Games Feb 2024

February 29, 2024 9:23 am

Games I played during February 2024

Mystic Vale - This is a deck-building game, but instead of adding cards to your deck, you add overlays to existing cards. An interesting mechanic which avoids the problem of decks getting bloated or needing to get rid of low-power cards as the game progresses. However, it means cards are made of plastic and require sleeving. Played at the board-game group, I lost.

Empires's End - Instead of building up your civilization from scratch, your peak civilization is assailed by disaster after disaster. You do your best to mitigate the damage. The winner gets to be emperor of the rubble. Played at the board-game group, I won.

Keep the Heroes Out - The pesky "heroes" are coming to loot your dungeon, keep them out. Play as one of the creature factions that lives in the caves and work together to fight off the invading humans. It's a fun, light-hearted game. Played with friends, we lost.

Davy Jones' Locker: The Kraken Wakes - Sail your ship from port to port gathering supplies and readying yourself for the day the Kraken attacks. Then fight the Kraken in an epic sea battle. A cooperative game that I backed through Kickstarter. I want to like this game, but I think it fell victim to "more is more" and would be more enjoyable if the designer cut 15% of the features and focused on ways to streamline the game loop. After several plays, the most accurate word I have for it is "finicky"--which is annoying. I played solo (loss), solo 2-handed (win), 2-player with Jess (loss), 2-player 2nd-act-only (win).

Dune: Imperium Uprising - The sequel to Dune: Imperium, which builds around the 2nd-half of the Dune story (apparently the games were designed to coincide with the 2-part movie releases). The goal is to gain enough influence with the various factions to take control of Arrakis. It's a worker-placement crossed with deck-building game. We played in teams mode during DunDraCon for a whopping 5.5 hours. My team, the Fremen, lost--but not by a lot.


Encouraged by the guy that runs the board-game group I attend I decided to see what a board-game convention looks like. DunDraCon held its 47th event this year. It's emphasis is on RPGs, but they have miniatures war gaming, board games, table-top games of all varieties, and mostly lots of space for open gaming. It runs all weekend over Presidents' Day, but I opted for just a single day. I figured a whole day would be enough of new social environments for me for one weekend.

Recently the event moved to Santa Clara. It used to be in San Ramon, which would have been a lot more convenient.

As mentioned above, I played a game of Dune: Imperium Uprising there which took most of my day. But I also took some time to visit the vendors' hall. Lots of what you'd expect, but also a couple selling these laser-cut, hand-painted and -assembled Mimics and Monster Books (operating under the name "Serial Hobbyists"). They're absolutely amazing and available in a variety of sizes. After selecting your box/chest/book you get to pick out eyes to go on it which they glue in place for you.

I selected this Mimic and this Monster Book:

I still have to decide on something fun to store in each of them.

While there I participated in one prototyping event for a game called Rift Zone: Contact. It's a miniatures war game run through an augmented reality app on a phone. It's a neat concept, but not really my jam. One of the appeals of table-top gaming for me is to not be fiddling with technology, since I spend all day doing that for work.

Sagrada - Build the best stained-glass window in the cathedral. I also played this at DunDraCon. It's a drafting game which mostly falls into "group solitaire". It's fine, but not a game I'll be adding to my library. I lost.

Everdell + Spirecrest expansion - Return to Everdell Valley, but now send your explorers on an epic quest to map the surrounding regions and discover wonderful new experiences. Jess and I really enjoy Everdell. It's an enjoyable worker-placement game at its core, but built inside beautiful artwork and a cozy/folksy theme. I received the Spirecrest expansion for Christmas, but hadn't played it until now. It is a pretty significant expansion and really changes the game flow. With the base game (and other expansions) we always found the end game revolved around optimizing which cards you'd add to your town as you hit the 15-card limit But in our Spirecrest game there was much more scarcity pressure and I think only one of us actually hit the 15-card limit.

The game adds "big creatures" which you can put a little saddle on and have your regular meeple ride, which is completely unnecessary as a design element, but greatly amusing. Jess and I played with a friend, I lost.

