Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Games of the year, 2005

While I expect to play a few more games before the year is up, my top
10 for the year is pretty much cemented, so here it is:

Fiese Freunde Fette Feten (13 plays)
In addition to an engaging theme and a high "fun" factor, I
really enjoy the mechanics of this game. It melds auctions,
multi-dimensional optimization and careful timing into a great gaming

Crokinole (32 plays)
We've had a Crokinole board at my office for a while now, but this year several of my colleagues decided it was something worth playing at lunch, so it
definitely makes the list this year.

Blue Moon (10 plays)
See my recent review for more detailed comments. I'm glad I gave this a second look.

Around the World in 80 days (4 plays)
Light, novel, fun.

Jambo (6 plays)
A great two player that is interesting on the first play and leaves some substantial depth to explore beyond that.

Fairy Tale (6 plays)
Maybe not the "best filler ever", but a solid filler that, unlike many, has improved with repeat play.

Heroscape (6 plays)
One of the big hits of 2004 remains extremely entertaining. This would be higher if I had more opportunities to play it.

Electronic Catchphrase (15 plays)
King of party games, remains king.

Battlestations (1 play)
Only one play, but I'm eager to play more. It's a four hour game session, and I am usually not so happy with long games, but this game satisfies at more levels than most.

Techno Witches (4 plays)
The pre-programming mechanic combined with measured movement create a surprisingly clever range of tactical options.

Runners up: Louis XIV, Shadows over Camelot, Punct, Ticket to Ride, Princes of Florence, Easy Come Easy Go, Apples to Apples, Rumis, Palazzo, Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Blue Moon Review

(this is a combination of a review and some more specific comments on deck-building experiences with Blue Moon)

I had played a couple games of Blue Moon in 2004 when it first came
out, and was unimpressed. The art was pretty, but the theme didn't
really grab me and the gameplay somehow seemed unremarkable. I
essentially dismissed it.

Fast forward to fall of this year; Every couple of years, I get the
urge to play a game like Magic: The Gathering, but I've avoided it for
several reasons, despite certain appeal. The appealing features of
Magic, to me, include lots of permutations for play, a variety of
strategic approaches, opportunities for clever tactical play, and in
particular, the ability to do deckbuilding. Deckbuilding games are
appealing because they allow substantial strategic exploration before
actually playing. Most German-style games don't allow for a lot of
pre-game strategic planning. But, Magic has some huge flaws from my
perspective: blind purchases, an extremely deep money pit, and
gameplay I don't find that engaging. Well, in the process of
exploring the desire for this kind of game, I found a lot of people
saying very positive things about Blue Moon. Further, a guy I game
with regularly had recently gotten into it and had very positive
things to say about it, so I gave it another try.

Blue Moon seemed to satisfy all of the requirements. It had many
permutations (8 pre-built pre-balanced decks that were all reported to
be interesting), a range of strategies, tactics and the ability to
build decks. Further, it has no blind purchases and the "money pit"
aspect is limited. Because of the way the rules are constructed, a
(retail-priced) purchase of about $100 gets you every card and the
ability to build every legally constructable deck. So, for $200 (no
small sum of money, but still, limited) two players can play with
absolutely no limitations. In contrast, most CCGs, $200 will give you
a good start, but will only scratch the surface of the possible amount
one could spend. Finally, the comments on the net assured me the
gameplay was more compelling than it originally seemed.

So, I gave it another try, and I must say I've been extremely
impressed. The deckbuilding aspect intrigued me the most, but I
played quite a few games with the stock decks first. It's impressive
to me how dramtically different each of these pre-built decks are, and
yet how well balanced they are against each other. Each has its own
style of play, some more similar, and some rather different. But,
what I really wanted to try was the deck building.

Deck building

The Emissaries & Inquisitors deck give a variety of interesting
deck-building options with the Inquisitor cards. So, I designed a
bunch of decks (see them at my Blue Moon Deck
), and recently had the opportunity to play a couple of
games with these constructed decks. I remain extremely pleased and
entertained. The first game we played was using decks we each thought
were reasonably strong. My deck was a Mimix-based deck that had a
huge number of free cards. This meant I could very quickly play a
great many cards. My opponent's deck was a Flit deck aimed at
blocking strong cards and using direct dragon attraction cards to add
a little offensive power. The game was quite close with my deck
hammering hard on the offensive, while the Flit managed to keep
blocking most of those attacks. In the end, the Mimix won, though
only barely.

