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Ramblings from the Marginalized » 2006 » October

October 2006


Games October 31st, 2006 by Tom Vasel

I'm always on the lookout for games to play with my young children, while avoiding the dross that is so readily available in mass-market stores. Fortunately, there are piles of excellent games for children, but many times they are smaller, unnoticeable affairs. The Crazy Mixed Up Zoo Game (SimplyFun, 2006 - Peter Sarrett & Michael Adams), is a game that has such wonderful pieces and bright, cheery colors that kids naturally gravitate towards it. My daughter asks to play it all the time, because it just looks fun!

And the game is fun, mostly for children. It's at its heart a memory game and uses position, color, and shape to help kids notice changes. It comes with great components, including a magnetic board, and would be a wonderful addition to any household with a very young child, four years old or older. It's certainly not a game that adults will play, although they can compete against kids at an equal level - something that helps keep the game from getting tedious.

Twelve animal tiles come with the game, each in a different geometric shape, with a different animal on them. The tiles are two-sided, with each side showing a different depiction of the animal shown. Players decide how many of the animals to use (five or more) and place them on the table; and each player takes a magnetic board, which shows each of the twelve animals. Players place a magnet on the scoring track of their board and take two others, preparing for the first round. The player who best makes a monkey sound goes first, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a player's turn, all other players must avert their heads and close their eyes. The player then chooses two of the animal tiles and exchanges their places on the table, flipping them at the same time. They place their two magnets on their board to show which animals were switched, and then hide their board from the other players. Simultaneously, all other players look at the board and place their magnets on their board on the faces of the two animals that they think were switched. After everyone has guessed, the player who switched reveals their board. Each player who guessed correctly moves their scoring piece one space on the track; if no one guessed correctly, the player who switched gets to move their piece.

Play passes to the next person and continues until one player reaches the final space on their track (three) - at which time they win. That's it!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: It's really a very beautiful, colorful game. The box itself has a vinyl finish and holds all the chunky, high quality pieces well. The tiles are large, about the size of a child's hand, and show big cartoonish illustrations of animals. The illustrations vary slightly from side to side: for example the kangaroo is by herself on one side and has a joey in her pocket on the other. This helps differentiate for those who are color blind, but the colors will more likely help those who aren't - one side of the kangaroo is yellow, the other is pink. Each tile is in a unique shape, from a circle to a moon, to a cloud. The player boards are easy to handle, and the wooden magnets attach to them easily. I can't emphasize how nice the components are; it's easily in the running for the top children's games I own, bits-wise.

2.) Rules: Well, you can look above and see how short the rules are. The three page rulebook that SimplyFun included is really nice but has to be filled with color pictures and examples to flesh it out. My six year old daughter picked the game up in an instant, while my four year old took a bit longer to figure it out.

3.) Ages: The game may not impress those who are ten or older, even though the difficulty can be increased. But for those in the kindergarten through second grade age range, the Crazy Mixed Up Zoo will delight, not just because of the pictures and sturdy components, but because they will be thrilled about the memory concept, something they will excel at. My daughter can regularly beat me at the game, even with me attempting - simply because she has a better memory than I.

4.) Difficulty: You can add or subtract animals to change the difficulty - Melody and I found that using all twelve was the best for us, while my younger daughter needed to play with only five. Players can also mix up the animals each time - something I recommend; otherwise, the game becomes too easy. Again, for the four year olds, this probably isn't the best idea.

5.) Fun Factor: I'm playing a game that my kids love, and that I find somewhat enjoyable (though I wouldn't play it on my own). That's enough fun factor for me!

Don't purchase the Crazy Mixed Up Zoo Game for its components alone, although they are incredible and will certainly add to the appeal for young children. Don't purchase the game if you are planning to play it with your local game group, they will laugh you into the street. But if you have young children, you are doing yourself a disservice if you DON'T pick this up, as it will bring many hours of happiness to them, and that is true fun. Hearing my kids giggle in joy makes the game a definite addition to my collection.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

You can purchase the game here and you can read more of Tom's game reviews here.

*disclaimer - I am a Simplyfun Sales Consultant and I am the webmaster for Tom Vasel.

If you live outside of the USA and still want to order SimplyFun games please contact me via email and we can work something out to ship your order outside of the USA.

General October 31st, 2006 by Force Drainer

My good friend Paul, who blogs here as DaDrainer, won a Halloween costume contest. See the pics inside to find out why.

Look at the cute couple, ready for a night on the town! I've known Paul for many years and he is a wizard when it comes to special effects makeup.

Paul has done some truly amazing work in the past. Some of his work is too risque (ask him about the "puppies" some time) to show on here.

Paul is also a member of the 501st Squadron and he hand-made his own Imperial Scout armor.

You can check out some more pics and a video podcast by visiting Paul's site Rockwars 2.0

Here is a nice shot of Ami the succubus! Shot of Paul, the devil Why do I get the feeling the other contestants just came from a Charlie Brown production?

Games October 31st, 2006 by HMTKSteve

Halloween is Tonight! These Three games are my top picks for gaming on Halloween.

I present this list in alphabetical order so as not to give any one game more weight than another.

