January 2007

Games January 31st, 2007 by HMTKSteve

The more that I play Reef Encounter the more I’m impressed with what a deep, intriguing game it is. I have to say, though, that I was completely surprised by the fact that an expansion came out for the game. Not that I wasn’t interested – I’m certainly a sucker for expansions – just that Reef Encounter is the type of game that didn’t seem like it needed an expansion. However, I gladly tried out Reef Encounters of the Second Kind (R & D Games, 2006 – Richard Breese), since I’m such a sucker for expansions.

If you think that Reef Encounter was a perfect game, then probably you should avoid the expansion; as it adds some chaos and a lot of options to game play. However, once I played with the expansion, I don’t want to go back – I love the added variety, and a bit ‘o chaos in games is certainly fine by me! This expansion adds only a little complexity – although perhaps enough to warrant leaving it out when teaching the basic game. Let’s look at what the expansion adds.

1.) Box: Ok, nice enough, but I threw this out and just stored all the new pieces (tiles, cards, and rule sheet) in the original box. Easy enough.

2.) Rules: Seven full color pages with the new rules are included, with some clarifications from the previous rules included. Those who found the original rules obtuse won’t be much happier here, though – I still had to read the crown of thorns section several times before grasping it. I would not include the expansion when teaching Reef Encounter to newcomers, but those versed in the game (including those who have only played it one time) will easily make the transition.

3.) Two-color tiles: There are now tiles that are two different colors – one on each side. A small part of the other side’s color is included so that players can note the other color. These tiles are a prize to have because they can be used as either color, and when placed in the parrot fish can be used as either color at the end of the game.

4.) Double polyp tiles: These tiles are just what I stated – double tiles, which count for end of the game scoring and the amount of tiles on the board. They do pose extra risk, however; because if consumed, they award the player who consumes them two tiles when used.

5.) Half polyp tiles: These tiles have a color polyp on two sides and rock on the other side. They are marked “1/2”; but that simply refers to the sides used, as they are worth full points at the end of the game. They can only be attacked or consumed from the colored sides and can even be placed adjacent to a reef of the same color. At first, I thought these tiles would be only partially useful; but in defense they became invaluable, and soon, I was happier to see one of them than the double and two-color tiles.

6.) Bare rock and Deep water: These tiles allowed a player to extend the rock or cancel part of it out, allowing them to form a protected reef or consume an opponent’s reef more easily. They can be played for free and cancel each other out. They’re certainly not as useful as the other new tiles (at least, I think so) but can really mess with an opponent’s well laid plans and position.

7.) Crown of thorns: A powerful, powerful tile – so much so that a variant in the rules suggest that each player start with one. (I prefer to let them show up in the pool to be picked). These can be placed for free on any empty rock space for free on a player’s turn. On each player’s turn, before anything else happens – the crown of thorns will attack, move in and destroy one adjacent coral type controlled by the player whose turn it is. If that is not possible, then the crown of thorns will attack any adjacent uncontrolled tiles; otherwise, it does nothing. If at any point it is adjacent to no reef tiles, it is destroyed and removed from the game. Crown of thorns can even displace shrimp and split reefs into two or more pieces. They certainly add to the “nasty” factor of the game!

8.) Cards: To me, these are a big change in the game. On a player’s turn, they may discard any one cube or tile (and it’s almost always an unneeded tile – a great way to get rid of them!) to draw one card. This can only be done once per turn, and a player may have a maximum of three cards. Cards can be played only on a player’s turn, unless the card itself indicates it. Examples of cards include:
- In the scoring at the end of the game, up to two of the yellow polyp tiles are worth one additional point each.
- A player can take their final action (take the tiles and cube) before taking the other actions.
- Perform a growth action without playing a larva cube.
- Take three tiles randomly from the bag.
- Take action two (placing up to two tiles on the board) before action one (eating a reef).
I’ve seen some claim that the cards add too much chaos and that they are most certainly not equal. And just looking at the ones that I’ve listed above, you might tend to agree. But really, they are all fairly useful – in the right situations. A player can change their tactics based on what cards they get, but you’d have to be crazy not to draw at least some of them. More than anything else, the cards change the game.

9.) Blue shrimp: A blue shrimp is placed on the board at the beginning of the game. When a player wishes to eat their first coral reef, they must discard a card with a blue shrimp to do so. Players may also discard a special card with the blue shrimp icon on it to place one of the four blue shrimps on a tile – protecting that tile only! There are also a few tiles with a blue shrimp imprinted on them doing the same thing. These blue shrimp are interesting, semi-useful, and act as a neutral barrier that any player can move. While they aren’t the most important part of the game, they, combined with everything else, keep the game much more tactical and interesting.

The biggest change, other than the cards is the choices a player is now faced with when drawing tiles at the end of their turn. With all the special tiles, it’s not as simple a choice as it once was. This might actually increase the analysis paralysis factor of the game, but I found that it wasn’t so bad when playing with experienced players. (It did cause us to shuffle the bag more often, certainly). If you play Reef Encounter often and think that these changes would breathe new life into the game, then I would recommend it exceedingly. Don’t jump into it lightly – while the changes seem simple, they really do make it feel like a whole new game. I personally would rather play with the expansion than without (as did my playtest group), but I certainly can see how some would feel that the game is no longer “pure”. Still, it’s a good bang for the buck (at least when Z-man Games comes out with their version), and it shows that Richard Breese is able to take an elegant design and expand on it in interesting ways.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.

