Epic Boardgaming

Playing Antike with Yehuda in Israel and Jim in Indy

I've had some amazing boardgame sessions over the past two weeks that I'm eager to share. Earlier in December I hooked up with Yehuda (Jerusalem Israel) and Jim (Indianapolis IN USA) to play Antike over a Google+ hangout. I used my laptop to keep a camera on the game board and Julie's iPad to keep a camera on me. G+ likes to show the video from the loudest talker so I ran my audio through the laptop hoping to keep the game board as the primary video feed.

Antike is a good design for this sort of remote game where one player can keep track of the game state because it has no hidden information (like secret card hands or victory points). Jim and Yehuda both kept a game board locally so they could mostly stay in sync and I think it helped them along. This game had the least amount of conflict in it of any Antike game I've ever played, with Jim going after territorial expansion and Yehuda and I pursuing knowledge. Yehuda grabbed his second "7 seas" card plus the special prize for advancing on all the know-how tracks to win the game. It took us about 120-150 minutes to play the game.

FAB:The Bulge with Myk

The following Sunday Mike came over for a full play of Fast Action Battles: The Bulge. We chose this game to commemorate the start of the Bulge on December 16. This was my second playing of the game, with the first coming about five years ago against the very same Mike out at Sunriver. This time I played the Americans -- plug the gaps and squeeze the bulge!

As you can see from the photo above Mike achieved quite the bulge and almost managed to take Liege. We had to cut the game short by about 2 turns and called it a draw, which I think may have been generous of Mike.

Here I Stand - wars of the reformation 1517-1555.

On Wednesday evening this week I hosted a six player game of Here I Stand: Wars of the Reformation 1517-1555. This is a card driven wargame with the Ottomans, Papacy, Protestants, English, French, and Hapsburgs all vying for supremacy during the start of the reformation. The game involves secret negotiations and each power has a unique path to victory. For example, the Ottomans score victory points through military conquest and piracy, while the English are focused on finding a male heir to continue to the Tudor line, military conquest, exploration and conquest of the New World, and (depending on who is the English ruler) supporting the reformation our counter-reformation.

Jacob, Matthew, and friend Connor (Matthew and Connor are currently in a European History class) joined us and I suspect they would all say it was one of the best gaming experiences they've ever had. Five of the six players were in contention for the victory, with the French (Jacob), English (me), and Protestants (Benoit) in a mad dash in the final turn. The challenge in a multi-player wargame is that everyone will jump on the leader as you approach victory. Connor (Ottomans) nearly achieved an automatic victory through conquest when Jacob and I raced across Europe to push the Turks out of central Europe. This in turn almost allowed Jacob to achieve an automatic victory when the Protestants stepped in with some "foul weather" to deny Jacob a siege assault that likely would have won the game.

This was nine hours of epic gaming that we are eager to repeat, either with a replay of "Here I Stand" or its sequel Virgin Queen.

Merry Christmas from the Brooks Family

Matthew and stocking

So far it has been a wonderful family Christmas with much gift giving and cats rising and crashing on catnip. The morning started with an unusual early waking by the boys at 8:00am and revealing of the stockings. Socks, candy, and a (professional) Belgian waffle maker were the highlights. More photos on my Flickr set.

Gabby and catnip

We gave the cats some super-concentrated black tar catnip ball that resulted in a crazy Christmas show by the cats. They were fighting over access to the ball and Gabby ended up rolling around with it for five minutes licking it non-stop.

Gabby coming down

The result was almost a trance-like state for both cats. Maybe the new kitty sweaters were also restricting blood-flow to their heads. Either way it had us all laughing.

Waffle goodness

Julie made up waffles for all of us with tasty fruit topping.

Julie and Jacob

One of my stocking gifts for Julie was four tickets to the first showing of Les Misérables here in Sherwood so we are off to the show! Later tonight will be a tasty Christmas dinner with our close friends the Alleys. Merry Christmas y'all!

Online Learning

Jacob and I have both explored quite a few online college courses over the past year. His completion rate is better than mine.

We started with Software Engineering for SaaS on Coursera last spring. The class was a mix of Ruby on Rails learning but included a range of other tools and processes that fall under the "software engineering" umbrella:

  • Test driven development with RSpec and Cucumber
  • Learning to use git and GitHub.
  • Deploying with Heroku

The project work was simple but I really like how the focus was on modern tools and lifecycle concerns. Coursera is one of several online class offerings in the Massively Open Online Course category and they leverage automation heavily for assignment and test scoring. Interestingly they use the same test automation tools they are teaching to do the automated assignment grading. Jacob and I both completed this class and look forward to part 2 which may be offered next year.

Over the summer I took the Coursera Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act class for work purposes. The class was very much biased in favor of the ACA but very educational nonetheless. I didn't finish this class as it ended about the time we went backpacking in Philmont. Here I got a glimpse of how massive online classes are handling grading of assignments not well suited to automated analysis: peer scoring. Each week I was required to read and review at least five other writing assignments to get my own scored.

Next Jacob and I enrolled in CS188x - Artificial Intelligence on edX. This course was very well developed and included a Python-based framework and implementation of various elements of the Pac-Man game to explore the key concepts in the class. I made the mistake of enrolling in the Coursera Functional Programming in Scala at about the same time and had to choose between the too. I stuck with the Scala class, nearly finishing it (football coaching got in the way towards the end) and Jacob finished the AI class. This was his favorite class so far and should help give him a leg up going into an undergraduate CS program. He has time during school to work on these online CS classes during his "Computer Science Projects" period of self-study.

Meanwhile Jacob (with a few other students at his high school) is taking Multivariable Calculus via MIT OpenCourseWare as part of an independent math study at high school. While the instruction is very good in this class, it is striking how different these "old school" OpenCourseWare classes from their modern edX and Coursera counterparts.

Lastly, Jacob is currently immersed in the Coursera Cryptography class . He is enjoying it but it is much more math-intensive with little programming.