Digital distribution of music and video has inarguably altered the landscape of the recording industry, as well as that of television and film producers. Most certainly, I appreciate the ability to go shopping for new songs on iTunes, download them nearly instantaneously, and transfer them to the iPod in a third of the time it would take to drive to Wal-Mart to buy a CD. However, cool as that is, my favorite use for the iTunes/iPod partnership isn't video or music or games.
I'm not sure, exactly, what it is about the worldwide dissemination of radio shows and amateur content that has me addicted. Perhaps it's the ability to "time-shift" my favorite programs, sort of a TiVo for Radio, so that I can take my time listening to one over several dog walks, or save up several episodes for a long car ride. Maybe it's the narrowcasting aspect, the fact that I can find a show about any sort of interest, no matter how obscure, and feel connected to like-minded listeners. There's also the ability to learn more about my favorite TV shows or musicians while driving or walking the dog or saving audio files. Most likely, I'm just sick of listening to The Kid's VeggieTales playlist.
As trips back and forth to New Jersey and New York and Boston have become more frequent, my collection of podcast subscriptions has grown significantly. Invariably, I'll be getting ready for a trip of some sort, and won't have any new episodes of my current favorites. So, I'll cruise over to iTunes to get some more. What the heck, they're free, right? Quality is generally good on all of these, but there is some significant variation in regards to polish, content, and professionalism. If you haven't heard of some of these, perhaps you might be interested in trying them out, and if you have heard of them, perhaps you can suggest something similar. I tend to run low at times.
The Dice Tower - Perhaps I'm a little biased, but The Dice Tower is the Cadillac of gaming podcasts. The interplay between Tom and Sam is only the beginning. An array of international contributors provide a dazzling assortment of viewpoints and interests, and the Top Ten lists are a great way to discover games that you may have overlooked. If there's a new episode of The Dice Tower on my computer, you can bet it will be the first thing I listen to.
The Spiel - I found The Spiel when they did a sort of crossover with The Dice Tower, and I've been hooked ever since. Dave and Stephen are a fun-loving pair, and they seem to delight in playing just about anything. The format of their show is a bit more structured than The Dice Tower, with segments like The List, Backshelf Spotlight, and The Game Sommelier appearing in nearly every episode. They also provide some pretty in-depth reviews in the bulk of the podcast. Plus, the Name That Game contest is a fascinating brain teaser.
Garrett's Games and Geekiness - Doug Garrett and his wife Shelley are teachers living in Mountain View, CA, and they play a lot of games. They also have a number of friends amongst the boardgaming elite, so they tend to know the latest information about releases from Essen, for example, or insider discussions with game designers. As a weekly podcast (the most prolific of all of my boardgame subscriptions), GG&G seems the most up-to-date. What I like the most, though, is the back and forth between Doug and Shelley when they talk about a particularly interesting game session. Plus, I won one of their contests, so that's pretty cool.
Boardgames to Go - Mark Johnson produces this "occasional and opinionated" podcast about pretty much whatever he wants to talk about. There's not a whole lot of structure here, just Mark chatting away for a bit. Often, he records the episode while driving, which is fine, once you get past the extra noise in the background. Still, his insights are interesting, and he tends to highlight older games, rather than submitting to the "cult of the new."
GateWorld Podcast - GateWorld.net is the most complete and active Stargate fan site I know. Okay, it's the only Stargate fan site I know, but I've been reading the news updates from the site since the early 'aughts. When I saw that site runners Darren and David had a podcast on iTunes, I tried out a few episodes, and quickly became a subscriber. Each episode contains the latest news about the franchise (casting news about Stargate Universe is the current obsession), as well as a Main Discussion like "Atlantis Deconstructed" or "Are Replicators Alive?" These guys know their stuff, and they remind me of elements of the franchise that I've completely forgotten. Plus, I likes me a good dose of SGU hype.
Car Talk Podcast - Do I need to explain this one? Click and Clack? Car repair? The Puzzler? It's funny stuff.
Satire from The Ungar Report - Former Daily Show contributor Brian Ungar comments on the news of the day, as part of the Day to Day program. Pretty dry, but I got a good chuckle out of it every once in a while. This segment just released its last episode, but it may continue at Ungar's new website.
Sunday Puzzle Podcast - Will Shortz presides over a call-in word puzzle game. It's fun to play along at home, but some anagram puzzles just make my head spin.
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me - The NPR News Quiz, with the best current events comedy this side of the Daily Show. If I'm able to answer most of the lightning round questions correctly, I know I've been paying attention during the week.
