InfoPath and CAB Files

As Scott mentioned
yesterday, we’ve been playing with InfoPath and we were sufficiently
impressed. We had some great meetings with Microsoft today, and took some time
to demo the tools for some Microsofties that hadn’t had the time yet to see
the environment. We did the same demo – building a simple front-end for adding
new weblog entries to ChrisAn’s BlogX. Demo
worked great – went from nothing to spell-checking front-end in less than 3
minutes.

Someone then mentioned how cool it would be if the .xsn specification file was
completely transparent as well (read: XML), but we were disappointed to learn
(after opening in Notepad) that it is clearly a binary format. How could they
stoop so low?

So what do I learn after arriving in my hotel room and pulling down my feeds
in NewsGator? Clemens points out that it
is just a CAB file.
And inside you can find tidy little (OK, so not all of them are quite so
little) XML, XSLT, XSD, JS file. Pleasant surprise.

Review: Alpha Playing Cards

Tim Schutz was kind enough to send me a free deck of his Alpha Playing
Cards
for review. Tim has done some
great work, and his focus on gaming systems rather than just games is very
appealing.

An Alpha deck consists of 74 cards – 42 consonant cards, 30 vowel cards (each
vowel card has two vowels printed on it), and 2 wild cards. You can purchase
a deck
from
tjgames, or print one out for
yourself. There is a similar mass-market game called
Quiddler that is
similar, but I find the card distribution and extensibility better in Alpha.

I have played several different games with Alpha with adults and kids. It has
already become a staple filler game for our family. My 2 sons (ages 6 and 8)
enjoy some of the simpler games, and we’ve found interesting variations of the
games that allow us to handicap the adults to let the kids be more
competitive. Let’s discuss a few of the games.

makeAword

This is a great, open-ended game for kids where the victory conditions can be tuned and tweaked to suit the audience. 7-10 cards (more cards make the game easier) are dealt to the middle of the playing area, and players alternate making the best word possible from the inventory. The cards are refreshed after each player makes a word. The winner can be determined by points, funniest word, word with most consonants, etc. This one is Matthew’s (6) favorite.

6×6

A solitaire game in which you try and use up all of the cards in a 6×6 grid.
This solitaire game is the better of the two – I found there were more choices
to make and strategic elements than in WordSolitaire.

Alpha War

This is modeled on the game War played with standard playing cards. The deck is split in two, and players alternate dropping cards in the center of the table. Once three cards are on the table, a player can either make a word or pass. When a player makes a word, she gets to keep the cards. The goal is to capture all of the cards. Matthew enjoys this one as well.

WordSnake

This is an unusual game and one I expect to play more. There are no turns –
play happens in real-time – it reminds me of some of the
Icehouse games. Each player is
dealt 13 cards, and a central pool of 9 cards is placed in the center of the
table. The dealer calls “1,2,3, GO!” and players proceed to try and build a
word snake – words with at least 3 letters, where each successive word begins
with the last letter of the previous word. Play ends when a player uses all of
their cards and calls “Stop!”, or when all players pass. Players score points
for letters in words, and lose points for leftover letters. The game is tense,
frenetic, and fun.

AlphaRummy 500

This is rummy for Alpha cards. Melds are made by making words of 4 letters or more, with bonus multipliers for longer words. You can also play cards on existing words to make new words. My wife Julie and I played this one and had a blast – we expect to play it again.

Summary

If you would like a “portable Scrabble” that can be played quickly and is easier to teach kids, get this game! I strongly recommend it for educators and home schoolers. The price is right and you might even enjoy designing your own games.

Review: Laser Squad Nemesis

Odds are, you haven’t heard of this game. You won’t find it on the shelves of
your local retailer and you won’t see see 16 year olds lugging it to LAN
parties for death matches. Laser Squad
Nemesis
is a turn-based, tactical, squad-
oriented game played via email. It has a real-time feel to it though – this
isn’t like most hex-oriented turn-based war games.

The game is very light weight and approachable. The client is free to download
and you can get started quickly with the tutorials. In a LSN game you are
pitted against a single opponent – each can play one of four races (Marines,
Machina, Spawn, or Greys). There are a variety of maps to choose from and a
flexible map editor is included with the game.

Once you have tried the tutorials, you can play up to three games against a
real opponent before paying for a subscription, though you are limited to
playing the Marines on just a few maps. This try before you buy philosophy is
very attractive, and subscriptions are low-risk if you want to get your feet
wet playing the full game ($7 for 1 month, $15 for 3 months).

A Laser Squad game begins with force deployment – each player has a number of
force points and an area on the map on which they can deploy their forces.
This is a key strategic element to the game – which units to use, where to
deploy them – decision based on both the map and the race of your opponent.

Gameplay involves controlling individual units in an attempt to either wipe
out the opponents units or destroy the opponent’s headquarters. The central
LSN server resolves each turn and emails the turn results to each player. I
won’t go into strategy here (you wouldn’t to follow my advice any way – I’m
still a rank amateur), but there are great guides
published and a continuous stream of community participation. The masterpiece
of strategy guides is the Grenadier’s
Bible
.

I’ve had no problems finding random opponents and recruiting friends – this
community has critical mass and the game is here to stay. If you are a fan of
X-COM, Squad Leader,
or would just like a break from the frenetic pace of RTS or FPS, try this
game.

Let’s Get Started

I’ll be using this space to talk about gaming (boardgames mostly), technology,
software development, and just random thoughts.

I’m the CTO at Corillian
Corporation
, and we provide software and services
for banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions.

I’m a family man, with two amazing boys and a beautiful wife.

One of my favorite hobbies is games, primarily German-style boardgames. You
can learn more about these types of games at
BoardGameGeek; you can even view my ever-
expanding collection there. I’ll periodically post game reviews, session
reports, and other items of interest for gamers here. If you are ever in the
Portland, OR area and want to meet up for some gaming, let me
know
.