BoardGameGeek entry for Reef Encounters of the Second Kind

Games January 31st, 2007 by HMTKSteve

As I wrapped up the recording of the Dice Tower, episode # 85, I reflected on the topic for the show – the myriad of games based on Klaus Teuber’s fictional universe of Catan, begun by his immensely popular game Settlers of Catan. With over thirty variants, expansions, and versions, Catan has become something of a phenomenon in the boardgaming world. This has led some to an apathetic attitude towards the introduction of any new Catan game – including the new Struggle for Rome (Mayfair Games, 2007 – Klaus Teuber), the latest version in the “Catan Histories” series of games. A cursory glance at the board reveals that it looks very similar to the original game, albeit in the shape of a map of Europe.

But really, the gameplay, while retaining some of the basics of Catan mechanics, has a completely different feel – quickly becoming a favorite of mine. With a de-emphasis on trading and a heightened sense of exploration and war – the theme certainly fits the mechanics. Players control a tribe of northern raiders during the demise of the Western Roman Empire (Huns, Visigoths, etc.), and roam across Europe, plundering cities until they finally settle down and begin a civilization. I found this to be an excellent backdrop, and games remain tense and interesting until the end. Struggle for Rome is the next natural step in the Catan game progression, forming an excellent game in its own right.

Each player has two boxes on their side of the board – one representing their horsemen army, and the other their warrior army. A supply wagon and a warrior/horseman are placed in each – with another warrior and horsemen placed in starting spots on the board. Players place the rest of their warriors, horsemen, and supply wagons in a reserve spot in front of them, as well as a reference card. There are four different types of resource cards in the game, and the grain and ore cards are placed in face up piles next to a face down pile (pasture cards) that consists of a shuffling of the horse and cattle cards. Some victory point cards are placed face up near the board (Diplomacy, Scourge of Rome, and Heir of Rome), as well as a stack of shuffled development cards. Four white markers are placed in a compass on the board that shows the eleven numerical combinations with two dice, and a legionnaire piece is placed on a forest space in Spain. A pile of gold is placed on the table, with each player receiving five gold, one random pasture card, and one grain card to start the game. Several cities are scattered throughout the board, separated into five different color groups. Plunder counters are shuffled and placed face down on each of these cities. Dice are rolled, and the player who rolls best begins the first round.

The first part of each round consists of resource accumulation. The starting player rolls the dice four times; and if a player has a piece that is at the junction of a hexagon that has that number on it, they receive one resource card of that type (pasture hexes allow a player to draw the top card from the pasture pile). Once a number is rolled, a white marker is placed on that number, which prevents it from being rolled again this round. If a player rolls a “7”, they move the legionnaire to any hex, canceling that number for future rolls as long as the legionnaire stays there. The player may also steal a random resource (or two gold coins if the player has no resource) from a player who has a piece bordering that hex.

Starting with the first player, players may then freely trade their coins and resources, and then build. When trading, a player may trade three identical resources to the bank for one card of their choice. Players may also use three gold coins in place of any resource card ONCE during their build phase. The three things a player may build are:
- Development card: The player discards one gold and one cattle card to take the top development card into their hand.
- Supply wagon: The player discards one grain, one horse, and one cattle card to place a wagon into either tribe box.
- Warrior/horseman: The player discards one ore and one horse to place a warrior in their warrior box, and a horseman into their horseman box.

After this, starting with the first player, players may move their horseman tribe and take an action. Following this, players do the same thing with their warrior tribes. Instead of moving a tribe, players may elect to do nothing and take two gold from the bank, or a resource of their choice. When moving tribes, players move them along the borders of hexes as far as they want, or crossing sea paths. All over the board and sea paths there are arrows, and a tribe may cross ONE of them for free. Additional arrows crossed over on a move cost one gold per additional sea arrow, and three gold or one grain per land arrow.

After movement, if a tribe is adjacent to an unplundered city, they may plunder it IF the amount of warrior/horsemen figures in the matching box is equal to the number of towers surrounding the city (two to five). When a tribe plunders a city, the plunder marker is flipped over. If it shows a red area, the plundering player must remove one horseman/warrior figure from the attacking armies box. Then, the player receives the reward, which always includes one gold coin per supply wagon in the plundering army, and may also include a development card, a pasture card, or more gold. The plunder marker is then placed in the matching tribes’ box. If a tribe plunders a city from each of the five colors, they receive the “Scourge of Rome” card, which is worth two victory points. Each tribe may plunder a maximum of two cities of the same color.

Once a tribe has plundered cities of three different colors, they may conquer a city instead of plundering it – even if the city no longer has a plunder token on it. When a player decides to do this, they place the moving figure into the city along with a supply wagon from the tribe’s box. From now on, this tribe will no longer move but will still generate resources from rolls. On future turns, the player can conquer any city within one arrow, discarding one warrior/horseman and placing another supply wagon in the city. This grows a player’s empire, giving them more resources, along with one victory point per city. When a player conquers four cities with each of their tribes, they receive the Heir to Rome card, which is worth two victory points.