Michael Feldman's What'Ya Know - I'm still evaluating this one. Feldman's show also centers around a quiz, but it's a much slower-paced affair then Wait Wait. The show also involves a talk-show style guest, a musical act or two, and lots of banter with the live audience. At two hours, this can really drag on, especially when the jokes center around some sort of local politics or geographical quirks that go over the head of the average listener. Years ago, while scanning the radio stations in the car on a weekend, I'd be disappointed if I hit this show (as opposed to Wait Wait or Car Talk), and I'm not sure if my opinion has changed yet. Still, it has a few good laughs, and works well for a long car ride.
This American Life - This too is a new addition to the subscription list, and I'm actually a little bummed I didn't start listening before now. Ira Glass presides over a collection of interviews, stories, and humor on a specific theme. I have to give major props to the show that spawned John Hodgman (his segment on what Star Wars Episode I should have been is simply amazing).
The Adam Carolla Podcast - Carolla interviews celebrities from the comfort of his den. I'd say more, but I haven't had a chance to listen to more than one episode. At the rate Carolla's recording and releasing episodes, I'm not sure I'll ever catch up.
The Ricky Gervais Podcast - Once upon a time, there was a series of free podcasts starring Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and Karl Pilkington that was absurdly, gut-wrenchingly hilarious. If memory serves, it was one of the most downloaded podcasts of all time. Unsurprisingly, they decided to start charging for the podcast. So now, if you subscribe to the free stream, you get 10-minute samples of the latest "audiobook" release. Still, those ten minutes are pretty freaking funny.
Rockapella Podcast - Only one episode of this has been produced so far, and it was essentially lightweight garbage. The guys weren't in the same room, communicating over Skype or another teleconference system. The interviewer didn't introduce himself, and simply read questions off a piece of paper. It was all very forced and unprofessional. I hope they make some improvements if they decide to continue the series.
Thrillercast - I just happened to come across this on iTunes, and subscribed out of pure curiosity. Thrillercast was a series of interviews with major names in the recording industry, talking about Michael Jackson's Thriller album. It was interesting, but started to get a little tiresome, everybody talking about how innovative the release was. Still, every once in a while, there was an interesting nugget or anecdote to be found, and one of the later episodes with "Weird Al" Yankovic was worth sitting through the mediocre ones previously. The series is over, but you might still be able to track them down if you look in the right place.
So there you have it. My Podcast Playlist. On a good day, I know I have plenty of listening options. And if I run out, I know where I can find more... any suggestions?
Some of you have asked about the math trade I mentioned earlier, and I thought you might be interested in more details, now that the trade sequence has been finalized.
Okay, so actually none of you have asked about the math trade, but I think it's fascinating, so I'm going to talk about it anyway.
ConnCon is this weekend, offering an excellent opportunity to perform a no-shipping game trade. Several people put up games they'd like to part with, and they get matched up with people offering games they'd like to own. Then they meet up at the con, and make the trades.
But how exactly does that work? The magic of computers, of course!
Everybody who wanted to trade a game went to BoardGameGeek and posted to this geeklist, one entry for each game. After the submission deadline, the trade moderator posted a summary of all of the games up for trade. Then, for each game that I was trading, I submitted a list of games from the geeklist that I'd be willing to accept in return. If I didn't like any of the games on the list in return for a specific game, I'd submit a blank list for that game, and I wouldn't give it up. Similarly, if nobody wanted to part with the games I was willing to accept, that particular trade wouldn't happen either.
Once everybody submitted their wantlists, the moderator ran them through a computer program that matched trades and wants. The program is set to maximize the number of games changing hands (thereby avoiding simple trades if more complicated ones are available). The result is a loopy sequence of exchanges scheduled to occur this Saturday.
I put up three games for trade: Gheos, Kontor, and The Historical Scenarios for The Settlers of Catan. The story of Gheos is pretty simple. I give my copy to Dustin. Dustin gives his copy of Carcassonne to Matt, who gives his copy of Rattlesnake to me. Simple.
The Settlers expansion trade is far more fun. I give my game to Matt. Matt gives his copy of Netrunner to Erik. Erik gives The Awful Green Things From Outer Space to Dustin, who gives his copy of The Settlers of Catan to Mark. Mark hands Aquadukt to Dustin, who meets with Matt to give him Clout Fantasy. Matt has a copy of Road to the White House with Dustin's name on it, while Dustin plans to give away his copy of Say Anything to... (ta da!) me. It's like game trading designed by Rube Goldberg.
As for Kontor... well, I'm keeping Kontor. I was only willing to trade it in return for Darjeeling or Ingenious, and the owner of those games didn't like anything on the list. No big deal. There will be more opportunities to trade. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to the game closet to find more games I want to get rid of. I wonder how many games I can fit in my luggage for Origins...