The second deck-building match we each played a deck we didn't think
we necassarily be particularly strong. I played an Aqua deck built
with the goal of being able to outlast an opponent in nearly any
fight. Through a combination of high valued cards and a large number
of shield cards (mutants and non-mutants), it would be a rare
circumstance where this deck would truly be forced to retreat and
combined with the Aqua's "Water of Immortality", there's no particular
reason to avoid burning through cards. My opponent's deck was a Khind
"one-trick" deck, but it was a powerful trick. The trick was to
collect a hand containing the right set of cards and be able to play
them all at once: both floods (forcing your opponent to retreat,
immediately) along with an number of cards which increase the number
of dragons attraced if the opponent retreats. The result was a very
unusual, but interesting game.

The entire game lasted only three fights. The first fight involved a
huge number of cards on both sides. At least 10 cards for each of us,
if not more. In the end, the Khind were forced to retreat, but
unbeknownst to me he had accumulated most of the cards into his hand
required for his "trick". A few cards into the second fight, my
opponent made an error that would rapidly lead to me winning. In the
interest of seeing how it would turn out without that error, I
suggested we back out the move. Having backed out this last play, he
managed to quickly get the full complement of required cards in his
and and triggered the trick. Two floods meant I was forced to retreat
and had to concede four dragons, moving it from two on my side to two
on his. By this point, my opponent was using his Inquisitor Razor
Mind's ability to discard cards at every opportunity. My deck
remained strong, but before I could get to 6 on my side, he was able
to retreat, ceding me a single dragon, and then discard the remaining
2 or 3 cards in his hand for the win. Overall, a very interesting

So far, I remain very interested in this game. The deckbuilding
affords a number of opportunities for strategy and analysis outside of
the context of an individual game. The gameplay itself is more fun
than I originally recognized, and experience with the decks certainly
helps. Further, the basic mechanic (a brinkmanship mechanic, not
unlike Taj Mahal) works far better in a two player game than it does
in multi-player game. Overall, a very enjoyable game experience, and
definitely it is the first I have found that truly successfully
scratches that "game like Magic" itch. Rating: A+

Friday, December 9, 2005

Licensing and Advertising

For a while now, I've had a few Google AdSense ads on my site, as an
experiment. I think the program is a great idea, and it's easy to use
and in general fairly unobtrusive. The ads that get selected are
frequently comically mismatched to the content due to homonyms or the
like, though. In any case, I figured if I could generate some revenue off of
this website, that'd be a nice fringe benefit.

When it comes down to it, it's not very much money. If it worked out
to, say, $100/year, that might feel like it's worth it. It's not very
much money, but I could buy a few games with it and it would be a nice
perk. In reality, it's not even that much, and for such a small
amount, I'd get more satisfaction from providing the content here
unsullied by the clutter of advertising (even as unobtrusive as Google
AdSense is). So, unless something changes, I'll probably continue the
experiment til the end of the year and then remove all the ads.

On a related note, I've officially put the Creative Commons license
for this blog on the web page. I used the "Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License". In the majority of cases, if
you want to commercially use any of my content (text, images, source
code) that is not explicitly otherwise licensed, I am happy to grant a
royalty-free license for such, but I do require that I be contacted

In the end, I don't put stuff here in the hopes of making a buck, I do
it because I think it makes the web a better place and it gives me an
outlet for the occasional self-indulgent rambling. I really enjoy
hearing stories from people about how their 12-year-old loves the
Heroscape Combat Simulator, or that my discussion of Baby Signs
convinced their spouse to give it a try. So, let me know if you
like/appreciate/use the stuff I put here.