Arkham Horror

In the past couple years, I was introduced by some friends to the Cthulhu mythos, which for the uninitiated, is a literary universe begun by HP Lovecraft. The stories are dark and horrific, involving monsters from beyond the deep - probably the most famous being Cthulhu himself and the terror, insanity, and destruction they cause. While not necessarily my cup of tea, I understood why some people were drawn to these tremendously dark tales, and so wasn't surprised to see Arkham Horror (Fantasy Flight Games, 2005 - Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson) being republished this year. Not only was the story behind the game of interest to people, but the fact that it was a cooperative game also caught people's interest.

After several playings of the game, I confess that it is intriguing and fun. Some have compared it to Betrayal at House on the Hill, since both are horror-filled, but each fills a different niche. Arkham Horror (AH) is a game deeply rooted in the Lovecraftian mythos, with a fair amount of complexity. Betrayal is simpler and is based on "B" horror movies. AH is probably the most complex cooperative game I've ever played, yet the payoff is probably equal to the time put into the game. Instead of going over the rules (which are quite lengthy), I thought I'd just comment on parts of the game…

1.) Rules: I'm not a fan of complex games, and AH is about the most complex type of game I would ever be interested in playing. The twenty-four page rulebook is very large - the same size as the box and each full-color page is packed with rules, diagrams, examples, and illustrations. Once a player learns the game, it's fairly easy to proceed; but I found myself referring to the rulebook often. After a couple of complete games, the dependence on the rulebook will shrink; but the huge amount of options offered by the game pretty much demand a rulebook of this size. If complex rule sets scare you, then this may not be the best pick for you; but I assure you that the end product is worth it.

2.) Components: I don't know for sure, but I think that there are more pieces in AH than in any other game that I own, even the massive, component-filled Twilight Imperium 3. There are twenty-one different DECKS of cards, piles of money tokens, clue tokens, stamina tokens, sanity tokens, skill sliders, etc., etc. In fact, there are seven hundred and thirty-seven total components in the game! Now, that makes setup time a bit long and demands the use of plastic bags (the plastic insert holds the cards well, but not the multitudes of pieces.) But at the same time - WOW! - the game has so much inside. After one game, I mentioned to a person that we hadn't even seen 1/4 of the cards provided with the game, and they mentioned that it meant replayability was high. All of the components are of high quality - the tokens are shaped in different shapes and are thick, two-sided tokens. The cards, which come in two different sizes, have different colors, icons, pictures, and text - all of which help differentiate between the two of them. There is a LOT of text in the game, enough that it would be a major problem for anyone who is not a native English speaker.

3.) Setup and Time: Just a quick note - the game takes a LOT of space. Not only does the game take a while to set up, it also takes up a lot of room on the table. This isn't a game you're going to play at a moment's whim - a game can take anywhere from two to four hours. That isn't a negative assessment of the game - a person should just be prepared to invest some time when playing the game.

4.) Cooperation: AH is a cooperative game, in that all players are working together to stop unspeakable evil from destroying the world. That's a noble goal and all, but some people just aren't going to like it. There is a method to get a final score, similar to Lord of the Rings, but in the games I've played - no won really cared - we won or we lost. Now how does the game compare to other cooperation games? It's not as simple and linear as Lord of the Rings; it doesn't have the traitor dilemma from Shadows over Camelot. In fact, I think it most closely resembles Vanished Planet, if Vanished Planet increased its complexity ten-fold. Much of the game is spent with players discussing what to do each turn. This wasn't a problem for me - I like deliberations in a game, but a few players felt like the game was playing us, rather than the opposite way.

5.) Theme: In theme, AH is going to be compared to Betrayal at House on the Hill more than any other game, as both are cooperative (kind of) horror-themed games. But the horror factor is different in each. In BaHotH, the horror is the in-your-face, "jump" type horror you'll often find in a "B" horror movie. In AH, the horror is more subtle and sophisticated and is of the type that drives people mad, rather than slashes off their head. I thought the theme worked really well. The amount of flavor text and good illustrations work well. I'm assuming that the game would work better with Lovecraft fans, but I played the game with many people who had no idea who Cthulhu even was, and they still enjoyed the game.

6.) Characters: One thing that AH has over other cooperative games is that each player controls a completely different character. Of all the aspects of the game, this is one that impressed me the most. Every character has different statistics, starting possessions, and different special abilities - all that seem to fit quite well with their back story. And every character has something that makes them special. So far, no one has complained about a character; for while some are weak in a particular area (say - physical combat), they are strong in another (perhaps magical ability). The divergence of investigators is so great that the game pretty much has a role-playing game feel, with each of the players striving to use the characters that they have to the best of their abilities, to help the party as a whole.

7.) RPG: In fact, while I haven't seen AH advertised as a role-playing experience, that's what I feel it works best as. Players must work together as a team to beat the game; and since each player controls a unique character that brings some sort of special ability to the table, all are important. In one game I played, one player used Joe Diamond, the private eye, who with a couple of guns, walked around like a killing machine for a while. But Joe, as tough as he was, couldn't handle creatures that had physical immunity and had to depend on the "weak" Professor Harvey Walters to handle them. Together (this was a two-player game), they managed to make a tremendous team, stopping the evil.

8.) Players: The box says that the game handles from one to eight players. So far, I've played with 1, 2, 4, and 5 players, and all of them seem to work well, although it does appear that the number of players does affect the difficulty. I don't think I'll play a solo game that often, because it just seems like a lot of work to set up a game, where I am the only participant (I have the computer for that). But with two or more, everyone seemed to have a blast. Because everyone is interested in everyone else's encounters, there doesn't seem to be a lot of downtime in the game.

