Warrior Knights

Jacob, Matthew, and I broke out Warrior Knights for the first time Saturday night and Sunday morning. I set the game up in between football jamborees for the boys, and spent the pre-game in Oregon City reading the rules in the football stands. This is another quality game from Fantasy Flight - nice bits and cards, great map board, and well written rules.

Teaching this was much more enjoyable than Battlestations the night before (which almost had Matthew in tears). Jacob, like me, loves variable / random action systems like the one in Warrior Knights. It creates an economy of choices and keeps the game flowing smoothly with essentially no downtime.

Warrior Knights

This game took us about 4 hours total, including teaching and some downtime looking up rules. We played by the book, with 10 influence points per player in the pool. The speed of the game took us by surprise, and we were all shocked to learn that just as we were starting to fight each other, the game was going to end the next turn. Matthew unwittingly did a great job arcing his play, grabbing 5 cities on the second to last turn. Unfortunately, he lost his only 2 un-manned cities to revolt or he would have one easily. I squeaked by only because of the special agenda card allowing me to buy an influence for five gold.

Even though Jacob finished last, he absolutely loved the game and is excited to try it again. It looks like the consensus is to put 15 influence points per player into the pool to give the game a better arc. We'll try that next time.

Help Me Choose Games for My Games Class

I'm a little burnt out on the chess class I've been teaching at school for the past three years, so I've delegated that away and will instead be doing a 50 minute pre-school session (7am - 7:50am) on family games for about 20 3rd to 5th graders. Before you say "that's too early", you should know that I've been teaching chess to 1st to 5th graders during that same timeslot. The class will run from October through March and be held once per week.

Here's a preliminary list of options I'm thinking about. I want games that support at least 4 players and, obviously, can be played in the 50 minutes we have.

Game  BGG Rating  Min Max Teach Play
Take it Easy                6.8 1 8 10 20
Diamant / Incan Gold                6.9 3 8 10 30
Apples to Apples Junior                6.8 4 10 5 30
Make ‘N Break                6.6 2 4 10 30
Tier auf Tier                6.8 2 4 10 15
TransAmerica                6.6 2 6 15 30
Family Fluxx                6.3 2 6 5 15
Blokus                7.5 1 4 10 20
Ticket to Ride                7.7 2 5 20 45
Treehouse (Pyramids)                6.3 2 4 10 20
Carcassonne - Hunters / Gatherers                7.4 2 5 10 45
Colossal Arena                7.2 2 5 10 45
Carcasson: the Discovery                6.9 2 5 10 30
Ingenious                7.6 2 4 15 20
For Sale                7.4 3 6 10 20
Niagara                6.9 2 5 10 45
Cartagena                6.8 2 5 10 45
San Juan                7.7 2 4 15 45
Pickomino                6.4 2 7 5 20
6 Nimmt                7.0 2 10 10 45
Can't Stop                7.1 2 4 10 30

What do you think of this list? What would add or subtract?

Getting Things Done (GTD) with Gmail and Outlook 2007

Like many others out there I've adopted a modified Getting Things Done (GTD) (or check out the 43 Folders getting started guide) approach to personal task and time management. GTD (and its extensions) addresses a topic area that many other systems ignore - how to deal with the email problem, and I think that's partly why it has seen such widespread adoption.

To date my GTD system has been about as low-tech as you can get - a modified PigPogPDA / Moleskine planner. I need a paper-based system for its portability, unobtrusiveness, and ability to use in customer environments. I'm not a big fan of using laptops in client meetings, and as I'm often meeting with high level bank CIO/CTO types, a paper system is both effective and professional. For a while I used the full-blown system described in the PigPog article, but now that I'm on my third Moleskine I've simplified the system quite a bit. At the front of the notebook I list out "Projects" (high level tasks from which next actions are generated), "Waiting For" (stuff I'm expecting others to accomplish), and "Someday" (wishlist or long-term items). The rest of the notebook looks like a diary / journal where I take meeting notes and indicate next actions. A next action is indicated simply with a single line and a box on the left margin that I can eventually check off. I use a single sticky tab to indicate where the oldest next action is, and the cloth page marker to indicate where my "collection" (i.e., where I write new notes and actions) page is.

I'm generally pretty effecient at managing email. I'm a big fan of Zero Email Bounce (ZEB) and work dilligently to keep my inboxes as close to empty as possible. The operative word here is "close" - my level of tolerance in Outlook is generally not having to scroll to see the oldest email in Outlook. Even with this model, I still found myself leaving items un-resolved for too long in my inbox. Another challenge is the fact that I have two discrete inboxes - work and personal - where I have a wide range of on-going projects. I also wasn't very effective at managing "waiting for" and "someday" type tasks in my electronic inboxes. I could go to the trouble of transcribing items from the electronic inboxes to my paper system, but that's just too much work and I'm unlikely to stick with such a model.