Update (12/9): Several people commented that part of the issue
is that there are no ads in the RSS. This is true, but I'm not
convinced it would make a big difference anyway, for two reasons: 1) A
lot of evidence suggests "regulars" of sites don't click on ads. If
you've subscribed to the RSS feed, you're a "regular". 2) I get a lot
of random visitor traffic, mostly through google, and this is a far
greater number of visitors than the "regulars". I estimate somewhere
around 100 regular RSS-based readers of this blog. In contrast, the
web version of the blog and the Heroscape related stuff I've built in
particular (which have AdSense on them) have somewhere in the ballpark
of 1000 unique new visitors per week, excluding search engines, other
robots, etc.

I may actually try to break down the ad revenue page-by-page and leave
them on some pages if one or two pages represent the bulk of the
revenue, I may leave it. Further, I may leave the highest revenue
pages in place long enough to get over the threshold at which they'll
send me a check. In any case, I find ads in RSS much more annoying
than most ads, so I don't foresee myself ever putting those in this

On additional note for those who read via RSS: If you're interested in
reading the comments on current "front page" entries in RSS as well as
the entries themselves, there is an RSS feed that includes them at
http://mkgray.com:8000/blog/index.crss. Enjoy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Apple Picking

Apple Picking at Shelburne Farm

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blue Moon Deck DB

I've been playing Blue Moon a bunch recently. It's very interesting.
I had played it a couple times and been pretty unimpressed, but recent
comments online and in person made me give it a second look and I'm
glad I did. Just a few weeks ago, the final two expansion decks were
released. This means some of the more advanced deckbuilding
capabilities are fully possible. Personally, I find the idea of a
deckbuilding game quite appealing, but the blind purchase aspect of
CCGs has been such a negative feature to me that I've avoided them.
Blue Moon has some very CCG like qualities, with two big
qualifications: There are no blind purchases and the money pit is much
shallower -- you can own every deck and given that the rules prohibit
duplicate cards in a deck, construct every conceivable deck for $105,
if you pay full retail cost.

So, I decided it would be nice to have a tool to help build decks and
more importantly, a place to share these constructed decks online.
So, I built the Blue Moon Deck DB, a web based tool to help design and share decks. It's Firefox only and is a little rough around the edges. I'm hoping to add more features soon, but I'm interested in feedback and once I'm comfortable with its stability, I'll post it to the wider audience at BGG and perhaps elsewhere.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

More Essen 2005 Games

I got to play several more Essen 2005 games this weekend and replay a
couple I played earlier. I finally did play Caylus. All of the below
comments are based on only a play or two, but you may notice a
recurring theme: "I don't need to buy it." Oh well. The best game
experience of the weekend was Lord of the Rings. We played with all the expansions, including the dark tiles.
I was Sauron managed to get the Dark Rider back to Mordor just
as Sam was about to drop the ring into Mount Doom. I had just barely failed to nail them in Bree, then again in Isengard and again in Shelob's Lair. A very satisfying game for all involved.
Normally, for me, novelty goes a long way, so to have a 5-year-old game (admittedly, one of my favorites) be the best gaming experience of the weekend says something. I'm usually sufficiently big into "what's new" that that excitement exceeds a good experience at my favored games. Not so this time. Caylus and Antike came close though, but were not quite there.

