Wednesday, June 28, 2006

(7 x 3 x 2) + 1/365th

Thanks for all the kind birthday wishes... and the trivia about Paul McCartney!

Now, a bit of advice - please IGNORE all of the lukewarm reviews of Disney/Pixar's Cars... it is a delightful film. There are some big laughs (esp. near the end - do NOT leave until the very end of the credits!) but the thing I liked best about the film is that I didn't want it to be over. We could have spent another 2 hours in the sleepy little burg of Radiator Springs and I'd have been a happy man.

Of course, there are all sorts of joys for adults with sharp ears & eyes (it took me a minute or so to place Click'n'Clack from NPR)... one that RIPS by early on in the film is a flash of birds on a power line... a quote from the short "For the Birds"! And that's just scratchin' the surface

Braeden enjoyed it as much the second time as he did the first... and this even after going to another movie in the morning. (Yes, we are trying to turn our son into Roger Ebert... he he he.)

This is another "must purchase" as soon as it arrives on DVD. But go see it on the big screen so you can experience the racing scenes in their full "ooh-ahh" glory.

Now, THAT'S What I'm Talking About...

...yes, gentle readers, the man (yours truly) who once wrote: "No food is so good that it couldn't be improved by deep-frying it" has found a new culinary highlight.

I give you The Twinkies Cookbook!

I'm not sure I'm excited about Twinkie Sushi, but Twinkie Burritos are calling my name. Read more about it in the Yahoo news story.

On a related note, I still haven't tried Deep-Fried Twinkies, which are a yearly feature at the Fresno Fair. Of course, something like this ought to come with a free angioplasty.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

7 x 3 x 2 = 42

You say it's your birthday It's my birthday too--yeah They say it's your birthday We're gonna have a good time I'm glad it's your birthday Happy birthday to you. from "Birthday" by the Beatles

Speaking of the Beatles, "When I'm 64" no longer seems like some kind of distant possibility. [shudder]


Famous people born on the same day as me:

  • 1975 Tobey Maguire (actor)
  • 1930 H Ross Perot (billionaire industrialist, philanthropist)
  • 1927 Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan (tv personality, children's advocate)
  • 1880 Helen Keller (author and educator)


Does it say something about my chronological age vs. my emotional age that the presents I received this year included a Lego B-Wing Fighter, The Incredibles 2 DVD set, and some new series 3 Attacktix figures?

I had a great birthday... Braeden & I played a game of Return of the Heroes (complete with expansion)... which he won by about 2 turns. (For those who understand the game, he defeated the Warlock in his secondary power - magic - since he didn't have the Magic Sword.) We ate lunch at the Doghouse Grill (best tri-tip sandwhich in Fresno!) and had Braun's ice cream for dessert (best local ice cream parlor). And, with the exception of Vacation Bible School tonight, I didn't deal with church stuff all day.

And if that isn't enough, tomorrow afternoon Braeden & I are going to see Cars together. Ka-chow!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Say It With Me: "Non-Binding Resolution"

I won't belabor the point... but simply say that my denomination has once again passed a resolution with the best of intentions that, instead of actually helping deal with the problem at hand, will simply cause ill-will and confusion. And, if that isn't enough, the dang thing isn't based in the whole teaching of the Bible. Sigh.

I'm referring to the resolution passed last week at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting that expressed "our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages." (There's more to it than that... you can read the text of the resolution
here.)

Before I continue, some important facts about me:

  • I don't drink.
  • Never have.
  • I have to be careful about wearing my non-drinking choice as a badge of pride - because I have ZERO interest in alcohol and/or drugs. They have never been a temptation for me... so, I need to refrain from bragging about my incredible self-control when I simply have no interest in chugging a beer or sipping a cabernet.
  • I'm the pastor of a Southern Baptist church (despite our non-Southern Baptist-y name)... and historically Southern Baptist churches have been anti-alcohol.

With those facts in mind, I want to respectfully (or not-so-respectfully) register my profound irritation at the resolution. Some other folks have done an excellent job of explaining why... if you want detailed analysis & carefully thought out arguments, you should check out these blogs:

OTOH, if you want my inadequately thought out gut reaction, here it is.