One of the best things about acting is getting to take on a role that is vastly different from your own personality. I am certainly not a beefy military action hero, but occasionally I get to play one in some sort of audio format. It's good sometimes to let go of your own life, and immerse yourself in somebody else's for a bit.
Now, while I had a fantastic time playing Tony Kirby in last year's You Can't Take It With You, I wouldn't say that Tony was all that different from myself. He was a pretty regular guy, and didn't require me to step too far out of my comfort zone. This year is different. This year, I play Walter Steed.
Walter Steed is a pompous ass. He's a radio soap opera actor with an ego the size of Cleveland, and he doesn't hesitate to assert his supposed supremacy upon his coworkers. He tries to seduce two women at the same time. He's delusional. He yells at everybody. He growls. He's a no-talent hack, and everything about his past is a big ol' lie.
I've never had so much fun.
There's something cathartic about playing a character universally hated by everybody else on stage. It's kind of like cheep therapy.
It's not just me, though. The show features a host of other great characters, each with their own zany malfunctions. If the audience will laughs at the final product half as much as we've been laughing at each other during rehearsals, it's going to be a very enjoyable show.
Loving Lives runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, April 23-25, at Spring Glen Church here in Hamden. The Friday and Saturday shows include dessert before the show. Yum. You don't want to miss it.
I've never done this before.
After several years of hearing about the joys of gaming conventions, yet not finding the time to actually attend one, I am currently making plans to visit not one, but two cons between now and the end of June. Overkill, perhaps, but my face-to-face gaming opportunities have been a bit sparse of late, so when the options presented themselves, I didn't want to hesitate. Pre-registration, here I come!
ConnCon - March 20-22 - Stamford, CT (Attending 2/21)
Stef is headed to New Hampshire for a stamping event that weekend, and The Kid is scheduled to spend some quality time with his grandparents. I have rehearsal on Friday and Sunday, but Saturday is completely open. I thought, "Hey, why don't I invite a bunch of gaming buddies over to play some games?" I sent out an invite, and even got a few affirmative replies, when my friend Mark, who is running the boardgame division of ConnCon, piped up to say that the con was that weekend. All of my RSVPs retracted immediately. I didn't even have the con on my radar, thinking that I wouldn't be able to go, but now that the day is free, I might as well check it out.
Heck, I might as well jump in with both feet. I'm signed up for two scheduled sessions on Saturday: one to learn Martin Wallace's Brass, and a second in the evening to play Starcraft for the first time. I haven't been able to discern much else from the website, but I imagine there will be some open gaming, and probably some sort of retail section. The con's focus has been heavily RPG-related, but the efforts of Mark and many others have seen the boardgame presence increase significantly in the past few years. I'm sure there will be plenty of opponents ready for a game.
I've also signed up for my first "math trade." This is a sort of multi-person round-robin trade exercise, in which I post a game (or games) I'm willing to trade, and then once I see all of the available games, I pick a number of games that I'd be willing to trade for. Then some sort of computer program matches things up, I give my game(s) to a specific person, and I get a game (or games) from somebody else, not necessarily the person who got my game. For the record, I'm putting Gheos, Kontor, and the Settlers Historical Scenarios up for trade. We'll see what happens. Here's a link to the trade itself.
Origins Game Fair - June 24-28 - Columbus, OH
Ever since I started listening to The Dice Tower, I've been hearing about Origins. It may not be the biggest convention in the US, but it is the only place where I can finally meet Mr. Vasel for the first time. Okay, it's not just Tom. Lots of members from the Dice Tower team, as well as other podcasters and gaming luminaries, will be in attendance. There's all sorts of stuff going on, including film fests, game demos, auctions, and open gaming. One of the extras I could purchase when registering is a ribbon to the "board room." It's a dedicated room for open games, complete with an extensive game library provided by CABS, the Columbus Area Boardgame Society. From what I hear, it's the big hangout for boardgamers during the con.
While I'm only visiting ConnCon for a day, I figured that if I was going to travel all the way to Ohio, I might as well take in as much as I can. I fly into town at about 10am on Wednesday, and I don't leave until late in the afternoon on Sunday. I have a room in one of the hotels connected to the convention center (anybody want to be my roommate?), so I can spend a minimum of time traveling back and forth. I'm ready for a crazy die-hard chunk of gaming and making friends. I might eat and sleep a bit if I can find the time.
I'm all sorts of psyched. Is it June yet?
No, wait. Is it March 21 yet?
