Operation Hero Miles

If you know me or read this site very often, then you know that I travel quite
a bit. So much so that I have a hard time using all of my frequent flier
miles, particularly those I accumulate on airlines I use less like Delta and
Alaska. Operation Hero Miles is a great way to
support our troops with almost no bureaucracy standing in the way. Here’s some
information from their website:

In September 2003, the Pentagon started giving soldiers stationed in Iraq
two-week leaves in the largest R & R program since the Vietnam War. Soldiers
on R & R or Emergency Leave are flown by the military to Germany or three
airports in the United States, Baltimore/Washington, (BWI), Dallas/FortWorth,
(DFW), or Atlanta, (ATL ) for free.

The soldiers have been responsible for flights the rest of the way in the
U.S. to their destinations, until Congress provided funding for this purpose
on November 3, 2003. However, this funding is not yet available and may not be
sufficient for all the troops or troops on “Emergency Leave”.

More than 470 soldiers a day are arriving in the U.S.

Many soldiers on R&R leave must purchase high-priced last minute airfares
to connect to their hometowns once their military flights land at the airports
in Baltimore, Dallas or Atlanta. Soldiers on “Emergency Leave” must still pay
the full cost of their domestic travel when they are rushed home for the
family death, birth, illness or other emergency. The military does not pay the
cost of their travel in the United States, so your frequent flyer miles are a
huge help.

Americans have donated their unused frequent flyer miles to the Department
of Defense to help troops travel home and spend quality time with their loved
ones, without worrying about how much it will cost.

I just found a place to use my Alaska and Delta miles!

Another Reason to Like Apple

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently purchased a new iPod and a used iBook. I also enrolled in the
iTunes service to see what all the hype is
about. The idea of paying about $1 for singles is appealing to me. There are
quite a few artists out there with songs I like but I’m tired of paying 15
bucks to get just 2 or 3 songs I like.

Unfortunately, my first experience with iTunes wasn’t all that great. First
off, I don’t find the interface to be as spectacular is many others have
claimed. I find myself staring at the screen quite a bit trying to figure out
what to do (particularly when it comes to the online store and maintenance of
my account). I chose 3 songs to purchase and download. Unfortunately, they
wouldn’t load into the iPod because iTunes claimed it wasn’t authorized to
play the songs. I suspected that this was related to the fact that I
originally used the iPod with Windows and not OSX.

Around that time I upgraded the iBook to Panther, wiping the box clean with
the exception of a few documents I had stored on the iBook. I didn’t backup
the downloaded music.

This weekend I wiped the iPod clean and rebuilt the music collection from my
library. I then went back into iTunes to download my music again. I just
assumed that once I purchased the music, Apple would track the purchase and
allow me to download again at a future date (like
Audible). Wrong! When you purchase from iTunes, you
are getting a one-time download. This means you better protect the content or
you’ll have to buy it again. This is clearly written in the iTunes terms &
conditions, but who reads those? Lesson learned, and I’ll make sure I protect
the content in the future.

I sent a support request into Apple explaining my problem, and begging to get
those three downloads again. Here was their response:

The Music Store Team has carefully considered your request for a new
download. As a gesture of goodwill, we have re-granted your download access
for your order history.

Please note that this is a one-time exception to the iTunes Music Store’s
Terms of Service, which clearly states that you will be responsible for
backing up your own system. In the interest of fairness to all customers, the
Music Store Team will be unable to make additional exceptions for you. To
download again, open iTunes 4 and select Check for Purchased Music from the
Advanced menu.

Very cool. And I got this response just 24 hours after my inquiry.

Gaming at Kevin’s – December 7

Jacob and I cruised over to Kevin’s last weekend for some Sunday gaming.
Normally a long haul for us, it was very convenient this time because Jacob
and I were able to get in some Christmas shopping for Julie and Matthew at the
nearby shopping malls. Jacob spent his own money on his gift for Matthew and
was a great helper while we found a few items for Julie.

Kevin always has such a friendly crowd at
his place, and the group is usually a good, manageable size (6-9 people). Onto
the games…

Condottierie

As the ‘geek likes to say, this is a “card game that’s masquerading as a board
game” – a fun opener that almost always seems to end too quickly for me. I’m
sure this is partly because each game has been played with 1 or 2 first
timers. Players play cards to participate in an auction for provinces with a
goal of owning three contiguous. Most of the cards have face values, while a
some can be played to double a player’s bid, force each of the facecards to be
worth only 1, or force an auction to end early. Jacob set up the winning play
this game by contesting a province adjacent to his that would give Kevin
enough contiguous provinces to win the game.

Unfortunately not enough strength stayed in the hand, and I wound up 1 or 2
points short of Kevin’s total (he had few but sufficient cards) and he won the
game.

Medina

This game will soon hold the record for game I’ve seen played the most without
ever playing it. This looks fun – the bits are so cool and I haven’t played
many building games like this.

Domaine

Ahhh, Domaine… this one I’ve been wanting to try for some time. Jacob and I
saw a large format version of this at GenCon last
summer, and since that time it has been on our short list of games to try. So
when the opportunity to play it came up, Jacob and I snatched the box and
Sabrina joined us.

Domaine is a very spatial game (you can read an online tutorial). There is a random layout in each
game with the 9 land tiles (a fixed center), and players alternate placing
each of their four castles on the board with an adjacent knight. There are
some special squares on the board – some help produce victory points (villages
and forests), others produce income (mines), and then there are the meadows
which are essentially empty space. The goal of the game is to segment off
chunks of the game board with borders, creating domains around your castles.