  • I've experienced a bunch of people blowing their lives up with alcohol: family, friends, congregation members & youth I worked with. It feels like you're watching a car crash in slow motion.
  • Those experiences have reinforced my personal choice not to drink... and my desire that others choose wisely in this potentially dangerous area.
  • I wish it said "Don't drink alcohol" in the Bible (preferably in bold red letters), but it doesn't.
  • It does clearly say "Being drunk is just about as smart as putting your head in a commercial blender and setting it on puree." (OK, it doesn't actually say it that way... I'm paraphrasing.)
  • So, if there is no "don't drink" passage in Scripture, the resolution against "alcohol use" is, at best, Biblically problematic.
  • At worst, it's like Satan figured out yet another way to talk followers of Christ into ignoring parts of the Scripture so as best to tick off & alienate people who desperately need to understand the grace available from the Guy who turned water into wine.
  • And yes, I spent a lot of time using the "don't cause a brother to stumble" argument when I was in youth ministry... and it has some application to this question, but it doesn't magically turn the wine back into water.

Simply put: I think the best way to avoid being drunk (clearly a sin, according to the Bible) is not to drink. I choose not to drink but I can not fault those who do on the basis of Scripture. Alcohol abuse is a horrific problem and we who follow Jesus should do everything in our power to stop it. But, to quote Martin Luther, "Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”

A final note: the Southern Baptist Convention is organized a bit differently than many other well-known Christian churches - rather than policy & theology coming from the top down (from a synod, executive office, Vatican, whatever), in Southern Baptist life this bubbles from the bottom up. Each local church is autonomous: they hire their own staff, own their facilities, and choose voluntarily to participate in the convention.

Which means that resolutions from the convention are "non-binding"... in other words, they are strongly suggested but not "law" for SBC churches.

I can't tell you how much I love the words "non-binding resolution" when stuff like this comes down the pipeline.

The Day I Quit Playing D&D

Earlier this month (in my one-play reaction/review of Descent: Journeys in the Dark), I outlined a bit of my personal D&D history: read about it in Games yadda yadda, bought the blue box set yadda yadda, nearly 3 years of DMing yadda yadda, and I quit. No yadda - in fact, I promised to tell that story in this post.

So here it is.

As in many D&D groups, our group had evolved over time. We began as excited newbies, passing around the blue book rules & taking turns making up dungeons to explore & plunder. (It was during this time period that I created one of the few player characters I remember using, a Dwarf fighter named Ecnad Tsal... which is "Last Dance" backwards - yes, another clue that I came of age during the late 1970's.) The group grew as we added friends and girlfriends.

My sixteenth birthday party consisted of eating a cake my mom made with a dinosaur model on the top - the closest thing she could find to a dragon - and playing D&D with better quality snacks than usual. Yes, we were pretty much the title characters from Freaks & Geeks. (BTW, I've never actually watched a full episode of Freaks & Geeks - set in 1980, my sophmore/junior year of high school, it was just too painfully close to reality to be enjoyable.)

Over time, the less-dedicated (read: less obsessive) drifted away & the majority of our adventuring took place with four of us:
  • Mark (aka fluff daddy and/or pastor guy), the Dungeon Master
  • Jim, the neutral human druid
  • Tom, Jim's younger brother who went through a variety of characters... I think most of them were elves who were chaotic good (which pretty much described Tom himself)
  • Dave, our oddly lucky with the ladies (esp. for someone who played D&D) friend who played a halfling thief of variable alignment (Some other time, I need to y'all about Dave's dating life & the vaguely Calvinist theory of dating the rest of us developed in response to his success.)
The characters had continued leveling up nicely but not quickly - I was not a Monty Hall DM. (For the uninitiated, that means I didn't give out gold, experience points and/or magic items lightly... they had to work for that kind of stuff.) Again, I'm fuzzy on the details, but all three of them were 10th level or better and had been running those particular characters for 2+ years.

So, one afternoon after school, we're upstairs in Jim & Tom's bedroom, playing D&D. (Chances are we were listening to Pink Floyd's The Wall or Jethro Tull's Aqualung... being the ubergeeks that we were.) Anyway, they were exploring a volcanic island... an adventure of my own creation. Turns out that the smoke issuing from the volcano was not from molten lava but from a red dragon who was sitting on a pile of treasure.

Anyone who has run a roleplaying game knows what is about to happen - you, as the game master, work to create an open scenario and yet, with subtle or not-so-subtle clues, limit some of the options so that the players will follow the story without feeling herded. Invariably, one of the players decides to push the boundaries... and you have to follow through.

Dave had a history of using his thief like a fighter - and this afternoon was not an exception to that foolhardy tendency. What I had intended to be a "smash & grab" of some small (but valuable) magic items became Dave's grand stage - he masterminded a plan to kill the dragon & take all of the treasure.

I threw up red flags: my descriptions of the dragon became more horrific and NPC's (non-player characters) who were their servants issued dire warnings. But nothing would deter Dave from his plan.

