Wednesday, October 27, 2004


A leader of great charisma rose rapidly through the ranks, and despite not getting a majority of the vote, became the leader of the country. He
had a
checkered past, but was a man of strong character. Shortly after coming to power, a major national landmark, an important building, was destroyed.
The attack was perpetrated not by another nation, but by a group who's ideology went against the very spirit of the nation. Unfortunately, this
attack was used as a basis for instituting laws and policies which heavily restricted civil rights and went against fundamental rights granted in
the constitution. The attack also united the nation with a strong national pride. This charismatic leader went on to engage in unprovoked
invasions of multiple countries and large portions of the rest of the world strongly opposed his actions. From there, things got far far worse.

The history I'm talking about is of course that of Germany in the 1930s, the rise of Hitler, the burning of the Reichstag by the communists, the
Enabling Act and subsequent invasions that are part of the much more well known history. I've never been a big fan of history, but it seems
imporant to know. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat
-- George Santayana

Lost Valley & Goldbrau

I recently played Lost Valley for the second time. Unfortunately, I have to report that my earlier impression was correct. It's nicely produced and if you really like exploration games, you could get into it, but
it is rather mechanical and nothing exciting. None of the mechanics really combine in interesting ways. You just do it and there's not a lot of fun, strategy or tactics. It is beatifully produced though.

Goldbrau, on the other hand, was quite good despite playing with three (I hear it is better with four) and getting one rule wrong for 2/3 of the game. I expect with four and the correct rules it would be very good. It combines
elements I like (business game, simultaneous action selection) with some clever mechanics (the brewery/beergarden split, the boss mechanic) along with being generally well crafted. It is a little fiddly and isn't perfect, but
it's quite good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Triumph of Semantic Markup

Semantic markup is the new big thing, the semantic web and all that. I see it less as a cool new thing and more of a returning to our roots,
or at least the roots of the web as I saw them when it first started in the early 90s.

Back in the early days of the web (1993), I had a mantra I used when explaining HTML markup to people "Semantic, not Literal". That is, an html H1
tag does not mean "bigger font". It means "1st level heading". HTML markup was meant to be semantic, and not for any aesthetic reason. It wasn't
even for the reason of browser independence (though, had people stuck to semantic markup, this whole WML thing would have been simpler). It was
for the reason that semantic markup is much more powerful from an information access point of view. Specifying a font color is nice, but it came
at a cost of semantic ambiguity. Of course, HTML was never really fully semantic markup, it was just an appealing dream. People fell in love
with the FONT tag and a variety of other literal markup tags and mechanisms. The hope for semantic
markup was lost, and HTML became very much a literal presentation markup language.

Then, to add insult to injury, things like DHTML came along, flaunting the fact that HTML had become a presentation markup language, not a semantic
markup language. I resisted learning DHTML for a while because of this. Once you give in and accept HTML as a presentation language, DHTML is
sort of neat. When I first learned about CSS, I had some hope that perhaps it restored some of that semantic markup quality. Sadly, it did not.
It does do a decent job of abstracting out "style", but HTML is still essentially purely presentational. CSS allows it to presented in a variety
of styles, though, and it's nice having a relatively universal standard for those style details.

But looking at the web now, the power of semantic markup is winning out again. href=>RSS has become an extremely rapidly growing and popular scheme
for information delivery. RSS
is a pure semantic markup with all the presentation details left up to HTML. I currently read well over 100 RSS feeds, only a fraction of which
are from blogs which prompted the success of RSS. This blog itself is accessible via RSS and many of the readers
access it that way. I read the
comics, the Times, a grab bag of web sites, a few search engine queries, and even a mailing list, all via RSS. It's very gratifying to see
"semantic, not literal" finally getting a lot of traction.

Two other random thoughts on RSS: I expect it won't be long before some RSS feeds start including advertising entries. It surprises me I haven't
really seen them yet. I just hope when the time comes it isn't overwhelming. There are some feeds I would keep reading even with a reasonable
dose of ads. Most, however, I'd stop reading if ads started being included. Until then, it's a nice little garden. The other thought is that
as the progenitor of RSS, share other qualities with the early days of the web. In the early days of the web, the thing to do was have your
own personal homepage you created. Rapidly, as most people had nothing they wanted to put on such a page, having a homepage became something that
while many people had them, it was more commonly something a university or corporation had, not an individual. Further, in the early days of the
web, the goal (as much as there was a "goal") was to share information. You weren't trying to drive banner hits, collect demographic data or
derive revenue. While some (many?) blog writers may now have those goals, the biggest goal I've observed is wanting to be read. RSS is a great
way to make it easier to be read.

