Werewolf in our Game On! Games Class

Julie just wrote this tid-bit to me about our games class. I'm out of town on business all week so she's handling both classes, and we struggled a bit deciding what to do. We are nearing the end of the class and I hope to try Bohnanza but am still a bit concerned about complexity. We decided to pull out Werewolf and it was a smash hit:

Yup…Werewolf got 4’s across the board. And that’s after I tried to clean it up and give it an “E for Everyone” rating. I gave some background about how in the old days, people didn’t know as much about their world and when strange things happened, they often resorted to superstition. In the updated story, we said someone ‘disappeared’ in the night. Villagers woke up and had to blame someone since people don’t just disappear. They chose someone to lock in jail (not lynch). Once the round was over, I always went back to the werewolves (who weren’t really werewolves) and asked them why they were taking people. The explanations were cute – I was hungry and needed someone to cook for me, I was bored and we were playing games, etc. I think it was important to make the change. Even while playing this version, a couple in my group said it was scary since they had to close their eyes and they didn’t know if they’d be ‘taken away’. The more they played it, the better they were. I don’t think they fully understood my role as moderator at first (no one physically is taken anywhere, etc.). Both groups had a ball and didn’t even notice when it was 7:45 and time to leave. Awesome.

Salishan Gaming Wrapup

Chairman Mike did a fabulous job writing up our recent gaming weekend out on the coast, but I still wanted to share some of the impressions of the games I played. There were no stinkers in the entire batch and I had an amazingly fun time.

Command & Colors: Ancients

Mike and I managed to play 3 two-player games before anyone else arrived, and this was our first. I continue to rate this game very highly in terms of playability and speed - I haven't had a game run over an hour since my first play. I continue to have a hard time winning this game, and this one proved no exception.

Drive

One of my favorite 2-player card games. Mike plays faster than anyone I've played so far (in terms of laying down sets), so I was forced to adjust a bit and managed two have a huge scoring second round. This put me well out of reach in the third and I won easily. I think this was one of only 3 wins for me all weekend, but who's counting?

Combat Commander: Europe

We played a fairly bizarre scenario (#7?) with a randomized setup for the Russian player followed by a clustered setup by the German. This allowed me to position myself to cut off one of Mike's leaders and it was downhill most of the game for him from there. It didn't hurt that I was able to bring in a crack paratroop squad to steal a couple of control points on the other side of the board. This is still my favorite game of the year and I'll be anxiously awaiting the first expansion soon I expect.

Mermaid Rain

Doug and Mimi taught this to me and I quite liked it. It had an Elfenland / King of the Elves feel to me with a few nice twists (such as card play similar to Havoc).

Bohnanza

Julie and I are expecting to try this at the end of the game class we are teaching (it concludes just before spring break at the end of March) so I wanted to try this again. What a blast - I did poorly, but this is a great game that I need to play more often. I'm very concerned about teaching 3-5 graders the game and playing it within 50 minutes. I wonder if there are any simplified rules out there?

Mykerinos

This game has been on my hope-to-try list for quite some time and I enjoyed it. Felt very much like a lighter version of Ys and I can see some real depth to the game. I'm fairly certain Matt won this one.

Canal Mania (x2)

The hit of the weekend for me, coming out twice with 5 players. The game is taking about 2 hours to play, which is a bit long. There's also enough downtime in the game to do 3 loads of laundry during two hours (trust me, I know...) so I think I'll prefer it with 3 players in the long run. I think with three experienced players we can get the time down to 1 hour. I did OK in both games, finishing about in the middle but very much in the running during the second game. I'm glad that the second edition is going to balance the benefits of construction and running goods, as I think there's way too much opportunity to get imbalanced scoring on goods as it is (especially if players aren't paying attention when putting goods out).

18TN

This was by far the longest game I played over the weekend, and while it was fun I didn't have the same great feeling as I did after 18FL and 1850 (maybe because I finished dead last?). I think Mimi was somewhat reluctant to play, but she played fabulously and beat us all. I was too tied into my major line and didn't get enough participation in some other quality rails.

Power Grid - Easter Europe

Power Grid is a game I still love but I'm just not very good at. The Eastern Europe map is quite different than most - very cheap raw goods but expensive connections.