9.) Difficulty: This is a HARD game, but it is beatable. I think the final, evil enemy that is randomly chosen for each game has a major impact on how hard the game is. Some of the enemies, like Azathoth, must be stopped before they enter the fray with the players, others, like Cthulhu himself (itself? herself?) put difficult restrictions on the players, causing them to have a difficult time when attempting to complete the game. The game is difficult, which is important for a cooperative game; and AH leaves players with enough choices so that when they DO win, they can congratulate themselves on a game well-played, and yet not feel as if they've "solved" the game.

10.) Monster Movement: There are a lot of interesting mechanics in the game, but I really enjoyed the monster's movement. At various points in the game, monsters roam throughout the streets of Arkham. Each monster has a symbol on it, denoting what alternate dimension they are from. At the beginning of each turn, a Mythos card is turned over, which has a variety of effects on the game, including the monster movement. On the board, each space is connected to other spaces by white and black arrows. Each Mythos card shows what type of monsters move, and whether they follow a black or white arrow. This gives monsters a random movement that can't be determined yet follows some general patterns. I thought this was exceedingly clever, and hope to see it in some form in other games.

11.) Monsters: The monsters themselves are a very varied lot. Some of them have different movement abilities (a chart for these would have been nice), some are immune to magical weapons; others can't really be killed (they'll show up again), while still others can't hurt investigators but can scare them half to death. I thought the range of monsters was really neat, although players will often be turning the counters over to examine the special abilities and stats.

12.) Skill Checks: The combat system and skill check system are fairly simple, WHEN you know them. I found them a bit difficult to explain, as I'm not sure I've played any game that had a system like this before (modifiers affected the number of dice rolled, not the number on those dice). Once players get the uniqueness of the system down; however, it's pretty simplistic. I thought that the fact that two of each character's stats were tied together. If one stat was raised, the other lowered, and vice versa. This meant that no investigator, no matter how powerful, was always weak in something, and kept players on their guard. There are some "lucky" and "cursed" cards in the game that are crucial for these tests, and Ally, skill, and item cards also enhance the tests. In this regard, the game reminds me slightly of Duel of Ages. Both games, taken clinically, are a series of tests that are resolved by die rolls. Yet the thematic events behind these tests keep them from becoming dry or boring for me.

13.) Final Fight: If players don't accomplish one of the victory conditions of the game (shutting down gates, etc.), eventually the big bad bruiser of an enemy will attack players. In our games, we almost hoped for this; because this final confrontation, while long and hard, has such a rewarding benefit and is a climatic ending to a tense game. Still, rushing to shut down the last gate before this beast of evil is released also brings a lot of tense fun to the game.

14.) Cards: Apparently the original game had a reference book that players looked up when having an encounter. AH uses several decks of cards instead, and I think that works fairly well.

15.) Stress: Good cooperative games have a nice level of stress in them - will you finish the game? In this one, the stress is that players must save the world from Evil So-and-So. And it never seems that players can keep up. If they shut down one gate, another opens. If they kill one monster, two more appear. The terror level keeps rising, driving away valuable allies and shutting down useful stores. And that stinkin' Cthulhu is just sitting in the background, laughing and waiting to come in and sweep the invaders away. I LOVE this level of stress - it's a lot of fun and bands the players together in a way that even Shadows Over Camelot didn't achieve.

16.) Fun Factor: There are dozens of other factors that I could talk about when discussing this game, because there is so much involved in the game. AH is definitely a "meaty" game. And, if you enjoy the theme and the various decisions to make in the game, it's a lot of fun. Some people, who don't care for horror themes or cooperative play, will not be interested in this game. Others, especially those who want to play an RPG like game with horror thematics, will have a great time.

This is certainly a game that you should try before you buy if you can. If you are a Cthulhu fan or love cooperative games, then it's a no-brainer - get it! The good amount of complexity, the massive amount of pieces, and the various options may not be for the fainthearted, though; so you should check it out and see if that's your cup of tea. For me, I really enjoyed it. Arkham Horror was one of the games that I lay awake at night, wondering what would have happened if I had done something differently. It's one of those games where we didn't talk about the mechanics afterwards, but rather the story. It's one of those games where everyone stands up and high-fives each other when something good happens for the team. That, my friends, is a game I'm glad to own.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games."

Werewolf

When I need a game for my classroom, there is absolutely no better candidate than Werewolf. I’ve NEVER had a game not enthusiastically received, and it is certainly a huge success in the classroom, at parties, and with my youth group. For a long time, I had simply used the practice of some homemade method to choose who the werewolves were, but I was pleased to pick up a commercial version of the game Lupus in Tabula (DaVinci games, 2004 - no designer credited).

There were several reasons I liked this version. One, I didn’t have to go to the trouble of making up a homemade deck of cards; and besides, I like professional versions of games better. Also, the cards are of extremely good quality - not to mention fit in a very, very nice little card box. The artwork is excellent, if a little disturbing (but then again - so’s the theme, I guess!) The best reason for getting a commercial version is all the special roles that can be added to the game, and this one has a good assortment.