(Footnote: If you're looking for a great way to read RSS feeds, there are a variety of href=>RSS aggregator applications, but I will highly
recommend Bloglines as an outstanding web based reader.)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Somerville Parents' Group

My wife and I looked around to try to find a parenting group in Somerville, with little success initially. Then, one day we were downtown Boston
with the baby and a stranger in the elevator struck up a conversation, asking how old our baby was and whatnot. She asked where we lived and when
my wife said Somerville, she said "Oh, I was in a great new mothers group in Somerville!". So, she sent us the info and now my wife has been going
to this group.

Apparently though, they don't have much of a web presence, but they want to at least be findable by google, which is part of the reason for me to
post here about it. They have a members-only Yahoo Group: Somerville Moms, but it's hard
to find. They meet on Thursdays in Somerville. So, if you're looking for Somerville parents group, parenting group, mothers group or mom's group,
hopefully you'll find this. They also have support groups in Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Jamaica Plain, Medford, Newton, Stoughton,
Watertown, and Westwood. Their info number is 617-614-1967. I hope this entry helps other folks find these groups.

The same organization that runs these groups also runs a fathers' support group, but only in Newton. Anyone know of a fathers' group in
the Somerville, Cambridge, or Medford area?

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Back from an outage

Well, my server finally died. It has served well for over 5 years,
but some combination of problems including some sort of disk problem
caused it to finally give up the ghost. I finally got a new server
and am in the process of restoring everything to its former glory. A
lot of stuff doesn't work, and I'll post here when everything is back.
At the moment, all the static content (my
, miscellaneous other pages) is back, this blog is back,
but all dynamic content (the BGRS,
RGBRollcall, Game store database, Heroscape unit generator, etc.) is
down. I hope to have it back soon. If you notice any errors with
aspects of the site that I list as "back up", please
let me know.

Update 10/14, 12:21am: The game store database is back up.

Update 10/14, 12:31am: The Heroscape Unit Generator is back up.

Update 10/14, 8:02pm: The saved Heroscape units are accessible again.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Heroscape Review

I wrote briefly about Heroscape
earlier, but its worth writing more. Heroscape is fundamentally a
miniatures game. I don't usually like miniatures games. They're
logistically annoying to play, lacking in good ways to keep track of
things like which units have moved already, sometimes requiring
rulers, frustrating rules about base contact and various other things.
Further, they tend to be really really complicated with lots of rules
aimed at enhancing the simulation, rather than enhancing the game.
Finally, a lot of them expect you to paint miniatures. Many people
enjoy that, but I don't have the time, patience or interest.
Heroscape manages to be different. I'll discuss the specific ways it
avoids these problems at the end.

Overall, this is a very good game. It's biggest "flaw" is that it
has a lot of luck. If substantial amount of luck bothers you, this
game is definitely right out. Despite that, it also has a lot of
strategy and tactics. It also has a lot of bits. It also has a lot
of opportunities for variation. It also has a lot of skill. It's got
a lot of themes. It's got a lot of fun. It's got a lot of luck.
It's got a lot of everything. Some might ask how a game can have both
a great deal of skill and a lot of luck. In other places a
theoretical game "ChessDice" has been suggested to explain such an
idea. In "ChessDice", two people play a game of chess. Then, each
rolls a six-sided die. The winner of the chess game adds one to their
roll. The higher roll wins. This is a rather silly game, but it's
got a lot of luck and a lot of skill. Heroscape is much the same way;
it's got a lot of skill, but there's so much luck that it only makes a
moderate impact. Unlike ChessDice, Heroscape is fun.

Another quality Heroscape had that some will enjoy and others won't is
the thematic dissonance. It can be very engaging in a geeky sort of
way to get into the idea of Vikings vs. Robots, for example. On the
other hand, some may find this a barrier to being engaged in the
theme. It doesn't do it for everybody. For that matter, it has a
violent theme; most scenarios have a goal of "defeat all of your
opponents units". At least it isn't collectible. (It is "expandable")

Enough with all the qualifications as to why some will not like it.
It's a really good game. The components are stunningly good. They
are beautiful, integrate well with the gameplay, are great little toys
and are complete. The provided unit cards address are well designed
and clear. The terrain is outstanding. The scenarios are fun and
clearly playtested. The initial army draft provides for a variety of
interesting strategic options. The units abilities are well balanced
and interesting. The complexity is close to what I'd consider
optimal. It's complex enough to be interesting but simple enough to
play quickly and cleanly.