And so the battle began. For a while, things worked out for the party. Then the dice started going bad, they tried some desperate manuevers... and Dave found his halfling in front of the business end of a red dragon.

A couple of shakes of the dice later, and the halfling was a crispy critter, incinerated beyond recognition. Dave demanded that Jim (the druid) resurrect him. (There was some magic item they had that could help.) But I ruled that without a physical body to resurrect, there was nothing they could do. Dave's character was dead.

Jim & Tom figured out what was happening faster than I did... as they grabbed Dave as he lunged toward me, spitting & cussing, threatening to beat me senseless for killing his character. I can still remember thinking, "This is just a game. It's just a character on a bunch of pieces of paper. And this guy wants to beat me up over it?!"

What I don't remember is what happened next... how we got Dave calmed down, whether or not we kept playing that day, if I got home in time for dinner (which I wasn't always good about). None of it - it's like my memory banks are wiped clean.

What I do remember is that I quit D&D that day... I was done. Any game that could potentially cause bodily injury to me was just not worth it. I piled up my stacks of manuals, scenarios & folders full of graph paper dungeons... and, weirdly enough, gave them to Dave.

So, that's the story.

But it probably isn't the whole story. There were a number of things contributing to the demise of my roleplaying career, not the least of which was getting an actual "real world" life which included crushes on girls, major parts in school plays, and the stunning realization that high school was almost over.

In another post - which is proving more difficult to write than I anticipated, I'll attempt to analyze what bothers me about D&D and the primary reasons I give for warning people away from it. At this point, it's entitled "The Bill Cosby Factor" and should be a interesting if controversial read when I finish the silly thing.

And, yes, the pictures with this post are from the aforementioned birthday party. Sigh. I was young and had less fashion sense than I have now - which isn't saying much.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Happy Father's Day...

Yes, I realize that the rest of the Known World celebrated Father's Day last Sunday... but on Father's Day proper, Shari was still flying back from Colorado & I was still "Mark Jackson, Bachelor Dad", so when a family from church invited the three Jackson men over for grilled steaks after church, I jumped at the chance. (Otherwise, our Father's Day lunch would have been Van De Kamps Crunchy Fish Sticks.)

So, Braeden decided that I should have a "real" Father's Day... in our house, that means that the person being celebrated (be it birthday, Mother's Day, whatever) gets to plan the day for the Jackson clan. I chose to take the family on a road trip up to Sequoia/Kings Canyon. We've been to the "big trees" parts of the park a number of times (it's a pretty easy 75 minute drive from our house), as a loop through those sections of the park make for a very nice day trip when folks visit from out of town.

This time, we stopped briefly at Grant's Grove so Braeden could make 3 trips through the Fallen Tree, then continued on down the winding road to Cedar Grove, in the middle of Kings Canyon. (Braeden & I also got to see a mule deer feeding up close - he was about 15 feet off the trail and let us stand there & watch him for 3-4 minutes.)

The road to Cedar Grove is only open during the summer... it's easy to see why. It's twisty & right on the edge of some pretty spectacular drop-off points. You drop nearly 2000 feet into the canyon, where the road runs right beside the Kings River. It's literally miles of stunning whitewater rapids in a Yosemite-like canyon... but there's a whole lot less people than at Yosemite.

We stopped at Grizzly Falls to hike and climb rocks... Braeden loves the whole rock-climbing thing. He's getting bettter at it, too - by the end of the day, he was scampering up some interesting rock formations without help - and celebrating wildly when he reached the top.

We stopped at the ranger station, where Collin was fascinated with the hands-on display of pinecones, rocks & animal skins... then walked over to the river and stuck our feet in the cold (read: snow melt) water at Cedar Grove. Collin loved the cold water... and kept his feet in it until we'd pull him out when they were starting to change color! Yikes!

Finally, we drove to Road's End (seriously, that's what it's called) and hiked a short ways to Muir Rock, a huge outcropping of rock sticking into the river. We watched a couple of teenage boys (read: lunatics with possible lobotomies) jump into the river & swim around the rock. And, of course, we climbed up & down a number of times. The pictures with this post was taken next to and/or on Muir Rock.

We drove back out of the canyon just before sunset... sitting next to my beautiful wife, exhausted & dusty & proud of our two young "men" in the back of the minivan. All in all, an excellent Father's Day.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Worth the Wait...