Everdell Spirecest
Everdell with Spirecrest expansion really fills the table.

Kinfire Chronicles: Night's Fall - I've been searching for a cooperative narrative-adventure game that strikes just the right balance. I've tried Sleeping Gods, Legends of Andor, Legacy of Dragonholt, Legends of Sleepy Hollow, and Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Sleeping Gods is alright, but a little finicky and can be demoralizingly rough at times. Legends of Andor is a series of independent scenarios with tight time pressure, making it a puzzle/optimization game. Legacy of Dragonholt is a choose-your-own-adventure story with only a hint of gameplay. Legends of Sleepy Hollow hits the right core, but lacks polish. And Gloomhaven: JotL has a continuing narrative but is fundamentally a puzzle/optimization game due to a time pressure mechanic (I like it, but the puzzle/optimization nature slows things down dramatically).

Kinfire Chronicles, so far, is working out well. It's core mechanics are deck building and tactical combat. I've been playing it with Jess. I've been playing as Feyn Longstride (human bard) and Jess as Roland Wordforger (dwarven scholar). It builds an interesting world and the combat loop is pretty snappy--without the time-pressure of Gloomhaven: JotL or Legends of Andor.

We've played through Quests 1, 2, & 3 and won them all. I also played Quest 1 solo as Kohr and Valora Helsman (and won) to get a feel for the game before inviting Jess to join me.

Ex Libris - Compete to curate the best library in the land. It's a game about collecting and organizing books! Jess gave me this for Christmas and this is the second time we played it. It's a calm, relaxed game of acquiring books then adding them to your bookshelf while keeping them alphabetized, avoiding the banned books, seeking out the prominent works, and striving for your own, personal library focus. We played with a friend, I lost.

Books Feb 2024

7:01 am

Books I finished reading in February 2024.

The Last Ringbearer by Kirill Yeskov, translated by Yisrael Markov

What if The Lord of the Rings were just the revisionist history of the warmongering men and elves of Middle Earth? In this retelling of the events of the War of the Ring we see Mordor as a civilization on the cusp of industrial revolution. Gandalf convinces the men and elves that if Mordor's technological progress isn't stopped immediately then the magic- and tradition-based societies of the rest of Middle Earth are doomed.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Aliens are coming to invade the Earth. But video games are being used to secretly train a defense force of drone operators.

It's campy--and like Cline's other works full of pop-culture references. But the prose flows smoothly and it's a fun read.

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

This is the non-fiction story of Deogratias, born in Burundi (I hesitate to say "true" because, as Kidder acknowledges, it's impossible to corroborate many of the events). Deo was a third-year medical student working an internship in a rural medical clinic when Burundi erupted into another wave of sectarian violence.

After surviving a horrifying journey filled with abject brutality he finds himself with a chance at safety in the guise of a series of plane tickets to NYC and a falsely obtained business visa to enter the country.

He speaks French and Kirundi, but not a word of English. In a few years, through the persevering kindness of strangers and his own grit, he graduates from Columbia University, restarts medical school at Dartmouth, and eventually returns to Burundi to open the medical clinic he'd been working for since childhood.

Permutation City by Greg Egan

The human mind can be copied and then simulated on computer systems. These copies definitely feel conscious and sentient to themselves and others. But if the processing of the simulations can be cut up and distributed across space and time, what does that mean for our understanding of consciousness?

So Long Ivy, Hello Confetti

February 4, 2024 11:34 am

We've had a pair of Eufy robot vacuums for many years now. The first one Heather named Ivy; the second one Corinne named Sprinkles. One of the several motors on Ivy finally failed a couple of weeks ago and Sprinkles needed a new battery. So Ivy donated her battery to Sprinkles and got dropped off at the eWaste facility. She was dumb, but she got the job (mostly) done. She was six years old.