For those who don’t know how to play the game of Werewolf, the game itself is quite simple. One player is chosen as the Moderator, who is in charge of the game and doesn’t win or lose. A deck of role cards is shuffled, and cards are randomly dealt to each player. In the basic game there are three roles: Seer (one person), Werewolves (two or three people), and Villagers (everyone else). The game begins with the first day (round) made up of two parts: night and daytime. During the night all players close their eyes, and the moderator asks the Seer to open their eyes and point at a player. The Moderator then affirms or denies whether that player is a werewolf by shaking their head silently. The Seer then closes their eyes, while the Moderator calls upon the Werewolves. They open their eyes and silently come to an agreement on who dies (usually is the Moderator on the first night.) The werewolves then close their eyes, and the night comes to an end.

The day then begins, with all players opening their eyes and finding out who is dead. The player who is dead is out of the game, and may not talk or make any kind of communication for the remainder of the game. All the players then have three minutes of time to discuss who they think are the Werewolves; with the Werewolves trying to plant suspicion on others, and everyone else trying to guess who are the guilty parties. The Seer has some limited knowledge, but he must take care not to reveal too much, as to not become the next victim. After three minutes, the Moderator asks each player, starting with the one next to the last player killed, who they want to lynch. The Moderator gives an “Angry Mob” card to each player every time they are chosen by another. The two players who get the most cards are “nominated” and have a moment to make a desperate speech, pleading not to be killed. All other players then vote, with the winner being lynched, dead, and out of the game. Any time a player is killed, they are given an “Angry Mob” card, which is flipped over to its ghost side, showing to all that the player is no more. After the voting and lynching, another round begins, with all remaining players closing their eyes. If, at any point in the game, all the Werewolves are killed, then the Villagers and Seer win the game! But, if the number of werewolves is equal to the number of remaining villagers, then the werewolves win the game! Dead players still win if their side wins.

There are other special characters who can be added into the game with this set (along with a couple of blank cards where one can design their own character). Here’s a listing with each, along with my opinion, and how often I use them in my games.
- Medium - He has his own phase in the night, before the werewolves. He can ask the Moderator if the last person lynched was a Werewolf or Villager. I rarely use this one when I play with kids, since I almost always reveal whether the dead person was a Werewolf or not (they usually scream it out anyway.) With hidden roles, this becomes more useful but minimally so.
- Possessed - He is a human who is on the side of the werewolves, winning if they win. This is an interesting concept but doesn’t seem to work that well in theory. I use this one, but very infrequently.
- Bodyguard - This is another human who has his own phase during the night, before the werewolves. He points to another player, “protecting” them. If the werewolves try to murder that player, nothing happens. I use this one quite often. Despite the slim chance the Bodyguard and the Werewolves picking the same person, when it does happen, it’s pretty dramatic; and it gives a player something interesting to do.
- Owl - This player also has a phase during the night, where they can choose one of the two nominees for the lynching the next day. This is a fascinating role, and one I enjoy using often. This adds some tension to the game for the Owl character who has a lot of power but must be careful not to draw too much attention to themselves.
- Freemasons - these are two different humans who know who each other are. They have one phase during the first night, only to discover who the other is. I almost never use these guys; they’re fairly boring and don’t have anything special to add.
- Werehamster - This character is on its own side, fighting both the Werewolves and the humans. During the night phase, he has his own phase and can kill someone just like the Werewolves do, causing two deaths in one night. If the werewolves try to kill him, he’s safe; but if the Seer points to him, he dies. The Werehamster wins only if he is the sole remaining person in a game. I love using this guy, if I have enough players (the game recommends 15). Everyone I’ve played with loves having the third, tense side in the game; and it gives the Seer more power. Having two deaths a night also speeds the game up a bit and allows one player to really feel “powerful”. Plus, the artwork on the card is hilarious!
- Mythomaniac - On the second night, this player has one chance to point at another player. They gain the same role as that player if they are a Seer or Werewolf; otherwise, they stay a human. This is an okay role; but I don’t like using it, because four werewolves are just too powerful.

Of course, there are hundreds of roles and variations that can be found on the internet, but this version from daVinci certainly satisfies me. I like how I can carry this game with me or pull it out when I am subbing a class at school and am at a loss of what to do. Werewolf is a tremendous game with terrific results, not to mention an excellent study of people. The daVinci version of the game is the best one I’ve seen; and for it’s price, you will certainly get your money’s worth. Lupus in Tabula is one purchase that has paid for itself dozens of times over and provided hours upon hours of enjoyment!

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

The preceeding two reviews were written by prolific game reviewer Tom Vasel. The following is by me.

Zombies

I first encountered the game Zombies several years ago when my good friend Dan brought it to our bi-weekly game night. I've been hooked ever since.

Zombies has a ton of expansions! There is one that adds a mall. Another adds a military base. Version 3.5 added a deck of cards. Yet another added a college campus and version 4 "The End" is a stand-alone expansion that adds in zombie dogs!

Zombies is the quintisential "first-person shooter" video game done up as a boardgame.

Each player has a hand of cards and a player token. It is your goal to either:

a) Collect 25 kills
b) Get to the helipad

Either of those two methods will win you the game.

Winning the game is not as easy as it might sound as the other players are trying to stop you from winning!

Zombies is not a co-op game. It's every man for himself!

On your turn you will add a tile to the town, creating it as the game progresses. This can be very frustrating when you are on a long windy road and someone drops a dead-end building in front of you.

What about getting killed? If you die in the game, you re=spawn back at the town square with a fresh load of health and bullets.