...well, at least I hope that my upcoming posts are worth waiting for:

  • why I quite playing D&D and the Bill Cosby Factor
  • Baptists, booze, and my incredible gratefulness for the concept of a "non-binding resolution"
  • a few random thoughts on red cards & why I'm rooting for more than just the US in the World Cup
  • my in-depth reviews of some cutting-edge games - Clue Junior & Monopoly Junior!
  • some new pictures of Braeden & Collin

But those will have to wait... as I'm typing this post from a computer at the library. Evidently, the cable modem at the church has gone on to the Great Hall Of Technological Necessities Which Quit Without Notice in the sky... and the folks who keep our satellite broadband service in play can't fix it (read: replace it) until Wednesday.

So, you'll just have to be patient for a few days!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Only Bible Handbook (I Know Of)...

...that uses the word "bazongas". (To quote the author accurately, he's defining the Biblical usage of the word "flesh", giving an example in the sentence: "When Angelina Jolie showed up with her newly adopted AIDS orphan, my spirit sympathized with her concern for the hurting children of the world, but my flesh kept staring at her bazongas.")

And that, my friends, is an excellent litmus test to see if you'll enjoy and/or find a use for the
Pocket Guide To The Bible: A Little Book About the Big Book, written by Jason Boyett & published by Relevant Books. If the thought of an overview of the Holy Bible making irreverent pop cultural references to explain theological concepts makes your skin crawl, you are probably not the audience for this book. OTOH, if describing the Egyptians pursuing the Israelites across the Red Sea with the pithy aside that "at which point Pharoah's army realizes 'Swim Like An Egyptian' will never be the title of a hit Bangles song," then this might be right up your alley.

It's important to define what this book is and is not. (I'll leave it to ex-President Clinton to attempt to define what is is.)
  • It is a funny book... on purpose. The author is trying (and often succeeding) at penning humorous glimpses at the stories of Scripture and the history of how it got into our hot little hands. It feels a bit like The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy for the Bible. (Please understand - I mean this as a compliment. And I'm not referring to the less-than-spectacular feature film.)
  • It is informationally sound... even if it's primary purpose is humor, the basic information presented is a reasonably fair & accurate representation of current scholarship on the Bible.
  • It is NOT a tract. As far as I can tell, the author does not intend for this book to be used as a tract for evangelism. There are plenty of church-y concepts & words spiced through the book that could be a bit daunting for the uninitiated. Heck, they can be a bit daunting for the initiated who didn't pay attention in confirmation class (not me - I'm Baptist) and/or seminary (that would be me.)
  • It is NOT about to replace a good quality Bible handbook and/or commentary. The author raises a number of important questions about Scripture (Why the blase attitude towards slavery? What's with all the killing in the Old Testament? Why do the major & minor prophets all start to sound like broken records?) without giving any kind of commentary on possible answers to those questions. In other words, the book is primarily about a humorous & thought-provoking overview of the Bible, rather than an attempt to deal with the questions raised by the Scriptures.

So, who do I think could enjoy/use/at least find amusing this (check all that apply) this book?

  • long-time followers of Christ who need a wake-up call about the Bible - Those of us who've been doing "the Christian thing" for a long time need to take a funhouse mirror look at this stuff every once in a while so we don't get caught in our own preconceived "this is the way it is" ruts as we journey with Jesus. And it doesn't hurt if we get to laugh while we're doing it.
  • people who have no Bible background and are in an ongoing conversation with a follower of Christ - I can think of a couple of guys (atheists both) who would appreciate the humor and get something out of the content of the book. I'd hesitate to hand it to them and walk away... but it would be great starter material for conversation about the Bible.

Because it's a funny book, three funny moments:

  • Boyett lists what he calls "marketing-driven biblical packages. The NIV Women's Devotional Bible, The Catholic Couples Bible, The Purpose-Driven Pimply Teen Boy's Extreme Study Bible." He then footnotes this with "That last one's made up. Hopefully."
  • When he defines parable, he notes: "Not to Be Confused With: Parable Christian Stores, an association of more than two hundred independently owned retail booksellers that will likely refuse to stock this book if the Pocket Guide speaks ill of them. God bless the wide selection, personal service, and exceptional value of Parable retailers. And as long as we're on the subject, God bless Wal-Mart, too."
  • "One Statement By Paul That, When Taken Out of Context, Makes Him Sound Relatively Hip: 'Peace to the brothers' (Eph. 6:23)"

Closing Thoughts:

I'd liked the book... more in a "chuckle chuckle... hmm, hadn't thought about that" kind of way rather than a "guffaw/laugh so hard I am in danger of needing a Depends... wow! incredible spiritual insights abound" kind of way.