Keep in mind I really have no idea what to expect at either of these events. It's all anticipation at this point. If you're more informed than I, feel free to correct or add to what I've said. Then I know I can track you down at the event itself.
I've really been enjoying yucata.de lately. I find it very easy to set up and jump into multiple games, and to keep track of what's going on. It's great for me during this particular drought of face-to-face gaming.
So, I've been playing a game of Atta Ants with three other players, one of whom uses the screen name "Atta." That made me a little nervous, because one would assume that "Atta" is someone who really likes Atta Ants. I wasn't sure how things were going to go, as we all acquired four ants, but couldn't find a clear path home to get any more. I was able to steer a few spiders toward the side of the board where I wasn't, effectively blocking several ants from getting home with their leaves. Finally, I found an opening, acquiring my fifth ant, and setting up an unblockable path home for the sixth. Victory was (and still is) in my grasp. Then it was Atta's turn.
He has yet to take it.
Now, this sort of thing happens all the time in play-by-web systems. Somebody gets busy, has to step away for a few days, etc. However, since yucata.de uses a ranking system based on your win/loss record, there are also a few people who try to game the system by not finishing games they think they're going to lose. I didn't really think that was what was going on in this case, but I clicked on Atta's profile just to see when he last logged in.
Atta's real name is Richard de Rijk. The designer of Atta Ants.
And I'm winning against him.
Oh, hey, yucata.de recently added Arkadia to its list of games. I know some of you have enjoyed that one in the past. If you fancy a game, just invite amazingintern to the party. You know you want to.
Some time ago, I talked about some of the play-by-web options that are out there for playing board games. As getting out of the house to play has become more difficult, this option has become far more attractive. Imagine, then, my excitement at finding two more ways to scratch that gaming itch without needing to set aside a big chunk of time.
MaBiWeb was suggested to me by a friend after we had played a game of Amun Re at SpielByWeb. He suggested that I learn to play In The Shadow of the Emperor so I could join a game they were starting up. MBW is very similar to SBW, with a limited number of games (9). In addition to ItSotE, MBW features Richelieu (a great two-player game based on Web of Power), Hansa, and Samurai. The interfaces for the various games are very close to the board versions, and it's very clear what you need to do on each turn. My only complaint comes with In the Shadow of the Emperor, which runs very slowly for me. It takes a minute or to to make each move. Other than that, though, the system works very well.
Yucata.de is a new discovery of mine, based on a link from MaBiWeb. The basic site's in German, but a simple click switches everything over to English. There are more games here than at MBW, including Atta Ants, Masons, and Hey, That's My Fish. The interface has a different feel that what I'm used to, but so far the system works quickly, and you can't beat the game selection. There's even a ranking system and simple chat window on the home page. I'm looking forward to exploring this system further.
So... anybody want to play a game? I've started a game of Samurai for four players at MaBiWeb. You can use the link on the sidebar. Here's the info:
Title: The Zone of Fun
Come on! Let's play!
This time: Monastery by Gary Dicken, Phil Kendell and Steve Kendell, published by Ragnar Brothers
Monastery is a tile-laying and action point management game in which players construct parts of a medieval monastery. Players have a hand of tiles behind their screens, each depicting features like buildings, roads, and gardens. On your turn, you play a tile to the board and move your monk tokens around in order to score points. Tiles played to the board aren’t automatically built, however. They’re played face down, and require a certain number of monks to complete it. The more complex the building, the more monks will be required to work on it. You’ll often have to work together with other players to finish the larger tiles. In addition to helping to build tiles, your monks can work or study on specific tiles, execute the power of some special tiles on the board, or kneel to pray if nobody else is around. The pieces actually tip forward into a kneeling position, a neat touch. Praying provides more points than simply working or studying, but that monk has to stay put for a while, and you won’t be able to use his movement points until he stands up again. The points you earn each round are spent on letter tiles and additional monks, which get more expensive as they’re purchased. Your ultimate goal is to use those tiles to fill in a nine-letter phrase in front of your screen, counting 3 victory points for each one you buy. You can also purchase letters for your opponents, blocking that space on their mat, and preventing them from earning those points. It’s a tactical game with a need to be a bit nasty, but it’s one of my favorites of the year. 8/10
Yeah, so I told you my gaming would be down this year. 2007 had me playing 176 games. 2008 had only 104. And even that's an inflated number, because I logged 20 games of Loopin' Louie during Lindberg's wedding weekend. Once you remove chicken-based children's dexterity games, my top selections for the year are Age of Steam, Agricola, Race for the Galaxy, and Wits and Wagers, at only three plays each.