When you get hit you lose health and you can use bullets to add to dice rolls. You also have a hand of three cards of which you can play one per turn. That is you can play one from the begining of your current turn to the begining of your next turn.

Zombies is very easy to learn and only uses six-sided dice for combat resolution. the expansions are a lot of fun though I do not suggest you play a game with every expansion thrown in!

*disclaimer - I am the webmaster for Tom Vasel and more of his reviews can be found on his website www.thedicetower.com

Games October 30th, 2006 by Tom Vasel

As soon as I saw Plext (SimplyFun, 2005 - Alvin Madden) and read the rules, I knew that my wife would enjoy it. Word games are fascinating to us as a couple, and ones that allow players to work with a set of letters, rather than be constrained by using solely the letters given with the game (like Scrabble) are more enjoyable to us than most. Plext comes with some fascinating components (although slightly flawed) and rewards creativity.

Plext is certainly for those who like word games. Although it allows some leeway with creating words and is easy and simple to play, the fact remains that word puzzle enthusiasts will probably do better than others. Still, there's enough open-endedness that normal folk like myself will have fun. The game isn't one that I think will see multiple replays, as I merely found it okay. Still, it's easy to play and looks nice on the table, so perhaps it will click for some folk.

A marker is placed on an eight space track on the board, to track each round of the game. Each player is given a pencil and paper, and the first round is ready to go. Fourteen letter dice are randomly rolled and placed in a special dice tray. The tray is then flipped onto the board, putting the letters in order. (An example would be "ESNLTJLYGMBOGM") All players then must quickly write a list of words that use all of the letters in the dice line, but they must use them in order. For example, the words "Personality", "Jelly", "Gumbo", and "Gem" would be a valid entry for the above letters. Players can add as many letters as they wish to form the words but cannot change the order of the letters in the word. As soon as one player has created a list of words and written them down, they call out the number of words in their list, which becomes their "bid", and flips over a minute timer. All the other players then have a chance to underbid this bid, stating the number of words that they have used.

After the timer runs out, the player with the lowest bid reads their word. If their words are correct (in order, spelled right, etc.), then that player wins points equal to ten minus the number of words they used. In my example above, I would have scored six points (10 - 4). If the player has made a mistake, then the next lowest bidding player can check their words and possibly score some points. Once one player has scored points, then the marker on the board is moved and another round begins with the dice re-rolled. After eight rounds players find the sum of their scores, and the player with the highest score is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Small pencils and a pad of line paper are included, which should last for several games (in my games, each player used only one sheet per game.) The timer is interesting, in that it has black sand rather than white, although ours was stuck a few times. The board is nice - if superfluous - it's only used to track which round players are on and form a convenient place to store the letters during each round. The dice tray itself is a nice design - a plastic container that flips all the dice over easily and without spilling them. The dice themselves I have a small problem with. Don't get me wrong - the quality of the dice, with nice rounded corners and easy to read bold font are great to handle and use. The problem is the orientation of the letters. When flipping the letters, it's easy to flip them so that all the letters are upside down, causing confusion over which way to read the letters. Worse, the "X", "S", "I', "H", and "O" are impossible to tell which orientation to place them in the tray, so some sorting must be done at the beginning of each round, throwing off the timing. This wasn't a huge problem in our games, but big enough so that all players agreed that it was annoying. Everything fits well in a plastic insert that is sturdy and impressive and holds everything tightly in a very sturdy medium-sized box.

2.) Rules: All SimplyFun games have a single page of "Quick" rules that quickly explain the rules. Plext is no exception to this, and the extra four pages of rules are almost simpler than the first page - just taking time to show examples and color pictures. The game is fairly simple to learn, but I usually have to show players an example for them to fully grasp how the game works.

3.) Words: My wife and I, when playing the game, usually end up with five or six words for each letter line; although we've had a few good ones (four!) and several poor ones (seven). It's more of a race to see who can do it first, I think. The timer/bidding mechanic is very similar to Ricochet Robot, in which players bid to see how few moves they can complete a puzzle. It works in this game but lacks a bit of the tension in Ricochet Robot - mostly because a minute is not enough time to come up with fewer words, and the player who first calls out a bid rarely makes a mistake - I have yet to see one in the games I've played.

4.) Word Power: People who have a larger vocabulary will probably do better in this game. However, and possibly more importantly, the ability to break the letters down into the correct groupings is also very important. Rather than sit there and puzzle out a word that has "X" first, then "Q", perhaps it would be beneficial for me to put them with the other adjacent letters in different words. Sometimes a word just jumps out at you, but other times you can puzzle over letters for a long time.

5.) Fun Factor: I like word games, and puzzles; and although I found my initial playing of Plext fun, the interest that I had for it quickly died down. The idea is neat - sure, but it just didn't mesh into a very fun game. My wife and I are fairly evenly matched when it comes to word games; but when playing with someone of a different level (whether higher or lower), the game just doesn't hold up. Plext is the kind of game that is only fun if you are winning.

Plext is only available from a SimplyFun representative, who can be contacted to throw a party in which they show of the SimplyFun games. Plext fits in the SimplyFun criteria, which is an easy to teach game that can play in a short time; and it's a word game, which may please Scrabble lovers. I just found the other games in the SimplyFun line more enjoyable - and found Plext only a passing fancy - a word game that was puzzling and interesting, but entirely forgettable.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

You can purchase the game here and you can read more of Tom's game reviews here.