One development card can be played during the building phase and each movement phase, for a maximum of three per turn. Most development cards are Diplomats, which allow a player to move the Roman legionnaire, following the rules outlined above. Once a player plays three Diplomat cards, they receive the Diplomacy card, which is worth two victory points. Another player who plays more Diplomat cards can take this card from them, along with the points! Other development cards give the player more gold, allow them to attack cities with more towers, move their tribe farther, etc. Three of them are worth a victory point and do not have to be revealed until the end of the game.

As soon as one player reaches ten victory points (automatic if any player has gotten an Heir to Rome card), the round is played to conclusion, then points are calculated – one point for each city; and points for the victory point cards and development cards. The player with the most points is the winner, with ties going to the player with the most gold.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: “High quality” are certainly the first words that come to mind when looking at this game – it’s an amazing thing when set up. The board is a decent representation of Europe, using hexes of four types (forests are on the board – although they produce no resources). The cities are scattered around, and the arrows and numbers are clearly visible. The cards are small – just like the original game, and of good quality. The plastic pieces reminded me somewhat of those in Domain – even being of similar colors. The plunder tokens are cardboard hexagon tokens that easily show what loot the plunderers receive. What impressed me most about the game, however, were the coins. The plastic coins look rather realistic – as if they came out of a poor mold, giving them an authentic feel. Everything fits in a nice plastic insert inside a beautiful, large square box. Mayfair games continue to get nicer and nicer, as evidenced by this game.

2.) Rules: The rulebook has six full colored pages with a ton of illustrations, doing a fantastic job of explaining the rules. Someone who hasn’t played Catan before will easily be able to play – while there are a few references pointing out the major differences. Teaching the game isn’t that difficult, though players usually take a game or so to formulate a strategy – as it’s a little open-ended in the beginning. I was able teach the game to people who had never touched any Catan game, while those who have played Settlers made the switch fairly easily. While not up at the time of the writing of this review, there should also be an online tutorial at www.profeasy.com, which – if it’s like the ones for the other game – should be a nice introduction on how to play the game.

3.) Settlers: The whole concept of the game is different than the basic Settlers of Catan, but here’s a rundown of the major differences. The resource rolling is a nice change, as it forces four different numbers to be rolled each round. Yes, you can still get hosed by luck, but it happens a lot less frequently. The idea of movement is certainly different than the basic game, as well as the random pasture pile. Players no longer have to discard half their hand on a “7”, but I think this was discarded simply because there is really no point to hoarding cards – players usually had very few in their hand. The board is certainly much larger than a typical Catan board, with forty-seven numbered hexes, and even more intersections between them. Blocking is a bit harder to do – although still certainly a more viable strategy. There is a lot less trading in the game; because while it still occurs, players usually don’t have a surplus of resources they don’t need. The game has a “tighter” feeling, as you grasp for every resource.

4.) Resources: The game has five resources: Grain, Ore, Cattle, Horses, and money. What’s interesting is how each of them has their own use – especially money. Players who tend to ignore money will regret it later on, especially as it wins the game in a tie – something that is not exactly uncommon. At first horses seem to be the most valuable, because without a large army, conquering can be difficult. But I would submit that cattle and wheat are just as important, as a player with an excess of wheat can really pull of some nice maneuvering. I enjoy the randomness of the pasture deck and adjust my strategies, depending on what I get. The only thing that Settlers has over this game is that trading here is rarely done. Since players take their actions in order, and usually spend almost all of their resources, why trade with someone if it only benefits them? Trading happens, but on a much less frequent basis.

5.) Movement: I really enjoy how movement has been added to the basic Settlers game. No longer do players simply try to get in the best position – they now must weigh that against attacking a city. Almost every city or attack point is in a bad place, resource-wise. If a player wants to get a good selection of resources, they must go to places that aren’t really adjacent to many cities; and this can cause them to fall behind in the race to win. The arrow mechanic is also a stroke of genius and allows players to quickly determine where they can move – with thankfully no arguments.

6.) Race: Like other games, Struggle for Rome is more of a race than anything else. Players must gauge the best time to stop plundering and settle down. Those who plunder a city of each type will receive an extra two points – certainly nothing to scoff at, but can also fall behind in the race to build a civilization. Every game that I’ve played has come down to the wire when playing – with scores close or tied (with money). Players can attempt to finish the game quickly by settling down but take the chance of another player scoring more points through other means. The game starts off a bit slowly but gains momentum, as it continues; and the end is a real nail-biter, as many players reach ten points on the same turn or within a turn.

7.) Fun Factor: For me, the enjoyment of the game comes from the theme, which really fits well, and the general movement and exploration feel. Players are attacking cities, and must maneuver their tribes, trying to find an ideal place to settle in, at just the right time. Those who wait a little longer might get more victory points, or more gold from looting cities; but waiting too long can mean the best spots for a civilization are missing. This certainly is longer than a Settlers game, taking about ninety minutes; but it’s an engrossing, enjoyable time.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Struggle for Rome is a Settlers clone – it’s most certainly not, and while it retains some basic Catan characteristics, it has it’s own flavor and feel. It’s one of my favorites of the series, due to the historical backdrop and the “race” like feel of the game. A meatier game than the basic Settlers of Catan, it still manages to be fairly easy to teach and learn, making it a nice “game after the gateway” game.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.