I will take this opportunity to recommend the Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse (by the same author) which does a bang-up job of explaining a variety of end-times theories/theologies and poke fun at the Left Behind series at the same time!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lost In Germany

Just finished watching the US get schooled by the Czech Republic in their first World Cup game for 2006.

Ouch. 3-0. Here's hoping our next game goes a bit better than this.

OTOH, the Sweden v. Trinidad/Tobago tied game on Saturday was amazing... Sweden took it as a loss while T/T, with the 2nd string goalie & a man down for nearly 1/2 the game due to a red card ejection, took it as a win. (Also nice to see Germany strut their stuff in the opening game.)

Interesting side note: I'm watching the most of the games on Univision, as we don't have cable/satellite here. (Hey, we live in a valley where the reception is great for local channels... and I don't need to fight/struggle with all the poop that exists on satellite TV - see this post and this one too for more explanation why.)

So, as you can probably guess, I'm not understanding much (read: any) of the commentary and/or play-by-play with the exception of the word "Gol!" which is pretty universal. (I can also figure out the cerveza = beer from the ads, but that's not much use to me.) Still, it's incredible soccer - these guys play at such a high level.

And I find myself with a hankering for Mexican food.

(BTW: the title is a tip o' the hat to Kings X & zionred.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Stay Out Of Range Of The Giant: Descent - Journeys in the Dark

I must start this post with an admission about my sordid gaming past: I Was A Teenage Dungeon Master.

That's right... for roughly three years "back in the day" I ran a rag-tag group of adventurers through a variety of dungeons & forests set in a fantasy world of my own creation. Armed with the board from AH's Outdoor Survival (the map of "the world") and the 'blue box' edition of the D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) basic rules, I spent most of my free time (and some of my class time) drawing dungeons & creating stories in preparation for marathon Saturday gaming sessions & quick one-shot adventures on weekdays after school.

Our crew never got into miniatures - I think because of economics rather than my current excuse, "the fear of painting." Similar reasons kept us from playing too many of the "official" modules - the primary ones I remember are The Village of Hommlet (T1) and the Giant trilogy. (I'm still cheesed off that TSR didn't publish T2 - The Temple of Elemental Evil - until years after I'd stopped playing D&D.) I vividly remember spending my hard-earned allowance money on the first Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide... and using the information in those books to dream up even more diabolical adventures.

Then, sometime in the spring of 1981, I stopped playing D&D. I kept playing Traveller (a sci-fi RPG - that's "role playing game" for those you playing along at home) and a little bit of SPI's Dragonquest, but you could stick a fork in my time with Dungeons & Dragons. (The story of how this happened will have to wait for my next post about D&D... see, I've given you something to look forward to!)

But I continued to enjoy fantasy games... Particularly those that captured some of the flavor of D&D. For a while, we played Talisman (2nd edition) on a regular basis. Then there was Warlock of Firetop Mountain... and even Space Hulk, which always had a bit of a dungeon crawl meet Aliens feel to the game. Another favorite was Dungeonquest, which I foolishly sold (along with both expansions) back in the mid-90's. Thanks to the generosity of Keith "I Used To Be A Neutral Good Monk In Mark's D&D Game" Monaghan, I have the base game back in my collection... but the Dungeonquest Heroes & Dungeonquest Catacombs expansions are way OOP and insanely expensive. (There's another post I need to write... the joys of Dungeonquest!) In the early 90's, I bought the entire 3rd edition Talisman set... and we spent many happy hours chasing around the board, attempting to defeat the monsters & avoid getting turned into a toad. (Weirdly enough, I never actually played Heroquest and/or Advanced Heroquest. I wonder how that happened?)

Most of those are gone now... Warlock, Space Hulk & Talisman (3rd) all sold at hopped-up E-bay prices to enlarge my oddball collection of "German" games. Every once in a while, I get a hankering to play them, but not enough to give up the pile of other games that they financed. (Dungeonquest, OTOH, is still here... and gets played every 3-4 months or so.)

In the last couple of years, the same "wish I could level up a character" impulse has led to my complete & total enjoyment of Return of the Heroes (and it's expansion, Under the Shadow of the Dragon)... and, to a lesser extent, my sort-of enjoyment of Klaus Teuber's Candamir: The First Settlers (which is a weird cross between The Settlers of Catan & an RPG.) The release of Knizia's Lord of the Rings didn't feature "leveling" but did include great variety through the use of expansions and an abstract design that wore the "Tolkien" costume with style.