*disclaimer - I am a Simplyfun Sales Consultant and I am the webmaster for Tom Vasel.

If you live outside of the USA and still want to order SimplyFun games please contact me via email and we can work something out to ship your order outside of the USA.

Games October 30th, 2006 by Tom Vasel

When I first heard about Simply Catan (SimplyFun Games, 2006 - Klaus Teuber), I had a hard time imagining how Settlers of Catan could get any simpler. Then I realized that I was a person who enjoyed Cities and Knights of Catan, + Seafarers + Fisherman + whatever latest flavor of the month was, and dropping all those condiments and playing "Vanilla" Settlers seemed simple to me. But there are many folk who still shy away from even what we consider the simplest of Eurogames and need something simple. Simply Catan, my friends, is an excellent choice in that regard.

First of all, many of you are probably wondering what the differences to regular Settlers of Catan are, currently produced by Mayfair Games. So, let's talk about 'em!

1.) Components: In my eyes, this is the biggest change, although it doesn't really change any of the rules. First of all, the SimplyFun version is absolutely incredible (don't worry, the price reflects this), and has some of the nicest components of any game I've seen. A large square board holds the hexagons together snugly in place, with almost no jiggling possible. The hexagons themselves do not come in singly, but come in five strips, one of five, two of four, and three of three hexes. This sounds like it limits the number of options, but the amount of ways that the board can be set up are still quite large, and the hexes will most likely be more evenly distributed in this version. The board also has the building costs of the different items printed on the four sides of the board, as well as ports placed at certain points, and spots to place the different stacks of cards. All in all, the board brings the entire Catan game together in a really nice way - and I might use it even when playing the original game. The cities and roads are very nice plastic molded pieces in blue, orange, red, and white - and look really good on the board, although some may yearn for the simplicity of the wooden pieces. Everything is coated in a linen finish from the box to the cards to the board - its incredible quality. The only thing of lower quality is the cardboard insert in the box, which seems to be falling apart as I type this, and I've been pretty gentle with the box. Still, it's a great package overall.

2.) Rules: A large square sheet that shows a basic setup is included with the game and lists eleven basic rules on how to play the game. An almanac is included with many clarifications on the rules, including the "advanced game". Let's clarify these differences:
- The basic game plays to seven victory points, the advanced to ten.
- The basic game has no development cards; the advanced adds them in, leading to
- The advanced game having the Largest Army card.
I found two other rule changes that the robber can be placed back onto the desert tile in the middle of a game, and that players can pick the starting city they get resources from - either of the first two they start with.

3.) Beginners: SimplyFun has certainly made a beginner-friendly game here. It really is easy to get into, it looks great on the table, and it takes less than hour to play. I found seven victory points a bit unsatisfying myself but found that many non-gamers really enjoyed the faster pace of that game. The "simplified" setup that the hexes appeared to be was really a straw man; and since the distribution is basically even, I actually prefer it.

I will not choose to play Simply Catan when with a group of gamers, I'd rather play the Mayfair version with Seafarers or Fisherman added in the mix. But for folks that I'm introducing games to, Simply Catan is a tremendously good choice. It's easy and tremendously simple, yet still retains the trading and strategies that make Settlers one of the greatest games of all time. The components are knock out gorgeous, and the game really makes a great gift. I came in, not knowing what to expect, and was rather impressed. Instead of becoming competition to the original Mayfair version, this one will point people towards it instead, hitting an entirely different market. What a wonderful occurrence!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

You can purchase the game here and you can read more of Tom's game reviews here.

*disclaimer - I am a Simplyfun Sales Consultant and I am the webmaster for Tom Vasel.

If you live outside of the USA and still want to order SimplyFun games please contact me via email and we can work something out to ship your order outside of the USA.

Internet October 30th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

We've all heard of the new companies that have appeared that offer money to bloggers to write articles for their advertisers. What you may not know is who is getting the better end of the deal.

In pay-per-post blogging, an advertiser is looking to generate buzz on the net about their product. Every mention of a product helps, though good press is better than bad.

PayPerPost.com is probably the oldest of these new firms. They require a blog to exist for 90 days prior to signing up. This keeps the fly-by-night bloggers away.

The offers are typically in the $5-$10 range per post and posts must be active on your blog before they are reviewed and must then remain active for at least 30 days.

Just because you blog about something does not mean your post will be approved and that you will be paid. Some opportunities even have a minimum 'page rank' requirement. That will certainly kill the casual blogger.

Another requirement is that your blog can not just be pay-for-post. You have to sprinkle in some 'real' content between paid entries. There is also a limit of three paid entries per day.

Three paid entries per day? What does that mean? Well, it means that if your are lucky you might make upwards of $30 per day for blogging. This works out to a potential $900 per month. Not enough to retire from day-to-day working but, if you couple it with AdSense earnings, you may be able to go from a full-time job to a part-time job.

OK, now we know what the blogger gets, what does the advertiser get?

As an advertiser you need to generate buzz around your product. If no one knows about your widget how will you sell it? Pay per post attempts to get you direct advertising in the blogosphere.

Unlike traditional web advertising you are buying an unlimited number of clicks for a minimum of 30 days. More than likely the post you buy will remain forever on the blog which runs it.

Bloggers tend to be vain and like to see their archive of old posts grow. Think of it as experience points for the blogger. If their blog has 500 posts it is often seen as more credible than one with only 100 posts.