The game is not collectible, but it is expandable. Further, because
they used standard miniature sizes, many have suggested using
miniatures from other games to use with Heroscape. I created the
HeroscapeUnitCreator with this in mind. All the same, I've only so
far played with the standard units and they provide a rich and
complete gaming experience which I don't feel will be exhausted any
time soon. I'm sure sometime I'll enjoy adding figures, but for now
there are enough interesting combinations of the provided units for it
to be very compelling. Further, the scenarios (both included, and
downloadable from the web site)
provide some interesting and well tested variations such as fog, acid
mist and mud.

The game succeeds by keeping the core of the game simple. The special
powers of each unit add a richness that prevents it from getting
tedious. The terrain system adds an understandable but deep set of
tactical options. And yet, they've done a very good job of leaving a
lot of things out. There are no "cover" rules, you either have line
of sight or not. There are never any penalties, only bonuses. There
is no facing. There are no squad coherence rules. There is only one
kind of damage. No unit has special powers that have to be looked up
anywhere other than on their card. Terrain and range don't interact.
Being one step higher than an opponent is just as good as being two
steps higher. Any number of rules could be argued for on simulation
grounds, but they've done a good job of picking a set that makes for a
good game. In the end the rules they picked make for interesting and
fun tactics.

The "ergonomics" is also very good. Something as simple as the unit
cards and the turn markers solves many of the bookkeeping problems
associated with miniature games. The "thematic dissonance" I
mentioned makes the units easily distinguishable in general. Yes,
there's three different Viking groups, but imagine if the game were
all Vikings. The hex based terrain allows attractive and interesting
layouts with simple and unambiguous movement and range measurements.
Line-of-sight is the only aspect that could even be vaguely debatable,
and I've found it easiest to just play "when in doubt, yes, you have

As a great many people have pointed out, the components are simply
amazing. The miniatures are beautifully sculpted and painted. The
terrain is attractive and durable. The cards and other miscellaneous
components are nicely produced. Finally, all of this is produced for
an emminently reasonable price.

In the end, this is certainly the best miniatures game I've ever
played. It's not the deepest but it is the most attractive, most well
designed and most fun. If the qualifications above (lots of luck,
thematic dissonance, fighting game) don't turn you off, you're likely
to enjoy Heroscape.

FackCheck, FactCheck, Oops

To tie together two previous entries: I wrote about a while ago, long before
Dick Cheney's near mention of it in the debates made it
famous. I also recently wrote about knowing my audience. On FactCheck, however, while I got the URL right, I mistyped the text of
the link as "". No big deal, the link leads to the right
place, and I just feel a little silly for such an odd spelling error.

But, it turns out other people have heard about, but
misheard as "fackcheck". doesn't exist, so what
do they do? Search Google for href=>fackcheck.
Link #3, my site. So, this week I've gotten a moderate number of
visitors who came to my site by searching for "fackcheck". Welcome,
whether you're here looking for,,
fact-check, fack-check, fack check or whatever.

The real site is
and I highly recommend it. Cheney mentioned, which
someone (not Soros) set up to point to George Soros' web site. The
funny twist beyond the URL error is of course that Cheney was claiming
that defended his record at Halliburton which it does
not do. While Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, they did a great deal of
business (through subsidiaries) with enemies of the United States.
What does say is that the Democratic accusations of
improprieties regarding granting Halliburton military contracts are
overblown. Inappropriate granting of contracts to Halliburton:
overblown. Doing business with enemies of the USA: well, yes.
Spelling errors: in the age of google, they sometimes help people find
what they're looking for.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004


Slightly echoing my earlier comments on Fahrenheit911, it's a surreal world when the Democratic VP candidate is the one compellingly arguing for tax cuts,
defecit reduction and fiscal responsibility. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting article from several months
ago which expresses some similar sentiments. Now, we have a Republican administration and legislature leading the largest expansion of the federal government in decades. It's rather

Given that the debates aren't really debates (eg, the debaters are actually prohibited from directing questions at one another), I've been pleased and impressed at the
level of discourse. There's been some real substance there, and I think it managed to highlight some of the key issues that have concerned me. One of Kerry's quotes
that I thought well summarized the issue: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong. Certainty sometimes can get you in trouble." A
friend who grew up in Germany wondered aloud why Bush's attributes of being "resolute", "steadfast", and "determined" are considered a good thing. He observed Germany had leadership
with all of those qualities in the 1940s. Being resolute and certain isn't inherently good.