Which brings us to Memorial Day weekend 2006 and the subject of this post... Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Produced by Fantasy Flight Games with one of the largest boxes I've ever seen on the game (I think it may even produce it's own gravitational field), this dungeon crawl game combines some of the best elements of Space Hulk/Heroquest (the puzzle-cut dungeon boards & the nifty miniatures), Lord of the Rings: Sauron (with one player "running" the game, attempting to thwart the adventurers), and Runebound (the fatigue system & the setting of the game) combined with innovative new ideas first created for FF's Doom: The Boardgame. I particularly like the "one roll combat" mechanism.

Another nice mechanism is the way "victory" is determined. Unlike D&D, the Overlord (gamemaster) is not simply a benevolent dictator directing gameplay... he (or she) is an opponent to the adventuring party. The heroes begin the game with five conquest tokens & a goal (kill a giant, find a particular treasure, slay the vicious gazebo - and I say that with all appropriate props to Knights of the Dinner Table.) Heroes can obtain more tokens by activating transport glyphs (portals which lead out of the dungeon), opening chests, killing "boss" monsters & triggering certain encounters. OTOH, the Overlord can take away tokens by killing adventurers and cycling through his deck of encounters. The heroes win if they accomplish their goal before running out of conquest tokens... and the Overlord wins if he take all of their conquest tokens away.

I also like the way the Overlord "directs" the game via his encounter cards - each of them has a "threat cost" and a "discard" value. Drawing two cards per turn, you may hang onto them (to be used later against the adventurers) or discard them in order to receive threat tokens equal to their discard value. You then use threat tokens to play to activate these cards... spawning new monsters into the dungeon, activating traps, and giving the Overlord player special abilities. The stronger the card, the higher the cost. So, you can't do everything you'd like to... instead, you have to budget your resources to cause the most havoc & damage!

The system for "individualizing" the characters also works well... each player has a skill rating in three areas (ranged, melee & magic combat) as well as a fatigue rating, life level & some kind of special power. In addition to those, each player receives three skill cards (they may exchange one of those for another card from the deck) which customize each character in some very interesting ways.

In my first (and only game), I was the Overlord. We played the second scenario (which involved killing two giants who were brothers.) In fact, this was a scheduled event for Kublacon, so we actually had two tables going with Aldie (Scott Alden of BGG fame) the only person in the room who knew the rules. So Aldie was Overlord at Table #1 & I was Overlord at Table #2 - both playing the same scenario.

At my table, the only person I knew was Scott Alan Woodard, a friend from previous gaming events. So, I introduced myself, then Scott... and then the next guy chimed in that his name was Scott. If that wasn't weird enough, the other guy at the table was, you guessed it, also named Scott. (The lone girl - Lil - just decided we should call her Scott, too.) That's right, kids - out of 10 people in the event, 40% of them were named Scott (including Aldie). Twilight Zone-ish, eh?!

After dithering through about 45 minutes of set-up & rules explanations - all in very good spirits, though - the adventure began. The party of four made mincemeat of the central court guardians... a loose conglomeration of skeleton archers & beastmen whose main function was to serve as target practice for the party. Sigh. (I even said to Aldie at this point: "This seems way too easy.")

But once they opened the door into the western part of the dungeon, all heck broke loose. I sent a pair of sorcerers after them, inflicting some damage as they provided cover for a freshly spawned crew of beastmen & a lumbering "boss" giant. The party tag-teamed both the evil magicians & their beasty friends... then retreated as the giant kept his relentless pace forward. Springing a pit trap on them was nice... as was using one of the Power cards to up the number of dice each monster rolled when attacking. (Unfortunately, one of the adventurers had Skye the Eagle as it's "friend" and used it to harass my monsters mercilessly.)

Then, just as they figured out that "double-sword girl" (can't remember her actual game name - the player using her was, of course, Scott) was an Acrobat and could leap past the giant in order to dig into the goodies, I managed a massive swipe of my club... and in a roll that still defies probability, wiped out two of the adventurers. At a conquest token cost of 3 each, they were out of tokens & out of the game. Wow. (The die roll, BTW, contained an amazing 13 wounds. Thirteen. Yikes.) So about 2 hours in, the Overlord prevailed. (Yeah, baby...)

Meanwhile at Table #1, the crew of adventurers had better luck... killing the giant off more than once, only to find him coming back to life. (This, as they say, is not good.) A tank-like member of the party was holding him off... until Aldie used a troll to swat other members of the party into the giant's club range. Another 90 minutes later and Aldie also triumphed.