BoardGameGeek entry for Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome

Games January 31st, 2007 by HMTKSteve

To make a game on a recent disaster would be unthinkable – in fact, I’ve refused to review one such game that made light of recent world events. The main reason for that is that these events are fresh in our minds, and to make light of them with a game seems cruel and uncaring. Oddly, events almost two thousand years old aren’t quite as offensive – thus the game The Downfall of Pompeii (Mayfair Games, 2006 – Klaus Jurgen Wrede). Based on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and consequent destruction of the city of Pompeii in 79 AD, it takes an ancient tragedy and turns it into a fun, humorous game.

Putting aside the question of whether or not the theme is offensive (the vast majority seem to not care), Pompeii is an extremely fun game. Yes, there is certainly luck laced throughout the game and certainly a high interaction factor, but it’s fast and fun; and everyone I’ve played with gets a big kick out of throwing their opponents pieces into the volcano. There may be some odd logical problems with the theme, but the looming volcano on the board helps bring the game to life; and it is well suited as an enjoyable “filler” game, one that will most likely attract many people – even those not normally known as “gamers.”

A board representing the town of Pompeii is placed on the board, divided into a grid of squares, having seven gates around the city where players can escape. There are eleven numbered buildings in four different colors and several other “neutral” buildings scattered around the city, each with circular spaces for one to seven people in them. Each player takes a number of pieces that represent people (number determined by the amount of players) in their color, and a plastic volcano piece is placed on one side of the city. A deck of cards is prepared for the first phase of the game acckrding to specifications in the rulebook, with each player given four cards as their starting hand. The player next to the dealer takes the first turn, and then play passes clockwise around the table.

On a player’s turn, they simply play one of the cards in their hand, which matches the color and number of one of the buildings on the board. The player then places one of their people into one of the open circles in the building. They then draw a card, and the next player takes their turn.0 This continues until one player draws the A.D 79 card. At this point, two new rules take effect. If a player draws an “Omen” card, they must immediately discard it and take any other players’ person from the board and throw them into the volcano, drawing a replacement card. The other new rule is known as “relatives”. When a player places a person in a building, they may place extra people onto the board equal to the number of people already in that building. These extra people may be placed in the same building, in a numbered building of the same color, or any of the neutral buildings. If players play a card that matches a building that is already full, then the card acts as a “wild” card but does not trigger any relatives. Again, play continues until the second A.D. 79 card is drawn, at which point the volcano erupts!

At this point, all players discard their cards and get rid of any extra people they still have in front of them. To represent the hava, a bag of tiles is brought out – filled with square tiles of lava – each with one of six different symbols on it (scroll, vase, helmet, mask, coin, and column). The player to the left of the triggering player draws a tile and places it gn the square on the board that matches that symbol, and then passes the bag to the player on their left. This continues until six tiles are placed on the board. If a player draws a tile that has already been placed, then the new tile is placed adjacent to one of the tiles with the same symbol. Any people who happen to be in the square where lava tiles are placed are thrown into the volcano. After six tiles are placed, the player to the left of the last person to place begins the second phase of the game.

In this phase, a player must first draw a lava tile and place it according to the rules above then move two of their game pieces. When placing the lava tile, if it surrounds game pieces so that they can no longer make it to any of the seven gates, they are removed and thrown into the volcano. When moving, the player moves two different pieces. Each piece may move one square for each of the total pieces that are in the same square as it begins in. Players can move through any square, attempting to get their pieces to one of the gates. If a player gets a person out of the city gates, they place the piece in front of them. If a player only has one piece or has a piece alone in a spot, they may move it twice instead of two different pieces.

The game continues until the last lava tile is drawn from the bag or if there are no people alive in the city. At this point, the player with the most pieces in front of them wins – ties being broken by the player with the fewest pieces in the volcano.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: I have the original Amigo version of the game and was pleased to see that they replaced the thin paper-stock volcano with a plastic one that really fits well into a large hole in the board (it does feel odd to punch out a large circle from the board and throw it away). The volcano is certainly the centerpiece of the game – and looks good on the board – which has some very nice artwork that gives an arial view of the city. As the lava tiles are pulled from the red cloth bag, it really does look like lava is crazily running all throughout the city. The cards are very high quality, and the cards for different building match in color, number, and picture, helping to easily differentiate them. The player pieces are small octagonal cylinders - which I suppose is better than cubes - that make a satisfying noise when thrown into the tower. Everything fits inside a nice plastic insert in a medium sized box – with good artwork helping evoke the time period.

2.) Rules: I remember when I first got the original game and downloaded the translation off the internet how confusing the setup of the deck was – especially since there was only one A.D. 79 card which had to be reshuffled in at one point. The new rules, which are on eight full color pages with lots of examples and pictures, are much easier to understand – and are actually quite clear. The game itself is extremely easy to teach, which is why I rate it highly as a “gateway” game - a game that allows people who have played very few games to get involved quickly and easily. Teenagers and even younger children should have no problem – making this an excellent family game.