To fill Ivy's, uh, tires, I bought a Roborock Q5 as a bit of an upgrade. I was slightly annoyed by the use of a phone app, but from what I can tell it seems to minimize how dependent it is on Cloud connectivity and supposedly all the mapping data stays local on the robot. And I was curious how well the LIDAR mapping and navigation works and the price was right. Corinne promptly named it Confetti.

And I must say, I am thoroughly impressed with the mapping, navigating, and cleaning algorithms. Set it up, tell it to clean, and it wanders around as it builds a map from the LIDAR data. Once it returns to the dock it processes the data and segments the data into rooms (which you can modify).

Once rooms have been segmented you can tell it to clean individual rooms, any combination of rooms, or to clean everything. On every run it continues to collect LIDAR readings and integrates them into its existing map.

Within the map you can define virtual walls and "no go" zones. I hadn't even considered how useful the "no go" zones could be until it ran into the cat's food dishes and I just dropped a "no go" zone around them and never have to deal with it again.

When told to clean a room it runs around the perimeter first and then uses an overlapping back-and-forth pattern on the interior. If you tell it to run two cycles on the same room it does the first cycle in one direction and then the second cycle perpendicularly.

Because it's navigating intelligently (unlike the bump-navigation robot vacuums, as our two old Eufy bots were), it takes significantly less time to clean a room and thus is less annoying and lets you get more floor space cleaned between charges.

We rearranged a bunch of furniture this weekend and it figured out the new room configurations without issue and just got its job done. Really the only challenge left for it is that its LIDAR sits on top and can't "see" small stuff on the ground around it (like cat toys, or shoes). So you still have to pick that stuff up to get it out of the way.

Here you can see the perpendicular cleaning pattern on the carpet:

And the map of the room after it finished cleaned showing its path:

Books Jan 2024

January 31, 2024 6:59 pm

Books I finished reading in January 2024.

My second book in French has been an ongoing project for several months now and I finally finished it this month. Geist: Les héritiers de Nikola Tesla is an alternate-history murder mystery. The language it uses is significantly more complex than La Planète des singes and contains many words made up by the author for the story. So it took me a while to get through it. I'm quite certain I missed a lot of nuance, but I got the general story.

Set in Paris, it tells the story of an investigator on a murder case in a world of psychic powers and wireless electricity--set in motion by Tesla.

The Phantom of the Earth Omnibus has been in my ebook library for 7 years, but the ~1000 pages had been dissuading me from diving in. But I finally got around to it.

Humanity has retreated into the depths of the earth to escape a rapidly-mutating bio-warfare agent that has spread across the surface of the planet and kills in seconds.

But that's all somewhat ancillary to the story, which is about a dystopian dictatorship and the motley crew of rebels trying to overthrow it.

Doors of Sleep is the book the girls picked out for me for Christmas.

Zax has a problem. When he falls asleep he is transported/teleported/jumped to an alternate universe. When he finds somewhere safe and comfortable he stays awake as long as he can. When he lands somewhere dangerous he drugs himself into a quick escape.

Life is pretty bleak--and then it gets worse--but also better.

Blackout and All Clear are a single story told as a duology.

Connie Willis draws us into a universe where time travel exists, but can't be used to change history or get rich and so its use gets relegated to historians at Oxford.

She has other stories in this universe as well, including the short story I read in a science fiction anthology, Fire Watch, which introduced me to her work many years ago.

One thing Willis does better than any other author I've read is developing a scene of chaos / hecticness. You can feel the frazzled nerves, the frustration of being interrupted, and sense the time slipping away toward disaster.

In this story, a group of historians is studying World War II when everything goes wrong and they find themselves gaining a much deeper understanding of the history they're studying than they intended.

Miniatures Dec 2023

January 4, 2024 4:06 pm

I painted these three over Christmas vacation. After drybrush-highlighting the larger spider on the woman's belt I decided there was no chance I'd be able to drybrush the smaller ones without making a mess so I left them silver. The little guys are minions from Mechs vs. Minions. The woman is from a pack of figures for general use in games. I wasn't paying attention to my time carefully, but between 2 sessions I probably spent 5-6 hours on the set.