Liberte

Man, what a great game with miserable components. I'd love to do a rework of the graphical elements on this game and make it playable. I think I'm going to take a sharpie to the board and cards to make the regions distinguishable. Ken Crangle informed me later that we played wrong in a big way - one of the cards (Terror?) requires that the red faction be in charge in order to play, and we missed this. Boy, did we have a pile of generals' heads built up in the game box! Our last 2 battles went without a winner as a result, so this was a pretty broken game. Still fun though.

Agon

Saturday night I ran a quick session of Agon, an indie RPG set in Greek mythology. I stumbled a bit with the system and made a few mistakes (this was my first play), but I think everyone had a good time. Wes is a very experience role-player and did a great job as a player, adding good color text and helping prop me up when I struggled.

Die Säulen der Erde

Sunday after lunch Ken, Mike and I played this Essen release. I only played 1 turn of the game at Essen, standing in for Jim Ginn as he had to run off in the middle of game. So, I had a basic idea of the mechanics but no sense of strategy. Mike maintained a solid lead throughout the game, but I think I had a decent understanding of the economic system at play and made mostly good moves. Ken adopted a strategy of converting gold into victory points, and I'm not sure that's a winnable approach (though I'm glad he tried - it was interesting seeing the economics). I think I'll want to buy this one when Mayfair ships the English version in a month or two.

Automating Your Home IT

I enjoy hacks that simplify my life and let me focus on the stuff that really matters. I'm a long-time reader of Lifehacker and even bought Gina's book so that I'd be able to read it while sitting on airplanes (like I am now). For the past 4-6 weeks I've been on a mission to automate as many routine IT-related tasks as possible. This includes making sure that I have a stable and secure IT infrastructure at home that I can remotely manage while traveling. Maybe some of you are interested in the journey I've taken so far, so here goes.

The Environment

This is what my home IT environment looks like:

  • Comcast broadband over cable
  • Wireless network, WPA and MAC address filtering enabled. Port 22 only forwarded from the wide open Internet to allow in-bound SSH to my Linux box.
  • Julie's Dell laptop, usually anchored in our office, but sometimes used remotely. Connects wirelessly to our home network.
  • 2 Shuttle XPC-style Windows XP boxes, primarily for gaming. One of them is also my iTunes host (database, not the music files themselves).
  • A headless Windows file server for documents, music, and photos. This is a Dell desktop that I bought 8 years ago and it still works like a charm. I've cut this Windows XP environment down to the core and only manage it through remote desktop (there's no keyboard or monitor attached to it).
  • A 4-year-old FragBox running Ubuntu Edgy Linux desktop.
  • From time to time, my work IBM ThinkPad T43 is connected into this network.

Document / Photo / Music Backups

Documents and photos are, to me, the most critical information to protect. I've got a decent, though not bullet-proof solution in place here. This is what I do now:

  • The file server has a mirrored RAID configuration with two separate 100GB disks. So I have some inherent redundancy in the file storage itself.
  • I have a REV drive attached to the USB 2.0 port for backups.
  • I run SynchBackSE to do nightly backups of photos and documents. I have a Google Calendar reminder that auto-generates a todo item for me (using GTDGmail of course) to rotate my REV disk once a month.
  • When I rotate the disk, the recent one goes into a firebox where I keep some other important documents like passports.
  • I'm not as concerned about backing up music because I can re-generate 99% of my library by re-ripping my 200+ CDs. I've done a few snapshot backups on REV drives, but it is not a regular process. This is mostly because my REV drive isn't large enough to hold docs, photos, and music.

What could be improved: I feel like I should be rotating the backups more frequently and leveraging some offsite storage. I need to find a backup buddy that I can exchange with. Any takers out there?

FolderShare

This is an amazing tool, and I hope Microsoft doesn't do anything to reduce its usefulness. I use this for replicating a number of key document sets to 3-4 of the machines in my environment. FolderShare is what allows me to work offline and trust that proper synchronization will happen when I reconnect. It has some gotchas and sometimes negative side effects (watchout for cascading deletes!), but I've learned to love this tool and it is part of my normal desktop environment. It is also great for remote file access.

Auto Defrag

This was an easy hack to setup, so why not automate this? If I don't work on a PC frequently, I'm very unlikely to remember to initiate a defrag. I schedule these to run on all of my Windows boxes on Sunday nights.

