in collectable card element, so that the more cards and feats you perform, the more parts of the game are unlocked (Still have yet to unlock the Bulgarian team.) We had a tense battle of dodging, tackling and scoring, until the final spotting of the Golden Snitch, which we raced for and Laura beat me handily. We look forward to playing again soon. Also yesterday afternoon we headed next door to the tennis courts and played a quick game; now that the weather is getting a little warmer, it will be something to do and get outside this summer, along with golf, as Laura's taking a golf class this semester and picking things up quite well.

As for games tonight, it was the first of our game nights since last July without Matt Lavine. He's been our most regular participant and we missed him and his witty commentary. Laura and I started out with Pig, a game of taking chances on bigger rewards. You roll a die, and you add the number rolled to your previous points. Now you can either stop and take your points, or continue to roll, but if you roll a 6, all point earned on this turn are lost and your turn is over; not too complicated, but fun for a five minute game. Then we pulled out Gobblet, where Laura once again showed me it's not as simple as I might think. By then, Kathleen, Burr and Natalie had shown up, so we moved to multi-player games. We enjoyed Sternenhimmel (Stary Night) last week, and since Burr and Natalie missed out on that playing, we pulled it out again, filling up constellations with influence. Kathleen headed home, and we wrapped up the night with a quick deduction game of Coda.

Posted by Mark @ 8:58 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

SUNDAY, APRIL 17, 2005
Flick review

It has been a while since we rented movies, which means that the movie rental store has everything that we have wanted to see on the shelves. The first movie we watched was Finding Neverland. I have always been a fan of Peter Pan- the tape of this children's story use to put me to sleep when I was a kid. It was nice to find out how the story came about and to learn about its inspiration. While I cried for the last 30 minutes, it was a funny, but often sad movie.

We also watched Final Cut. I refuse to watch the prior movie by Robin Williams (One-hour-photo)- I really like him as a comedian. But we tried the darker Final Cut. It was interesting to think about consequences of recording and displaying memories, but Mark didn't think it was very "deep."

My movie was First Daughter- this was a romantic comedy. I think it is best to watch this lighter movies without much of the plot known- since there was only one real "shocker" in the movie, you would lose all of the fun if you knew too much. Anyways, I liked it- a nice emotional rollercoaster.

Posted by Laura @ 8:55 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2005
Prototypes & Lounging

(Mark Begins) It's been hard to get people together for playtesting with the semester wrapping up, so tonight it was just Brett and myself playing and designing some games. We met in a CS room, quick and easy to get a reservation, and started off thinking about ideas for the design challenge on the "Little People." The game seems to have some promise, so we'll submit it an see how things go. Next up we played Schism, found a number of problems and gave me some food for thought on future revisions. It's neat to see a design change from its initial play to one that actually works; Schism would be nowhere without this playtesting experience. Finally, I'd brought Clocktowers, since one of Brett's favorite games is Capitol, and this is its little brother. I like this two-player game, the decisions are tough but the game only goes about 20 minutes, so there's always a good resolution. We made some tentative plans to attend Protospiel 2005, and I headed home, with game ideas swimming in my head.

(Laura's turn) There are usually three in my weekly horseriding lessons, but this week it was just Rose and myself. Rose had e-mailed Andi (our instructor) earlier this week asking about how to lounge a horse. Today Andi showed us first hand how this is done. With the beautiful weather, we headed out to the outdoor arena. For the lesson, Rose and I switched riding Shadow while Andi lounged him. This let us work on our balance (and to canter for the first time). Cantering is my favorite of the leads! This quick rocking horse rhythm is exciting and relaxing. Although, as we go faster, I miss the western saddle's saddle horn :)

Posted by Laura @ 8:54 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

Movie Date

It has been a long weekend and start of the week for both of us. Mark is working on finishing a paper and I just finished my paper containing over a year of work. After a day of catching up on sleep and all of the other "stuff" we have been postponing, Mark and I headed over to Point Cinema to watch Robots. Both of us have wanted to see this one on the big screen and we were not disappointed!