How much is advertising worth to you? Is a near perpetual advertisement worth $10 per blog?

When you create your “opportunity” you get to specify what sort of blog article you want. You can specify fairness or positive-only. Are you generating generic buzz or targeted buzz? It's all up to you. Just be sure the price you offer is commensurate with what you are looking to buy. Offering $2 for a 500 word positive post is not likely to get you any takers.

You can also require the blogger posts certain pictures on their blog as well as provide a dynamic link for tracking purposes.

There is a stigma being attached to pay per post blogging, but where is it coming from? TechCrunch has been posting a few articles about the evils of pay per post blogging but, why would they have this opinion? Don't they do reviews of tech gear? Do they pay for these review products? Perhaps they are scared that if pay-per-post blogging catches on less free samples will arrive at their door?

One thing all reviewers know is that good reviews get you more free review products. Many of the reviewers I know will sooner not do a review then do a negative review. Is that any different then pay-per-post blogging?

If you don't want to write a positive article you don't take the offer. I'm sure many tech review sites get items they never review because they know it would be a bad review and lead to less free review gear.

What about the advertising that runs on those tech gear sites?

I digress...

Back to the meat of the article: Who benefits from pay-per-post blogging?

Aside from the marketing company that is taking in money and cutting payments to bloggers, I would say the advertiser makes out best.

Why? Simple really, the advertiser is getting exactly what they want at exactly the price they are willing to pay. They are not throwing money down an advertising drain and hoping for results. They are not giving away free samples of their products in hopes of getting a good review. Too make it even sweeter, the bloggers have to have their post up for 72 hours (or more) before it gets reviewed! That is free advertising!

If your offer is popular enough you may have hundreds of bloggers trying to get your advertising dollars at the same time. Only a set number of those bloggers will have their post approved.

What does this mean in regards to setting your price? It means if you set an opportunity at a high price but with a low number of spots you can get a quick wave of free advertising as everyone jumps on your opportunity in an attempt to make the money.

Bloggers, come in dead last. You only get to post three paid spots per day. Just because you post those three spots does not mean you will get paid for them. You only get paid once for your spot and unless you are a very prolific writer you are not likely to remove a post after it's 30 day run has expired. Heck, you probably will not even remove your rejected posts because it will make your blog look bad when content appears and then vanishes only a few days later!

You might luck out if the topic you are rejected on is popular enough to generate it's own traffic to your blog and you have a secondary revenue stream such as AdSense.

*disclaimer – This is NOT a paid blog post. I have submitted my blog to a paid blogging company for review and if any such “opportunities” should pique my interest I will be certain to inform my readers when a post is influenced by advertising dollars. Please note the “donation” button on my blog, just like PBS, donations help keep this blog free to read!

*disclaimer part 2 - I AM trying to make a few bucks with this blog, that's why I run the AdSense ads here. I would *love* to quit my day job and become a full-time blogger but, $30 a day is not going to get me there. I make more than that in an hour at my day job and writing a quality blog post takes more than an hour. I do look forward to the day when my office *is* the computer in my den. Just this past weekend my AdSense check came in for September. It paid for a trip into the city to attend Wicked Day, which I then blogged about.

Family and General October 30th, 2006 by HMTKSteve
Look up ahead!

It was a cold and windy day in New York City on October 29, 2006. It was also the annual “Wicked Day” that marks the anniversary of the opening of the Broadway musical Wicked! To help celebrate I took my family to the event.

There were probably several thousand people at the Wicked Day in New York City.

The lines moved quickly.

The lines to get in moved rather quickly and they had two booths for guests to pass through. When you got to the booth you were given a bag full of goodies and six tickets to use. Each bag had a Wicked Day pin, Wicked Day fan (not that you needed one with that wind we had) and one of two CDs. All three of our CDs were the Defying Gravity/For Good variety though I did hear some people say they got one with Popular on it.

One of the theatre posters.

My wife spent one of her tickets to get hair painted green and another to get a witch painted on her cheek. My daughter spent one on cotton candy and two at the craft area to make a pumpkin and a magic wand.

As the wind built up, we headed over to the game area. My daughter and I each tried our luck at the dice game and the wheel of fortune. It was my daughters lucky day as she rolled double Elphaba's on the dice and won the wheel of fortune game. We left those booths with a good supply of Wicked branded goods!

There was also a picture booth where you put your face in a cut-out picture. For one ticket my daughter became Elphaba!

While my daughter and I were busy playing games my wife was busy buying things. She picked up a t-shirt for each of us, a key chain, a brownie (for a ticket), rubber bracelets (Wicked, Popular and Defying Gravity) and a free balloon.

It was almost time for the singing finals so we wandered over to the singing contest area.

On the way there my wife purchased another Wicked pin (this one was to benefit AIDS research) and an autographed photo (Megan Hilty) of Glinda for my daughter.

The singers were all good and it was great fun to watch and listen to them.

It's the Wizard, David Garrison!

Actor David Garrison, who plays the wizard, was one of the judges! I think Ana Gasteyer, who currently plays Elphaba, was also one of the judges but my pictures of her all have heads in the way so I can't be sure!

Sarah from New Jersey was the winner!

After the singing was over the Wicked Day event winded it's way down. We all had fun and we plan on seeing the show next year.