3.) Strategy: At first, it seems a bit haphazard as to where one places their people – you are somewhat constricted by the cards in your hand, and who really knows where the lava is going to come from. It’s good to be in populated areas of the city, because everyone is going to work together to rescue their people. In the second half of the first phase, it seems like the obvious choice would be to place people in such a way that would allow you to place the most relatives. After all, the person with the most people in the city has the most people who might escape, right? This sounds accurate, but usually doesn’t work for two reasons. One - the player with the most people in the city is often targeted by others when placing the lava tiles, and two – the fact that ties are broken by the player with the fewest people in the volcano. So perhaps the best place to put people is in buildings that are situated near the gates. Doing so gives you only a few people, so is that worth it, though?

4.) Family: Okay, the above paragraph really doesn’t talk up the massive strategy in the game, because there really isn’t any. It’s all about the laughing, the pleading to put the lava tile on someone else’s people, and the general having a good time. This is one of the few games that I’m actually surprised at the limit of only four players, as it seems as if it would be a wonderful game for six people. The game has two distinct halves, and the first is merely a setup for the hilarious and enjoyable second half.

5.) Fun Factor: The game isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and the theme is far enough removed to feel abstract and silly. I’ve seen negative comments on the internet, in which players criticized the randomness of the game. I will certainly grant the random factor, but the game is at its best as simply a fun, enjoyable game played for laughs and the fellowship. It’s a game in which a lot of talking occurs, as players attempt to convince people where to place the lava tiles and outrun them. There certainly is a sense of urgency as you attempt to get your little wooden cylinders out of the city before they are thrown screaming into the volcano.

Pompeii isn’t going to achieve the stardom of Wrede’s best-known game, Carcassonne; but it is one that families in particular should check out. I’m constantly surprised at the good reception the game receives, and it is one of my most requested games. Perhaps it is the act of throwing pieces into a fake volcano – perhaps it is the simplicity and quickness of gameplay. I prefer to think it’s because the game is fun.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.

BoardGameGeek entry for The Downfall of Pompeii

Investing January 30th, 2007 by Danny Mc Guire

A common plank in the Democratic Party’s agenda is that of wealth redistribution. They never call it that in public but that is essentially what it is. The idea, simply put, is that a small minority of the population should not posses a majority of the nation’s wealth. Proponents of this policy often cite the widening gap between rich and poor and the vast differences in their standards of living. I'm going to take a few minutes here and look at this argument from a historical perspective and attempt to find its roots.

A good portion of this argument has its roots back in the time of the Great Depression. A time when vast fortunes were being made by investing on margins. If there ever was a time when the rich got richer (and the poor got richer) this was the time. With exchanges all over the USA (Chicago and Boston with New York seen as the big one) many people were jumping into the stock market and buying stocks to be a part of the boom. This was a time when a stock may jump 20 points in one day, there was no where to go but up! This lasted a long while and many people began putting their stocks up as collateral for bigger loans to speculate on the market with. Even the rich banker types were falling into this system of grand dreams. Some economists even declared that the market was safe and not akin to gambling because the prices on stocks ALWAYS went up!

This was destined not to last. There were a few bumpy days in late 1929. Before the great Wall Street Crash of 1929 there were a few organized efforts to slow the market down but none proved effective enough. Some thought the Federal Reserve should increase it rates to curb speculation but speculators were already borrowing at rates much higher than what the Federal Reserve was lending at. As such, any action by the Federal Reserve would likely have no impact on speculators but would have an impact on small business men and farmers.

Due to the great wealth building power of the Stock Market in the 20's there were many companies that decided to invest their profits into the stock market! This is similar to the current stories you read of farmers in China who put away their hoe and shovel and pick up a computer to farm for gold in on-line MMORPG games.

There were also many inside traders at the time. People would form groups and one person would begin buying a stock at an inflated price to make the market think the stock was going somewhere. Once the market took hold of this notion the other investors in the group would sell off their stock in that company for a quick profit. There were a lot of back room deals going on in the 1920's and many fortunes were made in this way. Fortunes were also lost in a similar way when investment companies began selling securities and then decided to buy back their own securities because they were doing so well!

In fact, many economic historians now see the market crash not as the starting point of the Great Depression but a casualty of it. Earlier in 1929 the economy was begining to go into a downturn. Why it took so long for the market to catch up with reality is a question for the economists, but it did.

Why am I going into the Stock Market and the Crash of 1929? The thing about the Stock Market prior to the crash is that is was being driven by the minority of wealthy people in the USA. When stocks were selling at $300 per share and weekly rent was $5 most people could not afford to be part of the 5,000,000+ shares being traded every day on the exchange. Even though it is popular to state that everyone was in the market at the time less than 1% of the US population was actively involved in the market. Those who were most actively involved in the market were the super-rich of the time. Those hurt the most were also the super-rich.

What happens when someone loses half of their money? Well, it depends on how much half is. If you only have ten dollars and lose five you don't feel that big of a sting. If you have 10M and lose 5M well... That hurts a bit more!

With the destruction of so much money and the collapse of the market many investors had no desire to invest. The fact that the market did not just crash in one day but kept crashing for weeks also helped put fear in the hearts of investors. See, after the crash some people thought, "Look, it's a market correction I better buy while the prices are low," but, these market corrections kept on happening every day! So, in effect, the person who bought the stock the next day for $50 ended up selling it the day after for $40 and on and on until the stock reached a price in the single digits.