My favorite character was the gadget the main character makes- the cute noises and shy nature of this gadget made it my favorite in an instant. We snuck in some twix and M&M's and enjoyed them in our own private theatre- we should come on Thursday nights more often. We both loved this one and hope to have our own copy some day!

Posted by Laura @ 8:52 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

Stary Skies over Alhambra

A game night first, our friend Ben drove over from Milwaukee tonight. He's been on the list but always has frisbee to play on Tuesdays (and never takes my advice to fake an injury) but the season was over, so he's here for game night. Mike and Kathleen arrived next, followed quickly by Matt to make six. We pulled out Sternenhimmel. Where did I get that game? Well, I like to visit the thrift stores on weekends and see what board games I can find, there's usually one that looks interesting and for only $1 who can pass it up? A few weeks ago I found a complete wargame, Desert Steel, in great condition. I knew I'd never play, but I found someone through BoardGameGeek who was interested, and had a slew of German games in his collection. Only problem was he lived in England, but the shipping plus what I paid for the game made it worth the cost to send it overseas, and so now I have a new game! Sternenhimmel is German for "Stary Sky," and it's a fun majority-influence / bluffing game based on constellations of the zodiac. The theme's a bit loose, there's lots of rules on how to break a tie, but it was a great game and made for interesting decisions; it will be back.

We noticed Alhambra could acomodate six, so it made its second appearance in two weeks. Matt pulled into a blazing lead with his row of brothels, and Laura once again focused on gardens, while I fell further behind each time. The gardens proved more powerful than the brothels in the end, and Laura eeked out a win. It's weird how you never know if you're going to be ahead in a building type, and there's considerable time spent doing point calculations after the game is through.

Finally, as Matt discussed the woes of the TAA, we played a round of Jenga (another thrift store find). Ben remarked that he always loses this game, and true to form, we built higher and higher until the fateful turn fell to Ben and Jenga came crashing down. It was a good games all around tonight, and we hope to see Ben more in the summer.

Posted by Mark @ 11:44 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2005
Garden & food

Today I went out to the garden to catch up on winter-to-spring maintenance. After cutting down the dead plant material, I cleared one of our plot sections and planted carrots, poppies and dahlias. Digging up half of another plot section I planted a row of snow peas on either side of some old fencing material left outside of our garden. By the front gate, there will be sweet peas for some color and fragrance. Lastly in the flower garden, I planted the happy glads. Since the water has not been turned on at Eagle Heights, I brought a large igloo 1/3 full of tap water from home to water the seedlings in well.

For the week we cooked stroganoff and some yellow curry. The stroganoff was pleasant with slices of tender beef and plump mushrooms smothered in a nice cream of mushroom sauce all over noodles. The thai curry was new- from our frugal gourmet cooking book- and turned out wonderful. First we cooked sliced chicken breast, added a can of coconut milk, two tablespoons of yellow curry paste and small diced potatoes. After letting everything cook down, we had a very scrumptious meal!

Posted by Laura @ 3:08 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Time to Garden

This morning we paid our dues and helped out with the garden work day. The first work day always has the most people- there must have been 40 gardeners there. This time Mark and I got to help remove some old rasberry canes- much better than sorting through the compost piles for trash! Afterwards we relaxed in our garden- it is looking good this year. The only side that needs a large amount of work is the back left where the grass has taken a strong foothold. We were happy to see that the black plastic did a good job keeping the weeds down- need to remember to use that next year! We also didn't notice many nine-stripped gofers nor their invasive holes throughout our plot. We heard talk that some feral cats have been reaking havoc on the rodent population in Dane County- perhaps that is what happened here. This will be our last garden at Eagle Heights since Mark will be finishing up his Ph.D. next May- so this year I am planning to use all of my seeds up- some of them are rather old anyways and may not sprout. This year we will have a jungle of color and a bounty of food!

Posted by Laura @ 3:07 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Germany, here we come!