For more information on Wicked Day why not check out the official Wicked Day website!

The following Wicked themed items are available from Amazon

Programming October 28th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

One of the most useful ways to store data is the linked list.

Read on and explore a very basic framework that you can use to easily add them to your program.

We begin with the h file. Please note, this code is written with wxwidgets in mind but the only change required to use this code elsewhere will be the changing of the variable “wxString” to something else.

Because this is only a sample code snippet for training purposes, the two variables “Name and Value” will not carry over to your own program.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// Name:        hmtkdataitem.h
// Purpose:     hmtk data item function
// Author:      Stephen De Chellis
// Modified by:

// Created:     04/09/05
// Copyright:   (c) Stephen De Chellis
// License:     Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License
/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

#ifndef __HMTKDATAITEM_H__
#define __HMTKDATAITEM_H__

class HMTKDataItem
{
    public:
        static HMTKDataItem* pHead;

               HMTKDataItem* pNext;
               wxString      Name;
               int           Value;

        HMTKDataItem();
        ~HMTKDataItem();

        void          AddHead(HMTKDataItem* DI);

        void          AddTail(HMTKDataItem* DI);
        int           Remove (HMTKDataItem* DI);

        void          Clear  (void);
        HMTKDataItem* Find   (wxString Search);

};

#endif

Now let us look at the cpp file

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// Name:        hmtkdataitem.cpp
// Purpose:     hmtk data item function
// Author:      Stephen De Chellis
// Modified by:
// Created:     04/09/05
// Copyright:   (c) Stephen De Chellis

// License:     Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License
/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

#include “precomp.h”
#include <fstream>
#include <iostream>
#include <stdio.h>

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>
#include “hmtkdataitem.h”

HMTKDataItem* HMTKDataItem::pHead = 0;

using namespace std;

HMTKDataItem::HMTKDataItem()
{
    Name.Clear();

    Value=0;
    pNext=0;
}
HMTKDataItem::~HMTKDataItem()

{
}

void HMTKDataItem::AddHead(HMTKDataItem* DI)

{
    DI->pNext = pHead;
    pHead = DI;

}

void HMTKDataItem::AddTail(HMTKDataItem* DI)
{

    cout << “Adding Tail” << endl;
    DI->pNext = (HMTKDataItem*)0;

    if (pHead == 0)
    {
        pHead = DI;

        return;
    }
    HMTKDataItem* pCurrent = pHead;

    cout << “Entering while loop” << endl;
    while(pCurrent->pNext)

    {
        pCurrent = pCurrent->pNext;
    }
    cout << “Leaving while loop” << endl;

    pCurrent->pNext = DI;

    cout << “Leaving Adding Tail” << endl;

    return;
}
int HMTKDataItem::Remove(HMTKDataItem* DI)

{
    HMTKDataItem* pCurrent = pHead;
    if(pCurrent == (HMTKDataItem*)0)

    {
        return 0;
    }
    if(DI == pHead && DI->pNext!=0)

    {
        pHead = DI->pNext;
        delete DI;

        return 0;
    }
    if(DI == pHead && DI->pNext==0)

    {
        pHead = 0;
        return 0;
    }

    while(pCurrent)
    {
        if(DI == pCurrent->pNext)

        {
            pCurrent->pNext = DI->pNext;
            DI->pNext = (HMTKDataItem*)0;

            delete DI;
            return 1;
        }
        pCurrent = pCurrent->pNext;

    }
    return 0;
}
void HMTKDataItem::Clear(void)

{
    HMTKDataItem* pPrevious;
    if (pHead == 0)

    {
        return;
    }
    HMTKDataItem* pCurrent = pHead;

    while(pCurrent->pNext)
    {
        pPrevious = pCurrent;

        pCurrent = pCurrent->pNext;
        delete pPrevious;
    }

    pHead=0;
    return;
}
HMTKDataItem* HMTKDataItem::Find(wxString Search)

{
    if (pHead == 0)
    {
        return 0;

    }
    HMTKDataItem* pCurrent = pHead;
    while(pCurrent->pNext)

    {
        if(pCurrent->Name.Contains(Search)==1)

        {
            return pCurrent;
        }
        pCurrent = pCurrent->pNext;

    }
    return 0;
}

Yep, that’s a lot of code!

Once again, please note that the variable “Name” is used in the Find function so if you change it, you also need to change the Find function

In the following example we will add an item to the linked list

HMTKDataItem* DI = new HMTKDataItem;  // create a pointer to a new item
DI->Name = Selection;                 // Give Name a value

DI->Value = 1;                        // give Value a new value
HMTKDataItem.AddTail(DI);             // Add the new item to the tail

delete DI;                            // delete the pointer

Now, before adding an item it might not be a bad idea to search the linked list to see if it already exists.

HMTKDataItem* DI = new HMTKDataItem;   // Create a pointer

DI = HMTKDataItem.Find(Selection);     // Search the existing linked list
if(DI == 0)

// Now you know it does not exist

To remove an item you would use:

HMTKDataItem* DI = new HMTKDataItem;  // create a pointer

DI = HMTKDataItem.Find(Selection);    // use find
if(DI != 0)                           // as long as DI gets something to point at

{
    HMTKDataItem.Remove(DI);          // we now delete the item in the linked list
}

That is about it. I’ve given you a very brief overview on how to use a linked list in your program. If you have any questions please leave a comment.

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