Government involvement soon created the SEC, which Wall Street bitterly fought against, and it also passed a number of laws dealing with trading of stocks. One such law had to do with short selling.

The short selling law was likely inspired by a certain bank president who was selling his own banks stock short! He defended his position saying that by being able to trade his own bank's stock this somehow made him more concerned with the banks performance. I would buy that line if he wasn't selling the stock short! Short selling is based on the idea that a certain stock will decline in value. How much faith can you have in your bank if you are shorting its securities?

At the end of the day, the great investors who drove the market were now a bit gun shy. Vast fortunes had been lost and businesses that had grown up around those super-rich were in trouble. Who will buy the next million dollar yacht if no one has a million dollars? Thus was born the New Deal.

The New Deal was an attempt by President Roosevelt to fix the Great Depression and get the nation back on track. Some economists believe that the New Deal actually lengthened the Great Depression. In fact, after the Supreme Court began throwing out many of the laws passed as part of the New Deal the President threatened to pack the court by adding judges to the bench (enough to give him a majority) this resulted in the Court throwing in the towel and giving up their role as protectors of the Constitution. It was this same court, in Wickard v. Filburn that ruled on the legality of the Commerce Clause. If you do not know what the commerce Clause is it is the one piece of legislation that was passed during the New Deal that effectively broke the government by allowing it to do anything it wanted.

Another key element that is often cited as a prolonger of the Great Depression is the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. This act was intended to force Americans to buy American made products by raising the price on imported goods. The act went too far and was short-sighted in that trade is a two-way street. If foreign countries can not afford to sell their products in America then they will probably not be able to afford to buy American products in their own country! Later even raw materials were taxed which caused American manufacturing costs to rise. These isolationists’ policies were clearly misguided. Let it also be known that this act was passed by the Hoover administration and was not a part of the New Deal

One of the central goals behind the New Deal was to show that Capitalism (the Stock Market) had failed and it was now up to the government (socialism) to take care of the people. With an unemployment rate of 25% much of the population was all too eager to see government step in. The greatest program set in motion by President Roosevelt was the Social Security Program. Of this program President Roosevelt said the following: "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program." How right he was, Social Security has become the "third rail" of politics.

Even with all of the New Deal policies that Great Depression lasted until the beginning of World War Two. It wasn't the socialist policies of Roosevelt that pulled us out of the Great Depression, it was war. War and its demand on manufacturing broke us out of the Great Depression. Even though taxes were high many Americans were putting in longer hours to earn more money to make up for the lean years of the Great Depression. Businesses were eager to land valuable government contracts and all attempts at a balanced budget were thrown out the window to fund the war. It may be more accurate to say that the beginning of World War Two masked the Great Depression more than ended it though the war itself did end the Great Depression in the long run.

Now we face a dilemma. The New Deal failed to get the country out of its economic funk yet, increased government spending in regards to the war effort did. So, is government the answer? If you ask a liberal they will tell you that the government is better at taking care of problems than private enterprise is. That is an over simplification as there are some areas where government is the answer and some areas where they are not the answer.

Let's look again at the rich minority vs. equality of wealth. Liberals would like you to believe that if we were all equal in regards to wealth things would be better. Though this idea does have some merit it is also misguided in that liberals believe in bring the rich down rather then bring the poor up.

Why do I say that? I say that because it is true. The liberal view on wealth redistribution is all about taxing the rich more. They can't very well give a tax cut to the poor as those people no longer pay taxes! Besides, look at the Soviet Union. In that country socialism was used as the great equalizer. Everyone was made equal in that no one had anything! The only hard work that was rewarded in the Soviet Union was the hard work of defecting to a western country. Do you really want to live in that sort of country?

"But, the rich don't need all that money!" Hmmm... How can you say that? I will concede to you that most people do not need a salary in the millions of dollars but, if by their actions they help their company realize a profit in the billions of dollars shouldn't they get a compensation plan that rewards increased performance?

"But, but, that guy from the oil company, why should he get so much money?" Ah, the oil company. An industry that sees a 10% profit gets called on the carpet for making an 'obscene' amount of profit. Are you aware that banks typically make 18%+ of profit every year? The only reason the oil industry looks like they are abusing the market and gaining obscene profits is because they are so big. How is a $10B profit on $100B in revenue worse than an 18M profit on $100M in revenue? It's not! If anything the oil stockholders should be asking the executives why they are stuck with only a 10% profit when the banks are getting 18%+!

"If the wealth was redistributed evenly than we could all afford better things." That argument sounds good on the surface but ignores something very important, venture capital. How many of today's startups get venture capital funding? Can you imagine the next Google going to a bank and asking for a few million dollars in funding based on an untested business model? We need that rich minority to invest in the future. It is far easier to ask a person with $100M in the bank for $1M than it is to ask 100K people for $10 each. If we got rid of the super-rich who would finance new companies? Who would buy the yachts? Who would pay a painter $250K for a piece of canvas with a couple of buckets of paint thrown on it?

