Salishan Gaming Late 2011

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Earlier this month I hosted my 6th gaming weekend out at Salishan for my local gaming buddies (see prior outings: 2005, early 2007, late 2007, 2008, early 2011). If you'd asked me going into the weekend how many of these I'd hosted before I probably would have answered "about three". Time flies.

A better writer than I already wrote about his experiences at the event but that won't stop me from sharing some of my thoughts from what turned out to be a fantastic weekend. Sure, the gaming was fun but what makes it special is the amazing people that come along. We all know each other well enough to be very comfortable hanging out together.

This year I ran a "metagame" throughout the weekend with hidden goals whereby folks could earn "Brooks bucks" to use at a prize table auction on Saturday night. I think it went over pretty well and added to the fun and interaction of the weekend.

Thursday

Eminent Domain

Greg, Ken and I drove out together and were joined later in the evening by Jeff, Matt, and Doug. We played Eminent Domain followed by Innovation. While I've enjoyed Eminent Domain I'm not sure it is going to hold up next to other similar games. I also have a bad habit of picking a contrarian path to every other player ensuring I never get to follow their leads. Innovation on the other hand continues to shine for me. It can be a wacky game but I love how much comes in such as small box.

Train of Thought

Our "party game" for the weekend was Train of Thought. For some reason both times I've tried to teach this game I start off by screwing up the rules, which generally leads to a bad experience for everyone. The basic idea of the game is this: one player draws two cards. On one card will be a secret "destination" word, on the other the starter word. His job is to say a three-word phrase using the starter word hoping to lead the others to the destination word. For example, if the destination word was "forest" and the starting word was "shoe", he might say "shoes good for" in the hopes that someone will say "walking". The other players get to respond each with just a single word. At any time the leader can construct a new three-letter phrase using a word another player said. So in this case if someone said "walking" the leader might say "walking in trees", hoping to eventually link to the destination word "forest". The mistake I've made both times when starting? Failing to realize that the leader can use new words offered up by players to create a new three-word phrase. Very important rule, and pretty much the heart of the "Train of Thought" title. I swear I'll get it right next time. The game is fun when you play by the rules.

Friday

Power Grid Benelux

Friday was a mix of quick and easy games like Famiglia, Ascension, and The Red Dragon Inn along with meatier games like Power Grid: Benelux and Game of Thrones: the Boardgame. The only stinker of the day was 51st State which Jeff graciously offered to teach but was borderline incomprehensible to me. There might be a good game in there but why bother wading through horrendous rules and poor human factors when there are so many better choices out there. This is no fault of Jeff's -- the game is the issue. We aborted about half-way through.

Saturday

1865: Sardinia with Matt and Greg

On Saturday I spent about seven hours getting thoroughly thrashed playing 1865: Sardinia. I've had a hard time playing 18xx games successfully lately, but fortunately my enjoyment hasn't diminished. Sardinia is a nice entry into the genre, but it is still a longish one. The time it saves in not having to do train route optimization it more than adds in complex corporate mergers.

Magic: the Gathering 3rd edition Sealed Deck Tournament

The day ended with two special events. First, an 8 player sealed deck Magic: the Gathering tournament using some old 3rd edition / revised starter decks I've been saving for over 15 years along with Ice Age and 8th edition boosters. For some folks this was their first foray into Magic and I think everyone had fun. Finally, we had our "Brooks bucks" auction with some great games auctioned off (Eminent Domain, Twilight Imperium, Settlers of Catan, and more).

Oh, and we drank just a bit of bourbon and rye whiskey on Saturday evening.

Sunday

Eminent Domain

While cleaning up on Sunday (with very generous help from everyone that attended) a lot of gaming continued: more Innovation and Eminent Domain plus I got to play two-player Agricola with Greg, possibly my all-time favorite game. I think our game was very tight with Greg barely edging me out. We played the variant where you take 10 innovations and 10 occupations at the start and select down to seven. I'm very excited to try out Ora et Labora, the latest release by Rosenberg. Folks are saying this one tops both Agricola and Le Havre -- I'll believe that when I see it!

Thanks to everyone that attended for being outstanding, helpful guests (and great cooks). We'll do this again next year.

My top longreads of 2011

I've written before about Instapaper and longreads and my reading habits haven't changed. I love Instapaper still and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in reading more than just USA Today soundbites. Now is the time of year when everyone is putting out their top longreads of the year so I figured I would share mine:

Runewars with Dave and Chuck

Runewars

Last weekend I got together with Dave and Chuck (strange fact: all three of us were born within 1 month of each other) to play Runewars. I first played this game last month at BGG.CON and thought was good but maybe not great. I was caught off guard by some of the tactics cards and as a result it felt even more chaotic than I expected. Before I even left for the convention Dave and I agreed to get together on a Saturday to play together and I was certainly willing to try it again.