Last weekend I found myself staring at a Gmail inbox with about 30 emails in it, and about 20 of those requiring some action. Right about the same time I noticed the release of a Firefox plugin for applying GTD to Gmail - GTDGmail. GTDGmail is a greasemonkey-style mashup on GMail that combines some client-side cleverness with GMail's powerful labeling and filtering mechanisms to deliver a comprehensive GTD inbox system. It uses what I think is probably a little-known feature in GMail - you can send emails to username+label@gmail.com to have GMail automatically apply a label to an incoming message or to apply special filtering rules to the message. This allows me, for example, to set up a special email address in my BlackBerry and easily email new tasks to myself. As you can (sort of) see in the image below, GTDGMail also adds some UI accelerators to the interface to easily navigate to actions, waiting on, specific projects, etc. For the past 4 days I've been able to keep my GMail inbox at zero emails and feel that I'm much more on top of all of my personal projects (Sunriver Games, football coaching, scouts, etc.).

GmailGTD

There has been a ton of chatter lately about using Outlook (especially the beta Outlook 2007) for managing GTD. I own the Getting Things Done Outlook Add-In, but was eager to abandon it as it added instability to Outlook and I found that the only feature I really used was the "snooze" capability (not a good habit to get into). Melissa Macbeth wrote the article Outlook 2007 and Getting Things Done, Simon Guest expanded on those concepts in his article Implementing Getting Things Done using Outlook 2007, Omar Shahine expanded on those concepts with an improved macro, and finally Scott Hanselman recently published a podcast on A Better Outlook, including GTD add-ons for Outlook.

While I like Omar's macro, it does even more than I need. I don't really need to track contexts or projects for my tasks - turning an email into an action and moving it out of my inbox is good enough. So… I took his macro and changed it a bit:

  • Rather than turn the email into a true Outlook task, I prefer to keep it as a mail item but call "MarkAsTask" to force it to show up in the To-Do Bar. Note that even though I use the enumeration olMarkLater, Outlook still wanted to make the task due "today" so I had to do a little hackery to get it right (see the comments in the code).
  • I also want to move it out of my inbox into a sub-folder of the inbox. This forces me to discover the folder by name, and I don't think that's a simple thing to do. I found a sample function that will traverse down a series of / delimited folders and it seems to work - YMMV.
  • I don't throw up a dialog to allow me to set a category - as I said, I'm not tracking projects, so just adding the "Action" category is enough.

I also turned on two rules:

  • If I email myself (I'm on the from: and to: line, and it is only sent to me), then I assume it is an action and I mark it and file it as such.
  • If I email someone else and include myself on the CC: line, then I assume it is a "waiting for" and I mark it and file it as such.

So far it is working pretty well. I've got ZEB right now in Outlook and a clear handle on my actions, what I'm waiting for, etc.

OutlookGTD

The potential downside of this overall system is that I have three inboxes - my notebook, GMail, and Outlook. If I'm sitting around with my BlackBerry and my notebook and an action comes to mind, do I write it down or email it to myself? Should I periodically scan my notebook and just push items into Outlook or GMail? I don't know yet and will report back after a few months to let you know where I've landed.

Battlestations

Friday night the boys and I tried out Battlestations, the sci-fi sorta-RPG with ship-to-ship combat. This is a game I received in the BoardGameGeek secret santa gift exchange, and it has been a struggle to get out. The main reason? I think this is a difficult game to teach yourself, and it doesn't have to be that way.

We played one of the intro missions and even used a pre-generated character for Matthew (a marine). Jacob took on the role of the scientist. I played the bad guys, and probably had too much of an advantage given that Jacob/Matthew had to fill out their ship with weaker "bots" (essentially commandable non-player-characters).

I wouldn't have been able to get started in the game without reading Jason Little's Battlestations - Example of Play walkthrough. The rules could use oh so much work - it is way too easy to get lost in the trees and never see the forest. As difficult as D&D 3.5 may be to learn, I think it is probably much easier for newbies to get into it given the narrative play examples included in the box.

In the end it wasn't a very satisfying experience. Too many rules lookups, the game felt fiddly, and it didn't keep Matthew's attention very well. We won't give up, though, and will try another session with Ken and Brandon to see if it gets better with more players and with a more experienced GM. I'll report back of course, but right now I'd be hard pressed to recommend this over other sci-fi RPGs like Star Wars D20.