"Well, the rich should still pay more in taxes." Here in lies a fatal flaw in the argument. The taxes in question are often income taxes. Income taxes, by definition, only apply to income, the accumulation of wealth. By increasing taxes on income you only further the divide between rich and poor by making it harder to become rich. There is no tax on accumulated wealth, and there should not be! The only thing close to a tax on wealth would be property taxes. How do you avoid property taxes on your wealth? Why you invest that wealth! What happens when you invest that wealth? Well, you create jobs as the people and businesses you invest in will use your money to get their business off the ground. At the end of the day you will either lose your money, gain a profit on your money, or see the value remain fixed.

"See! The rich get richer and the poor get poorer! You have just admitted it!" Not really, for every great new company there are probably ten that fail (if not more). The Market Crash of 1929 showed us that even the super-rich can become paupers if they invest their money incorrectly. For every company that makes it adds to the employment numbers of the country.

Is Capitalism perfect? Heck no, it has its flaws and it can be exploited if you have enough money. By that same token, if you use large amounts of money to exploit Capitalism there is also an increased chance you will lose that money too.

If you have the drive and determination to become rich you do not want to see wealth redistribution. If you lack those qualities than you do want to see it. Robin Hood may make for enjoyable reading but it is hardly a way to run an economy! If you continue to steal from the haves they will eventually decide that enough is enough and they will move to a place where you can no longer steal from them.

- Danny McGuire

Investing January 29th, 2007 by HMTKSteve

I'm a big fan of at&t stock and after looking over their 4Q 2006 report I feel even stronger about this stock!

AT&T Posts Strong Fourth-Quarter Earnings Growth, Reaffirms Outlook for Double-Digit Growth in Adjusted Earnings Per Share

  • $0.50 Reported Earnings Per Diluted Share, Up 8.7 Percent Versus Year-Earlier Fourth Quarter
  • $0.61 Earnings Per Diluted Share Before Merger-Related Costs, Up 27.1 Percent Versus Comparable Results in Fourth Quarter of 2005
  • 2.4 Million Net Wireless Subscriber Gain with Stable Churn, Wireless Service Revenues Up 13.1 Percent, Wireless Data Revenues Up 68.6 Percent
  • Regional Business Revenues Up 7.5 Percent Versus Pro Forma Results for the Year-Earlier Quarter, Continued Double-Digit Percentage Growth in Regional Small/Medium Business Revenues
  • Further Enterprise Progress Led by Solid Demand in Data Transport and Strong Double-Digit Growth in IP Data Revenues
  • Outlook Reaffirmed for Continued Double-Digit Adjusted Earnings Per Share Growth with Growing Free Cash Flow After Dividends in 2007 and 2008; Expected Bellsouth Merger Synergies Revised Upward, Estimated Net Present Value Increased from Approximately $18 Billion to Approximately $22 Billion

Note: AT&T'S Fourth-Quarter Earnings Conference Call Will be Broadcast Live Via the Internet at 10 A.M. ET on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, at www.att.com/investor.relations.

San Antonio, Texas, January 25, 2007

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) today reported strong fourth-quarter earnings growth led by record subscriber gains in wireless, continued solid regional wireline growth, improved enterprise trends, and merger integration initiatives that continue to generate cost savings ahead of original targets.

AT&T's reported earnings per diluted share were $0.50, up 8.7 percent versus the year-earlier fourth quarter. Before merger-related costs, earnings per diluted share were $0.61, up 27.1 percent versus comparable adjusted results in the fourth quarter of 2005. This marked AT&T's seventh consecutive quarter of double-digit growth in adjusted earnings per share.

"Our execution continues to be solid, we closed the year strong, and AT&T has excellent momentum heading into 2007," said Edward E. Whitacre Jr., AT&T chairman and chief executive officer.

"Wireless had a standout quarter," Whitacre added. "Enterprise revenue trends continue to improve. Our regional wireline operations extended their record of revenue growth in both consumer and business. And merger integration initiatives continue to run on or ahead of our original plan.

"In addition to these operational achievements, I am very pleased to have completed our acquisition of BellSouth," Whitacre said. "BellSouth brings terrific markets, an outstanding network and talented personnel, and our outlook for the combination is stronger now than when we announced the transaction last March.

"Today, AT&T has full ownership of the nation's No.1 wireless provider along with the industry's premier assets in business services, broadband and directory," Whitacre continued. "We also have substantial opportunities to improve our cost structure as we integrate operations. I am tremendously excited about the potential we have to grow our business and deliver value to shareowners."

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Games and Wii January 29th, 2007 by HMTKSteve

A little over a week ago I managed to pick up a Wii from a local Target store. Since then I have purchased a few virtual console games as well as some Wii games. This is just going to be a brief overview article covering my Wii experience.

The Mii Channel -> Mii's are an awesome, yet limited, way to customize your gaming experience. Using the Wii system you are able to make avatars for use in some Wii games. Notably Wii Sports, Wii Play and Wario Ware all include some level of Mii support.

Miis also have the ability to travel to your friend's Wii console via the magic of mingling and Wi-Fi. No Wi-Fi? you can also copy your Mii to your Wii-mote and bring them with you to a friend's house.

The Wii Shopping Channel -> This is where you go to spend your Wii points. Now, before you purchase a Wii Points card at a store please understand that you can but points directly from the Shopping Channel using a credit card. The cards that you buy at a store often charge more for the points than if you buy them through the shopping channel.