We played with the Banners of War expansion. This adds extra creatures to each faction, extra development upgrades for strongholds, enhanced cities, and probably some other cards and such that I'm forgetting about. It didn't over-complicate or lengthen the game and I think it is an automatic play-with-the-expansion-if-you-have-it.

The board layout ended up with Chuck having a narrow one-square path to the rest of us. As if this weren't enough, that single choke point also became water because of an event, meaning that units and heroes could only pass through in the winter (when frozen over) or by flying. This created an interesting dynamic where Dave and I were able to battle first while Chuck gradually built up his forces for an eventual winter attack. This led to no end of "Winter is coming" references. If only Chuck had played the undead faction instead of me.

Dave, Chuck playing Runewars

I just realized I'm diving into minutia without even giving an overall sense of the game. Here's a brief summary:

  • The game is set in the world of Terrinoth, the same setting as other Fantasy Flight games such as Runebound and Descent.
  • Each player controls a good or evil faction which will include army units along with 1 or more heroes.
  • There is a variable map setup to kick off the game. Map hexes have terrain, resources, possibly cities, and other features that influence movement.
  • Each faction has a home area that gets populated with a starting stronghold and units. From there players incrementally build up their armies and expand their resource pools to improve production.
  • There is a seasonal flow from spring through winter with specific events and activities happening each season. This includes the start of winter where players must be able to feed their armies.
  • Heroes can run around the board trying to complete quests, duel other heroes, and possibly help out the armies in their battles.
  • The main objective is to gather and control dragon runes. If you control a certain number you can garner and automatic win. Otherwise the game plays out a set number of years and the winner is the one controlling the most dragon runes.

Our game played out to the end with Dave nearly achieving a seven rune victory. The runes themselves are hidden (though the number of runes is technically trackable but difficult to do so) which can make for some tension in figuring out who is in the driver seat. Chuck was forced to choose between attacking Dave or me on his final conquest action and pulled off an amazing combination to take a rune away from Dave -- the right choice because he would tied in runes with him but way ahead in influence, the first tiebreaker. While this pulled Chuck ahead of Dave, it tied him with me (I snuck in with six runes myself) and one on the second tiebreaker. A virtual tie but I'll claim the victory proudly.

The game is a bit long - it took us about 5 hours of playtime and I'm wouldn't expect it to play in less than 4 hours unless each player was very experienced and turns went faster. We had a blast and I look forward to playing again. I want to try out the new game Eclipse before deciding whether to buy this one though - I've heard it is similar but possibly more streamlined.

Benchmarking my new Mac config with Thunderbolt, SSD

Julie can bear witness to my gradually escalating frustration with my desktop photo and video editing platform I use at home. I abandoned doing any movie production in iMovie on that machine earlier this year, and my Lightroom workflow has been significantly hindered.

I've suspected for a while that the key issue is my storage solution - a Drobo drive array with about 2.7TB of storage attached to my iMac via Firewire 800. Julie and I agreed (well, her words were more likely "OK, whatever") that it was time for an upgrade. Last week I took delivery of a custom Mac Mini with a new external drive empowered by the new Intel and Apple developed Thunderbolt) technology.

Specifically, here's what I ordered:

Wanting some empirical support for this upgrade, I decided to benchmark the various disk interface options (old and new) to see how things compare. I used the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test tool installed from the Mac app store. There may be better tools out there but this was free, easy to use, and seem to produce reliable and repeatable results.

Storage read/write benchmarking

Not surprisingly, the Drobo was the real performance dog in this show - a faster computer obviously wasn't going to make any difference. In fact, when accessing the Drobo from my Mac Mini via USB performance went down about 30% vs accessing it from my iMac via Firewire.

Unsurprisingly, the internal Apple supplied solid state drives (SSDs) performed extremely well on both my MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. I suspect they are identical 250GB drives in both machines.

What blew me away was the Thunderbolt 2TB external drive performance. My take is that we are seeing an unconstrained I/O channel (Thunderbolt) combined with the advantage of a RAID 0 striped drive. Given that I went with the 5400 RPM drives vs 7200 I didn't expect the performance to surpass my SSDs, but that's what I'm seeing. Write performance is over 30% faster on the Thunderbolt drive vs the SSD.

And yes, my subjective take on the performance improvement in Lightroom and iMovie is "wow, what a difference". And Julie doesn't have to put up with my complaining anymore.