After learning that Mark will be submitting a paper to a conference in Germany and attending another there as well (in Bonn), we planned to spend another week there after the conference to travel abroad. I am very excited! Both of my parents were stationed and met in Germany and they have such wonderful stories from there. It will be a treat to see so many of the places I have heard about. This will be my first trip out of the country (we did go to Thunderbay, Canada for our honeymoon- but this is the first non-English speaking country that I will be going to). Mark was fortunate to go to Porto, Portugal last year for another conference.

I am eager to learn all I can about this facinating country. First stop- Wisconsin Union Student Travel desk. There I met two wonderfully helpful young ladies who had both been to Germany- one even spent a whole year there! They were full of wonderful advice and tips about traveling in Germany. Since we will be staying in the more conservative Bavaria, they also had great dressing tips!

Second stop- STA ticket center. Such long lines, but great flight deals! After waiting for a bit, I spoke to an agent from Germany! It must have been my lucky day. After talking about some of the highlights (got to take a boat tour of the Rhine- 30 castles down one river- amazing), he found a great ticket from India air for just under $800- so far we have only found a tickets for over $1000.

To learn some more about the culture and traveling tips I headed to our online Seqoya branch of the Wisconsin public library. There I found some wonderful travel books, videos, tapes and some language guides. Fortunately Mark took German in high school, but I am starting from scratch. I can't wait until the books come in!

Posted by Laura @ 3:06 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Coda: an addendum

Tonight it was the usuals, Matt, Kathleen, Burr, Laura and myself. After a six-person game last time, a little too chaotic, we tried a five-person game of Alhambra. Laura once again worked her Garten strategy (makes sense because it's her game). This is a good game for our group, quick turns, enough tension and "Augh, I wanted that tile," but not too much direct confrontation, it is all mediated through the board.

While Laura was off to study, and Kathleen headed home, Burr and Matt stayed for a few games of Coda. It's a guessing game in the beginning, but the choices soon narrow and logic takes the fore, making for a quick game with enough brain-chugging to keep you occupied. Sure, there's player elimination, but for only 2-5 minutes. It's good for opening or closing the evening, and tonight we played three rounds with each of us as first player. Matt came back for the win twice, while Burr finally triumphed on the last game.

Posted by Mark @ 3:04 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

The Horse Show and Saturday Board Gaming

(Enter Laura) Yesterday, the UW equestrian team had a show just 45 minutes from Madison. So Mark and I went out to watch some jumpers and lend our support. It was rather impressive to watch the same horses I ride jumping up to 2 feet into the air- don't worry, I have no urge to do that. The only times that I remember falling :) off were in attempts to jump (and once bareback) and on these tall horses, that is no fun. Mark also encourages me to stick to ground work :) It was nice to see another barn and I got some good pictures of the horses I ride at Hoofers. The dark one is Sunny (a delicate stepping sweety), the paint is Shadow (quite a work to get him up to speed), and the flee-bitten gray is Queenie (she is the friendliest little mare). The only one I have ridden that is not pictured is Copper, a fisty chestnut the color of a new penny!

(Return Mark) I then went off to play board games, with the Madison Board Gamers. I arrived just after Caribbean, which looked like an interesting blind-bidding game, with very precarious pieces which were constantly tipping over. My first game was Submarine, a rather abstract game with very neat little bathyscopes. You're trying to find 12 treasures, but you can only explore nearby levels and pick up treasures of certain colors. Mike, Todd, Sky and I worked our way up and down the board, and I came close but was unable to overcome Mike's savvy in finding just the right treasure. I'm not sure about the stability of the game, it seems one person could horde a type of treasure and limit the other players too easily, but I'd be up for playing it again. Next up was For Sale, a reissue by Uberplay which was simple and perfect for what it was. You first bid to buy properties, then sell those properties to hopefully make more money. A nice two-stage game that would work well for our gaming group, and it's now on my wish-list.

As for today, we spent the morning cooking up some tasty meals, finished up our taxes, visited the garden in preparation for Garden Work Day, and played a tense game of Attika to while away the afternoon.

Posted by Mark @ 2:36 PM CDT [Permanent URL]