Currently, you can buy old games from the NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Turbo Graphix 16 and N64 consoles. Some games are good (The Legend of Zelda, Ice Hockey) and some are not so good (NES Baseball). You spend Wii points to buy these games and once purchased they are downloaded to the Wiis memory. Please note, you are not buying the games as much as licensing them to run on that particular Wii.

The Weather Channel -> Launched in December, the Weather Channel provides you with some (not so up to date) local weather information. Well, not so much local either. The nearest weather report to me is about 30 miles away.

When you do select a location you can see the UV rating, Current, Today, Tomorrow, and 5-Day Forecasts. You can also use the Globe function to check out weather conditions around the world.

The News Channel -> Added only a few days ago this channel offers up news from the AP. You can view the news by category, slide show or globe views. Using the zoom in and zoom out features makes this news channel easily readable by those with failing eyesight.

The Games:

1) Wii Sports: This is the game that came with the American release of the Wii and has had a lot of play in my house. My favorite is still the bowling game but I also like to get in a workout or two by playing the boxing game.

2) Excite Truck: Who knew that tilting a controller to turn could be so addictive? What also makes Excite Truck so different than other racing games is that it is not about who wins the race. You can only beat a course by gaining enough stars and coming in first only gets you 50 stars. Nope, in this game you need to do tricks while driving. These tricks can be as simple as drifting and grabbing big air to as difficult as spinning while in the air and making tree runs. If only the two-player mode was any good... The only problem with the two-player mode is that the screen is cut in half in a side-by-side fashion rather than a top and bottom system. I don't know about you but, I like to have a wide field of view when I drive.

3) Rayman Raving Rabbids: This game is a game of mini-games. The story mode must be completed in order to unlock all of the mini-games but, once you complete a mini-game it unlocks. The multi-player options for this game are great. If you just want to pick up a fun game that is not heavy then get this one.

4) Wario Ware Smooth Moves: I was never a player of the Wario Ware titles until this one came out. Wario Ware is a collection of micro-games. Each game lasts about 5 seconds and follows a simple one word command. Game play consists of holding the wii-mote (form baton) in a certain manner and then following a one word instruction. After you beat story mode the game's multi-player functions will unlock.

5) Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess: I have just started playing this one but I like it. Swinging the Wii-mote around to swing your sword is just great. If you have problems with motion sickness you might want to avoid this one. I have this problem and I'm only able to play it for about an hour at a time. Either way, this game has been reported to contain about 90+ hours of game play time!!!

Virtual Console Games:

1) Super Mario Brothers: Yep, I plunked down some Wii points to buy the old classic that came with my original NES. I have not tried testing out all of the original special areas (minus world) but the game is as good as I remember it.

2) The Legend of Zelda: This is the game that made me buy an NES in the first place. Some things have changed a bit though. You can still use the name "Zelda" to advance to the second quest but the old trick of saving the game while at a fairy pool no longer works. Why does it not work? It no longer works because you can no longer press the select button to save the game. Instead, there is an "on the fly" type of save system on all of the VC games. It is a better system as you no longer sit there saying, "as soon as I defeat this dungeon I can save!"

3) Dungeon Explorers: This game I purchased solely to try out it’s five player option. I have not played it enough to talk about it though.

4) Mario 64: My daughter wanted this game. I can’t play it without getting nauseas in a matter of minutes due to motion sickness issues.

We play for about an hour on weeknights (longer on weekends) and we still love this system. Coupled with our existing library of GC games we are all set for a while. I do need to purchase a few more Wii-motes (one will come with Wii Play) to round out the system.

We are currently looking forward to the following games: Mario Party 8, Pokemon and Wii Play.

Full reviews of the games I have purchassed will be published shortly.

Games January 26th, 2007 by HMTKSteve

Nintendo has publicly stated that the Wii News Channel would go live on January 27, 2007. I was a bit surprised this morning when I found it had gone live a day early!

The Wii news channel has a very interesting and new approach to reading news.

  • 1) Category View - Just as most news web sites give you the ability to look up news by category (sports, politics, technology) so does the Wii News Channel.
  • 2) Slideshow View - So, you just want to sit back and easily scan the news headlines? Then the slideshow feature is for you! when you use this feature the news headlines, and a small image, will pop onto the screen for a few seconds at a time. If you want to read the whole story just click on it!
  • 3) Globe View - Too busy to dig through all the categories or wait for the slideshow to show you the news? By using the globe feature (just like on the Wii Weather Channel) you can look at a map of the world and pick stories based on where they are happening! You will see the image from the story and a short headline on the globe.
  • Images provided by Adam Brinson

    Category View
    Slideshow View
    Globe View

    Social Bookmarking and Technology January 25th, 2007 by HMTKSteve

    It's a good thing that Diggers do not click on ads. If Diggers went to a website en-masse and all of them clicked a CPC advertising link on the way out Google AdWords would run out of inventory and the on line advertising market would crash!

    Think about it, a good Digg Effect can generate 60,000+ hits in a matter of hours. Even if those advertising links were only worth $0.25 per click that would be $15K in a matter of hours. Multiply that out by the average number of stories to hit the front page (about 150) and you have $2,250,000 per day!

    This would also lead to a massive amount of people trying to spam Digg too but... It would kill the advertising market that so many Diggers tend to despise!

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