Some thoughts on our two games:
  • Aldie had played before, giving him an advantage on his table... and while I hadn't played before, I'd played this kind of gaming role (Sauron, DM, etc.) a number of times & picked up on the strategies quickly.
  • OTOH, all of the adventurers were new to the system AND didn't get much of a chance to look at the rules. They would do MUCH better on a second playing.
  • In fact, all of us (me included) would do better on a second playing. This is a game where a little bit of experience is going to pay off dividends not only in better tactical play but also in reducing the time of play - as you get better at the game, it takes less time to "prune the decision tree" or read the combat dice or whatever...
  • Another benefit of a 2nd playing: making sure we had all the rules right and/or clear. It's not a complicated game, but the chrome that gives Descent that sweet "dungeon crawl" flavor also adds twists to the system that aren't always easy to remember.
Why I'm seriously thinking of buying or trading for a copy of Descent:
  • I had a blast playing it.
  • I can see Braeden (and eventually Collin) as a potential audience for this game.
  • I really admire how smoothly the whole thing works together.
  • There are expansions coming - one sometime this summer and another in the fall. (Ah, yes, the siren call of expansions... because, of course, it MUST be a good game if they can make more money off of it, right?! Ahem... witness Munckin. 10+ expansions & no end in sight... blech.)
  • The box has it's own zip code. (Man, do I love boxes packed full of minis & cards & map pieces... drool/slobber/drool.)
What's holding me back:
  • I don't think my current gaming group will warm up to it's long-ish charms.
  • It's long - even with more experience, I'm guessing that most dungeons will take 3-4 hours... or more.
  • The box has it's own zip code. (Honestly, storage really isn't a problem in my game room - but it still runs through my head.)
Whatever I choose to do, if you have any thought that you might enjoy the game, please go give it a try. Fantasy Flight is NOT paying me to say this - though, if they want to throw some swag my way, I won't stop 'em. :-)

Those of you who identify with my role-playing past will probably also enjoy this review of Descent posted to Boardgamegeek in the style of the ol' Choose Your Own Adventure books: Descent: A Choose Your Own Review Adventure Game

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Gospel According to "24"

One of the blogs I enjoy following is The Resurgence, which comes from the folks at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It's a weird mixture of scholarly papers on theology and pithy commentary on life & God & all that stuff from Pastor Mark Driscoll. What follows does not fall into the "scholarly papers" category.

But I'll let Mark explain himself a bit...

With the fifth and arguably best season of the hit television show 24 now concluded, Jack Bauer can take a much needed shower, get something to eat, and power up his cell phone battery which magically lasts forever. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I would like to offer the suggestion that perhaps 24 is incredibly popular because Jack Bauer is a lot like Jesus...

You can read the rest of the post at Is Jack Bauer a Type of Christ?

As a huge fan of the show & a follower of Jesus, I'm interested in hearing your responses to this. Heck, I'm not quite sure what my response is...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

50% Of A Good Thing

With Shari & the boys out of town (visiting family in TX), I had the opportunity to attend Kublacon for the second time. This is a well-run gaming covention held in San Francisco (well, Burlingame) every Memorial Day weekend.

BTW, the title of this post refers to the fact that I was only able to attend on Friday & Saturday of a 4-day con, not that I only enjoyed myself 50% of the time!

Thanks to Doug Garrett & Greg Parker who made this trip possible! (And George, whose last name escapes me, who kindly slept on the couch in the hotel room so I could have the hideaway bed!)

Here's a rundown of the highlights (and lowlights) of my Kublacon experience.