Content Filtering / Family-Safe Browsing

Our boys are getting older and much more savvy about using the internet. While we supervise this activity as much as possible, I wanted to put in place some automated tools to provide content filtering and tracking of web access. I went with BSafe Online and so far I'm happy with it. It takes a while to tune it so that certain important sites (like Wikipedia) aren't blocked, but that's fine with me. There are some nice side effects like ad blocking, and I get weekly email reports of site access so that I can monitor what's going on in my household.

Auto Hotkey Scripts

AutoHotkey - what a fantastic little tool. I haven't defined a huge number of keyboard macros, but I still find this to be a useful timesaver and it fits really well with my FolderShare distribution model. I have a folder called Briefcase that I replicate to all of my desktops. I compile my AutoHotkey scripts into an executable and have it launch from the Briefcase on startup - this helps ensure that I always have the same set of scripts available on all of my (Windows) machines. I mostly use the scripts for email signatures - handy as I have many different personas I take on when answering email.

Note: the rest of these hacks are implemented in the Unix world of BASH shell scripting, MySQL, Apache2, etc.

Why Run a Home Linux Server?

Oh, let me count the ways:

  • Ubuntu is an extremely friendly desktop O/S for the savvy user. You've got to take my "friendly" guidance in that context - this still isn't for the faint of heart unless you expect to do nothing more than work with OpenOffice, FireFox, and Thunderbird. I've been hacking around Unix variants for over 20 years, and I'm sometimes amazed at what I can pull from the dark corners of my brain when working through some particularly challenging configuration steps. I still don't think Linux is ready for mass consumption on the desktop, but Ubuntu is certainly the closes I've seen.
  • It is a great way to make good use of aging Intel boxes. Still, don't forget that my headless Windows fileserver is twice as old as my Linux box. And they both just run and run and run.
  • If you want to have complete control for automation and powerful remote access, I think the path to success is shorter with Linux than Windows. Then again, I"m not (yet) a PowerShell geek like Scott is.
  • It's just different than what I live in day to day. My company primarily ships products that run on Windows. I like to see what's going on with the other half. If I'm going to write a Ruby on Rails application, I'd rather go all the way and develop in a Linux (or any non-Windows) environment with MySQL, Apache, and Subversion.

What Do I Run There?

  • As necessary, a Ruby/Rails application that Jacob and I developed for tracking all of the players and teams in Sherwood Youth Football (Julie is the secretary for the organization). This was an interim step as they plan to move to a web-based outsourced solution this year. It was a fun playground for sharpening my Rails skills and learning how Rails supports AJAX functionality. This app is backed by MySQL.
  • A personal MediaWiki installation. This is the same Wiki that sits under Wikipedia - maybe that's overkill, but I love the extensibility of MediaWiki, the categorization capabilities, and the likelihood that it will stay supported for a long time. Jacob is learning the Wiki Way and is using it for merit badge work for scouts. I'd like to get him to start organizing his homework there too. I'm using it as a general holding place for all sorts of information. I'm also in the middle of writing up a narrative of our family history. The wiki is backed by MySQL. Note: One cool thing about using Putty on Windows for connecting via SSH is that I can tunnel HTTP requests through the SSH connection and work on my home Wiki even when I'm remote. I use DynDNS to make it easy to find my home network while remote.
  • A Subversion repository and server.
  • A replicated mail repository that mirrors my GMail account into a local mbox that I can read using Mutt. Great for super-low-bandwidth connections or when, heaven forbid, GMail is down (this seems to happen more and more of late).
  • Various Linux services of value, such as an SSH server for remote access, remote desktop, and cron for scheduled jobs.

What could be improved: I'd like to use a more robust certificate exchange with my remote SSH access to the Linux server. Right now I rely on password strength, and that doesn't give me a lot of comfort.

MySQL Backups

Given the critical nature of the data I'm storing in MySQL, I need to ensure that I have frequent, trustworthy backups. For a long time I took care of this manually using mysqldump and a simple email to my GMail account. To automate this process, I cobbled together a few tools that are working quite nicely together:

  • MySQLblasy.pl - a simple Perl script that backs up all or some of the databases in a MySQL server, TARs up the resulting SQL files, gzips the TAR file, and uses a sensible file naming approach using a date/time stamp. It even rotates backups and can keep the last 2 days, 2 weeks, etc. on the local disk.
  • sendEmail - a BASH script that will send a file attachment via SMTP. After running the MySQL backup I send the file to my GMail account.
  • crontab - I then automate the above by scheduling the backups to run every evening. They automatically get tagged and archived in GMail, so I can simply check my GMail tag list and see the backups roll in on a daily basis.