If you try and get too greedy and build a huge domain, it will either take too
long or your opponent will just disrupt your plans. Economy enters the game as
players must pay gold to perform actions, which include training knights,
building borders, or expanding an existing domain into an opponent’s. The card
deck composition is creative – cards are labeled A, B, C, and D, and all of
the “A” cards are shuffled together, then the B’s, etc. The A’s are placed on
top of the B’s, B’s on the C’s, and the C’s on the D’s. This creates a
changing economic environment in the game. For example, action cards to build
borders are more common early in the game and often cost less than later in
the game. The easiest way of getting money is selling your action cards – they
have a sale price as well as an action cost (the selling price is always less
than the cost). Cards that you sell back to the bank go face up in a pool of
cards that your opponents can then purchase back.

We made a few serious rules blunders during play (I was teaching Sabrina and
Jacob how to play while I taught myself), the most serious being how knights
are handled. Nobody was building knights early on because we missed the rule
that said you can only expand into someone else’s domain if you have more
knights in the expanding domain than in the opponent’s. This is obviously a
critical reason to recruit knights, and without this understanding it doesn’t
make much sense to ever hire a new one. We pointed out to Kevin how worthless
the knights seemed, and he quickly corrected us. This came just as the domains
were getting completed, so there ensued a rush to build knights. We also
missed the rule that you can’t steal a knight adjacent to a castle (hence the
configuration you’ll see below in the end game).

I held a fairly healthy lead for a while, but Jacob and Sabrina came on strong
as they began to complete their domains. I pulled out the victory by expanding
a domain and grabbing a resource monopoly at the end which pushed me slightly
ahead in victory points (I was orange, Jacob blue, and Sabrina red). This game
is on my short to-buy list – after the holidays though (hey, it’s Christmas –
we shouldn’t be buying stuff for ourselves!).

Clans

Kevin, Jim, Jeff, and Sabrina then played a game of Clans. This is most
definitely not on my to-buy list. This is an abstract game with a fairly
weak theme, and my one playing with Angela wasn’t very enjoyable. Maybe I
should give it another try… but really, why, when there are some many games
I like out there?

Aladdin’s Dragons

A new guest arrived that I hadn’t met before – welcome Greg! Greg is an
experienced gamer but hadn’t tried Aladdin’s Dragons yet, so I offered to
teach it to Greg and Jacob. I enjoy this game and will rarely turn down an
opportunity to play it. This game is an auction game with a few magical twists
(artifacts and spell cards that can be used to disrupt auctions or alter the
game mechanics). Each player has a series of tokens numbered from 1 to 9
(minus the 3), and players take turns bidding face down with the tokens on a
number of spaces (caverns where you can get gems, the town where you can get
cards and other advantages, and the palace where you can get artifacts). The
player with the most artifacts wins the game. The basic strategy is to acquire
gems early on so that you can by artifacts as the game progresses. This game
is always pretty close when I play it, and this was no exception. I managed to
pull out the victory with one more tile than Greg, and two more than Jacob.

Well, that was it for this session (for Jacob and I anyway – it was getting
late and Jacob had school on Monday). Stand by for another session report – we
had a game day it our house yesterday with a huge turnout and a number of
interesting games played.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program – Thanksgiving in Seattle

Time to flush the backlog of photos and other content. As I mentioned
before, Julie, Jacob, Matthew and I took the train to Seattle over Thanksgiving weekend. We
stayed at a hotel downtown and explored the area. We did this 4 years ago and
had a great time. I was determined though to plan just a tiny bit more – we
ended up having donuts for Thanksgiving dinner last time for want of an open
restaurant. This time we had a reservation at the Hunt Club restaurant and had a fine 5-course meal. Julie and I
opted out of the turkey for some finer offerings (prime rib and lamb).

On Friday we walked a couple of blocks over to watch the annual holiday
parade. The rain wasn’t too bad and it was a fun diversion. One interesting
tidbit: I’ve been pretty critical of the Segway in
the past, but I was proven wrong at the parade. Look below for the perfect
application of this amazing (?) technology.

Much of the time we just spent wandering around. Seattle downtown is nicely
sized. We were able to roam from Pioneer Square to the piers to Pike Place to
the shopping districts with no troubles. Friday afternoon we did the Seattle
Underground tour
– highly recommded.

Saturday we played tourist and took a boat over to Tillicum Village. We walked down to the piers from
the hotel and hung out for a while until the boat left.

The village trip was a bit of a disappointment. I should have expected as
much, but for $65 for an adult, the food (salmon) should have been a bit
better. We did enjoy a short hike on the island, and the boat ride was a
blast. Matthew did like the somewhat hokey native American show after dinner.

One highlight of the weekend was a chance dinner at Fado, an Irish pub. A great menu, even for kids,
and of course some tasty Guiness. I had the fish and chips.

On Sunday we caught the train back for an early trip back to Portland. I’m not
a huge fan of Amtrak, but they’ve got a great
operation in the northwest. It is a fairly inexpensive way to travel between
Portland and Seattle, and it beats driving. The Cascades trains have power for
your laptop and usually show movies.

Clawing My Way Back

Thanks to my pack-rat friend Greg,
I’m in the process of restoring most of my content. Things will still be
shakey for a while as my ISP stabilizes the environment. I have a backlog of
content to publish as well, including a glorious day of gaming yesterday where
we had about 19 people at our home.