General Comments
  • I only saw The Mighty Khan once - and he wasn't handing out stuff.
  • The dealer room was cool (I got to talk a bit with Mark Kaufman of Days of Wonder) but I didn't actually break down & buy anything.
  • OTOH, the frenzy of the flea market Friday night sucked me in - I bought a copy of Heroes, Inc. and just missed picking up Techno Witches. (The amazing score of the night: Scott Alan Woodard got an excellent condition copy of Descent for $20... grrrr.)
  • The boardgaming area is growing... games were going on pretty much the entire time I was awake.
Highlights
  • The first game I played after I arrived was Nacht der Magier (Magician's Night), which was just nominated for Spiel des Jahres Kinderspiel (the German Game of the Year for children). But there wasn't a kid in sight when we were playing it! This is a great little 10 minute "dexterity" game that has the added bonus of working both as a "normal" game AND as a game you can play in the dark. (Some of the pieces glow in the dark!) I played twice over the weekend - winning both times - and the game has entered my "must buy"list.
  • I played in the Uberplay-a-thon for the second time... and came in just out of the "money" for the second time as well. But I had fun!
  • Part of the Uberplay-a-thon was playing China for the first time - while I'm a huge fan of Web of Power, I hadn't had the opportunity to play the "chip off the old block." I liked the double-sided maps (allowing us to tighten the game for the number of players involved) but I don't like the 4 card draw display. I can take or leave the fortifications and only scoring the provinces one time. What may well convince me to purchase a copy, however, is the expansion maps, Border Fights, which Doug Garrett had printed & mounted - very cool. (I wish the designer would think seriously about doing some alternate maps for the original game!)
  • We played two "fillers" as the Uberplay-a-thon drew to a close: For Sale and Double or Nothing. I approached the "new" version of For Sale with a bit of trepidation, as I'm a huge fan of the original... but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked on it's own. (I still like the original better, but the new edition is a worthy game.) Double or Nothing felt a bit random - Knizia in "filler" mode - but it played smoothly. I'd rather be playing Zirkus Flochati, though.
  • I had the chance to bring a number of oddball games from my collection to the table: Dorra's Marracash (where I was edged out by some savvy play from Bonnie), Teuber's Gnadenlos! (which I won after starting very slowly), Riedesser's Route 66 (which I won in a closely fought battle) and Jochen der Rochen (which I lost, but had fun playing).
  • In the "kid's games adults like" department, I got to play two games of Haba's Maus Nach Haus (I won both of them!) and a game of Leinen los with Aldie, his lovely wife, Michelle, and Richard Irving (which I lost miserably).
  • Early Saturday morning, Scott Alan Woodard & I played Zig Zag, a real time/memory game that I really enjoyed. Scott was, to put it charitably, less enthused than I was.
  • Later that morning, I got in one of the highlights of Kubla-experience: playing Descent: Journeys in the Dark for the first time. Early reports about long games had scared me away from playing it before, but one of the rare pleasures of game cons is trying those insanely long games you wouldn't normally try in "real life." Aldie (of BGG fame) was running the event, and we ended up with enough players that we needed two tables. Thanks to Scott's flea market find, we had two copies - and I ended up being the Overlord (read: gamemaster) at the second table. In fact, there's so much I want to say about Descent that I'm going to save it for a post of it's very own!
  • Once again, I ended up on somebody's podcast - this time around, it was Garrett's Games & Geekiness in a round table discussion with Aldie, Doug & Doug's wife, Shelley. The three of them had been knocking back a couple of bottles of wine - so while the discussion doesn't devolve into "I never noticed you beautiful you are before", it is well-lubricated. (I'm the designated driver.) I also managed to use the word "fondle" in a non-sexual context... and then did an absolutely inadequate job of making a joke about being forced to play games while speaking King James English. Otherwise, it's a fun listen.
  • My last event for Kublacon was Greg Parker's "Rare Gems" event... which means I got to play Der Untergang von Pompeji twice (lost the first game, won the second) and Jenseit von Theben once (and lost). Both of these are over-the-top expensive to acquire... and yet they are both on my "want 'em bad" list. Pompeji is "Survive for adults" while Jenseit is the best excavation game ever. Sigh.

Lowlights

  • I really don't like Alhambra... but it was the Uberplay-a-thon and the folks at my table wanted to play. Not only did I get stuffed (I was in 4th place), I had to play with 5 players, which makes the game even slower than usual. Sigh. (I've commented at length in other places about why I think that the parent game, Stimmt So!, is vastly superior to Alhambra.)
  • California, the new game from Michael Schacht, was just OK. There's nothing really wrong with it - but there's nothing compelling about it, either. It seemed a bit random with two players - I can't imagine how out of control you'd feel playing it with 4-5 folks! (One good note on this: I got to play it with Greg Parker, whom I enjoy immensely.)
  • And that's pretty much it for lowlights... not bad for two solid days of gaming, eh?

Other Stuff I Did At Kublacon

I also played:

  • Ra
  • Ark of the Covenant
  • Motley Fool's Buy Low, Sell High (which is Palmyra redux)
  • Meuterer

Driving w/Cell Phones & Movie-Going w/Pastors

Joel Stein is a funny man... I read a number of his columns when he worked for Time magazine - I didn't realize that he'd gone to work for the L.A. Times, which means he now lives in the metropolis I grew up in.

The first column here on cell phones almost caused me to spew diet lemonade across my computer screen. The second one on going to see "The Da Vinci Code" with a pastor is actually pretty thought-provoking. (Both columns are on the L.A. Times website, which requires free registration - sorry.)

Note: Joel Stein is NOT a follower of Christ (as he clearly states in the second article), so don't read these expecting Chonda Whatever-Her-Last-Name-Is or Mark Lowrey. (For those of you who don't recognize either of those last two names, ignore this italicized note.)