SVN Backups

I keep source code and other key files in Subversion, so that needs to be backed up as well. This is much less likely to change frequently, so on a weekly basis I run a schedule BASH script that I wrote that does a hot copy of the repository, tar/gzips it, then emails it to my GMail account.

What could be improved: I need to start putting configuration files into Subversion. As I learned when having to completely rebuild by Linux box last Sunday after a catastrophic drive failure, a lot of time is spent getting Apache, MySQL, Subversion, etc. configured properly. I also need to automate the deployment of said configuration - maybe Capistrano could help me out?

Email Backups

I run fetchmail every hour to pull my GMail downto a traditional mbox on the Linux box. This allows me to use any of a number of tools to read my mail, but this is mostly just for backup purposes.

Todo Script

This is probably the simplest but one of the most useful hacks I wrote:

#!/bin/bash  
echo "Adding action: "$1   
/home/chris/scripts/sendEmail -f brookscl@gmail.com -t brookscl+Action@gmail.com -u   
    $1 -m "Todo: "$1 -s smtp.gmail.com -xu brookscl@gmail.com -xp xxxxxx -o tls=yes

When I do my weekly GTD review, I may generate anywhere from 25-30 tasks. This used to mean sitting in GMail and composing emails (tasks) to myself. Even with the keyboard shortcuts it was annoyingly tedious. With this script I can open an SSH session to my Linux box and type away:

$ todo "Write a blog post on automation"

Adding action: Write a blog post on automation

$ todo "Change the oil in the RAV"

Adding action: Change the oil in the RAV

My Windows box was jealous so I wrote the equivalent batch file, using the very handy blat tool for command line emails:

@echo off  
blat -p brookscl -to brookscl+Action@gmail.com -subject %1 -body %1 > NUL

Future Projects

  • Tighten up the security environment around my Linux box. Maybe try some penetration test tools to see what vulnerabilities I have, particularly coming over the public internet.
  • Integrate my Windows-based file server with my Linux box. I love using GMail as a backup mechanism, but why not dump the same backups onto that box and incorporate into my rotating backup on the REV disk?
  • Teach Jacob (and eventually Matthew) how all of this is done so that he can be a junior Sys Admin. Every 12 year old should know how to write BASH scripts, right?

Combat Commander: Europe, Scenario 5

With Jacob snowshoeing / backpacking up on Mt Hood, and Julie/Matthew driving halfway to the coast to transport a friend, I rang up Ken to see if he was up for some 2-player gaming. He was open to just about anything so I setup Combat Commander: Europe, scenario 5. This is the "saving Castle Wolfenstein" scenario or something similar - the Germans are defending a chateau in Belgium and the Americans are storming the castle. Not unlike scenario 2 that Jacob and I played recently. I like "unbalanced" scenarios like this more than the 1st scenario where both sides are on a generic recon mission. Of course they aren't really unbalanced because of the initial conditions - in fact, I'm finding the scenarios so far to be incredibly well balance. Either luck, coincidence, or they did a fair amount of scenario playtesting.

CC Europe Scenario 5

This was a marathon game, lasting nearly 5 hours with very little teaching and downtime involved. I used a selective disclosure method of teaching the game which works quite well when you have an accommodating partner. Ken and I are similar in that we both prefer not to grok the whole game at the start and just get into it. We didn't bother discussing artillery or ordinance until we got cards that forced me to teach him.

The game play was incredibly tense - the best I've experienced so far. I spent all of the game in the 22-27 VP range until Ken took over the chateau (worth at least 15 points), which gave me a very slight 3-4 point margin. The problem was I was fast approaching my casualty surrender limit. My other problem was that I had a secret 3VP objective of, you guessed it, the very same chateau which made my margin even slimmer.

We managed to trigger two separate sudden death trigger tests, but neither one played out to my favor. So it became a waiting game to see if another time trigger would happen or if Ken would draw an advance card to wipe out my surrender unit. Well, it didn't and he did, so game over. I'm glad Ken's first try at this game was so involved and rewarding - I suspect he'll want to come back for more. Prediction: CC:E and CC:A are going to be my two most played games in 2007.