That's what having a baby does for the game schedule, folks. That is, unless you're Tom Vasel, who I'm convinced uses some sort of time dilation device to play the games that he does and still take care of five kids.
Anyway, at least 2009 is off to a good start, with both Dominion and Battlestar Galactica hitting the table last night. I hope to play lots more of both games. Dominion is a fantastic filler, lasting no more than 30 minutes, but offering lots of great deck-building choices. Battlestar is the most thematically immersive game I've played in a long time. Any fan of the show should check it out. Come on over! Bring friends! It plays up to six!
Happy New Year!
The full list...
It's two (short) CD reviews for the price of one (free)!
Okay, I'm a little late with this one, and it's not Canada's fault. They sent me the CD pretty quickly. I'd say it's the fastest delivery I've experienced from a Constitutional Monarchy. At any rate, Torpid is in my grubby little hands, and I am enjoying its zany goodness. Much like the Toast album, this album was recorded in front of a live audience, so we get to hear much of the interaction with the audience between songs. In fact, the CD's producers wisely break up some of the longer bits of banter into separate tracks, so you can choose to partake (or not) of the talkety talk. I'm glad the material's there. It really reminds me of how much fun it is to see these guys in person. (And before I forget: Saturday February 28th, West Hartford, CT. Who's in?)
While it's not my favorite of the Worms' albums, not quite reaching the level of Toast or Dirt, Torpid has a lot to like about it. "Big Box Store" made me laugh the first time I heard it, as did "My Neighbor's Learning Saxophone." The highlight of the album, though, is "Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah," in the style of a 1980's era British pop band. It's the story of a guy who basically ignores his significant other, and when she leaves him, he doesn't notice for about a month. Then the song becomes a fugue for no reason. Trust me. It's funny. And it gets stuck in your head. I even got The Kid to start singing "Blah, Blah, Blah" with me on the chorus.
Overall, it's a good purchase, and a welcome return for my favorite Canadian Comedy/Folk Trio.
Over the summer, while I was ordering my new Demento Society Membership Package, I decided to throw a Logan Whitehurst album into the mix. I gave the CD a once over when it arrived, but for some reason iTunes didn't want to rip it in, so it never made it into heavy iPod rotation. Once I got the new laptop, with a much-improved optical drive, I was able to finally give this album its due.
Yes, I know I could have actually listened to the CD, in the car or something, but that's not the way the kids listen to music these days. Get with the program, gramps!
Anyway, I really should have paid more attention to this one earlier, because it's brilliant. Whitehurst's music seems to me to be a cross between They Might Be Giants, Moxy Fruvous, and Jonathan Coulton. It's firmly in the novelty territory, but it sometimes has a sort of contemplative tone that Coulton likes to evoke, and "Prosthetic Brain" could easily have been a TMBG tune. I was already a fan of "Robot Cat" from the Demento albums, and "A Word From Farkle" is just rapid zany fun. "Happy Noodle vs. Sad Noodle" has been stuck in my head for days, and the hidden bonus track "Monkeys Are Bad People" is a fantastically paranoid rant from a father to son after the kid asks for a banana and the dad thinks he's harboring an evil monkey in his backpack.
Sadly, Whitehurst passed away a few years ago at a very young age, and now I realize why the Novelty community was so hard-hit by his loss. There's at least one more album out there for me to grab, Very Tiny Songs, made up of 81 tracks, none more than 90 seconds long. If the rest are anything like "The Villain Who Wears No Pants," I'm in.
This time: Power Grid China by Friedemann Friese, published by Rio Grande Games.
The latest map to be released for my favorite game is the China/Korea expansion for Power Grid. Now, while Tom is understandably all about the Korea side of the board, I’d like to talk specifically about China. While previous expansions have offered little more than minor rule tweaks in addition to the new terrain, the China map presents a fundamental shift in the way the game is played. In the basic game, if you recall, power plants are drawn randomly and then placed in order, forming a current and future market. For the bulk of the game, players can only purchase from the current market made up of the lower numbered, and therefore less efficient, plants. After a purchase, a new plant is drawn, the plants are reordered, and a new auction begins. My buddy’s chief gripe with the game comes when a lucky draw lets a player get a really nice plant early, and then everybody else is stuck with the outdated technology for several rounds. China changes this, as the first 30 or so plants come out in numerical order, and no new plants are drawn in the middle of the auction round, so there are no surprises. Furthermore, aside from the first round, a number of plants one fewer than the number of players is available each round, so at least one player won’t be able to purchase one. This decrease in luck, coupled with a built-in scarcity of resources, breathes new life into an already fantastic game. It’s a whole new way to play. 10/10.
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