I'd support Kerry over Bush on social policy grounds anyway, but I find the unflinching confidence of an administration who has been in power through torture,
secret tribunals, an unprovoked war, institution of secret laws,
and increased limits on civil liberties to be extremely distressing.
Their certainty has gotten us into big
trouble in Iraq, and I'm afraid of where more might lead. 9/11 changed
a lot of things, but it shouldn't be a carte blanche for the disaster we've been lead through since then.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Quick New Game Impressions from UG8

Saturday was Unity Games
, which was a lot of fun. I played several old favorites (Ra,
Crokinole, Compatability) and several "new favorites" (Heroscape,
Einfach Genial, San Juan) and a handful of new-to-me games, which I though
I'd record impressions of here:

Rumis: Pueblo-like game of building using 3
dimensional blocks. It scores differently, in fact nearly opposite
and the gameplay is somewhat different (your pieces must touch your
other pieces). Overall, its good, perhaps has good or better then
Pueblo. Plus, it comes with a nice "Lazy Susan" style board which
Pueblo would benefit from.

Victory & Honor: Very good
trick taking game. In fact, one of the best new ones I've played in a
while. The twist in this one is that you play three tricks ("left",
"center" and "right") at a time. If you play a card to your "left"
trick, your left hand opponent must play the next card. It's a little
complicated to wrap a strategy around at first, but it's a lot of fun
and very interesting. Clever.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill: This new Avalon
Hill game is a lot of theme, which didn't really engage me, and only a
very little game. It's a sort of neat idea, but not especially and
the execution is mediocre. The components are nice, and there are
some creative ideas, but I didn't see much I really thought was compelling.

Mausen: Multi-player, card-counting assisted "rock,
paper, scissors". Enh. Not really interesting.

Friday, October 1, 2004

September 2004 Games

While fatherhood has induced an increased bias toward shorter games, I actually got to play a bunch of games this month. For various reasons, I also have some slightly more in depth comments this month than usual.

39 games played, 17 titles, (3 new to me) over 10 sessions with 20 different people.

Hot Games for September, 2004

Heroscape (9 plays)
I'm writing a more complete review which I will post soon, but it's certainly the big hit recently. I'm not 100% sure why I'm as enchanted by this game that at many levels is rather frivolous, but I'll try to deconstruct that a little bit in my review. Suffice to say, it's been a lot of fun

Typo (5 plays)
I already wrote a review of this. It's fun.

Magic: The Gathering (5 plays)
Ok, this one deserves explanation. I am not a fan of "collectible" games, by which I mean those with artificial rarities and random contents packages. I'm fine with "expandable" games, like the above Heroscape, or RoboRally, or Carcassone, but the random aspect bothers me as a consumer. Years ago, I played Magic to see what all the hooplah was about. It was fun, not amazing, but fun. A friend and I decided we weren't interested in diving into the money-draining pit of collecting, but if we each bought a bunch (about $40 worth) of cards, we could play together and it would be fun. It was, a little. Unfortunately, $40 worth of cards doesn't really give you a great deal of deck building flexibility. So, we played some and I largely abandoned it. Recently, another friend dove in head first and has a great many cards including many of the pre-constructed "theme decks", which we used in the 5 games I played. That works better as a game. It was fun with interesting gameplay, albeit quite a bit of luck. It seems like deck construction makes for a very interesting game, but to truly have all the options available to you, you need 4 copies of each card to choose from. That's expensive and impractical. A few games were fun, but for the few hundred dollars worth of cards it would take to make the deck building options feel reasonable, I'd rather have a bunch more German games.

Maharaja (1 play)
This is good. Nothing stunningly brilliant, but not totally unoriginal either. It's got several nice interlocking mechanisms and seemingly several paths to victory. It's not as good as I hoped it would be, but it is much better than I feared it might be.

Phoenix (3 plays)
Quick and entertaining two-player game which is more fun than it seems like it should be given it's simplicity and straightforwardness.

Einfach Genial (2 plays)
I need to play this more before I have a sense as to whether there any genuinely deep strategy or tactics options, but its engaging enough even before such depth (or lack thereof) is apparent.

Zirkus Flohcati (2 plays)
Continues to be great filler.

Tongiaki (1 play)
The chaos here doesn't really bother me.

Blue Moon (1 play)
I think the first time I played this, I may have played with the wrong rules. It's better with the right rules, or at least its better with the expansion deck I played with than with the built in decks.