It's outstanding, but it's not quite as earth shaking as many have made it
out to be. It's long, and it can have some downtime, which is not a good combination. It seems that usually it will be quite engaging with little downtime, but the length detracts. Above and beyond that, there's a nicely interlocking set of mechanisms, but nothing amazingly clever or revolutionary. It's a very well done resource management game with some novelty in the mechanisms. A definite buy, but it's not Puerto Rico. Even with experienced players, it's going to take 100-150 minutes, maybe more.
Big Kini
Good exploration game, but when it comes down to it, another player summed it up: "more of the same". It's got nice mechanisms, bits, and all that, though it lacks a feeling of tension.
Oh, I so wanted to like this. After the first play, I was luke warm. One third of the way into the second play, I was hopeful, it looked like there might be some interesting and deeper hand management decisions than it originally seemed. Then, luck happened. I like luck in games. A lot. But, Beowulf has luck in the same (and only) place it has strategy and tactics: hand management. In addition to the luck of the draw, which is reasonably small and the usual factor in hand management games, it has the so called "risks", particularly during "major episodes" which are basically a magnified "luck of the draw". A good draw in a mid-episode risk is very beneficial. A bad draw in a mid-episode risk is very bad. If the luck were instead somewhere else, say in the selection of the order of the episodes, or in some other aspect of the game, it might not ruin it, but I think the potential variability of the swings of luck that so fundamentally and directly affect the core of the game eliminates too much of the impact of earlier decisions. At least I know I don't need another big box filling up shelf space.
Enh. Cute mechanic and nice integration of cardplay and memory, but in the end I'm not sure I believe your decisions (what card to play) really makes much of a difference.
Shear Panic
The Aardman-esque sheep are really cute, but when it comes down to it, it's an abstract puzzle game and really not that interesting of one. Plus, it seems to have some kingmaker issues which is even more annoying in a puzzle game.
This was good. Not amazing, not revolutionary, but quick, a nice refinement of the Too Many Cooks mechanic and fun. It's a shame it's so overproduced. If Amigo (or someone else) comes out with a version in the small "standard" card box size, I'll definitely pick it up. Otherwise, I'll hold on to that shelf space and play someone else's copy.
Sag's mit Symbolen
We played this, thinking it would be a nice light not-quite-party-game. Oops. It's an odd little pseudo-deduction/clue-giving game. It's actually got some rather interesting and difficult decisions. It'd be nice to have it in English, but using a translation sheet wasn't bad.
Cash & Guns
Very cute, simple bluff, counter-bluff, special-powers, awesome-foam-handgun game. Unfortunately, it's outrageously expensive for what it is. Again, as a straight small package card game, I'd probably pick it up. As is, I can pass.
Techno Witches
I commented on this earlier, but my impression remains very positive and if anything, has improved. Fun, fast, clever, interesting.
I commented on this earlier as well. A second play neither improved nor degraded my impression. It's quite good, though it feels a little dry in the end.
The surprise hit of the weekend for me. It's a 2 hour (less with experienced players, I presume) civilization building game which very effectively captures that "Civ Lite" target so many people seem to have been shooting for and missing. At its core is a shockingly simple, but amazingly elegant, clever, and effective action selection mechanism. Basically, you have a "wheel of actions" and after your first turn action, you may choose (and move to) any of the next 3 actions on the wheel as your next action or pay to move to an action further around the wheel. This prevents you from doing the same thing over and over and because of the positioning of the actions on the wheel makes it hard to alternate or otherwise rapidly cycle through complimentary actions. You can do it somewhat, but at a cost, both literal and in opportunity. Further, each action is "small" which means your turn can be played very very fast. At the beginning of the game, 5-10 second turns. By the end of the game, 30 second turns. This means you remain engaged in the game constantly. It manages to do all this while packing in the core elements of a good civilization building game: expansion, building (cities & temples), resources, warfare, and technology.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

14-month old board gamer

I'm as pleased as can be. As I href=http://www.mkgray.com:8000/blog/Personal/Fathergood/Baby-Signs.html>mentioned earlier,
we've been doing "Baby Signs" with our daughter. A week or two
ago, she learned a new sign: She holds her hand flat, and with the
other hand makes a tapping/poking motion on the surface of her hand.
It means "board game". Can you see me beaming from here?

She loves playing her board games. Of course, as a 14-month-old,
"playing" means examining the bits, moving them around the board
fairly randomly and occasionally scattering them about. So far, we
play a lot of Chutes and Ladders (Sesam Street edition) where she
moves the pieces around the board (not even uniformly occupying
squares) and spins the spinner in whatever order she deems
appropriate. She has gotten down the notion that you move the pieces
a space at a time, even if her sense of "space" is any point roughly
an inch and a half from where it was before.

We also play a lot of Enchanted Forest and the last time we played was
quite a success. I put all the trees face down and asked her,
"Where's the wolf?" (The bottoms of the trees have pictures from fairy
tales) I then picked one up, looked at it and showed her, saying
"That's not a wolf, those are 7-league boots?" From then on she
picked up the trees one at a time, and I asked her if it was the wolf,
until she found it.

We've also tried Frechdachs (her first Reiner Knizia game) though she
doesn't seem to enjoy that one as much. She takes the bits in and out
of the "suitcases", but it doesn't hold her attention as long.

Cathedral has also been fun, though she's more interested in
scattering the pieces than putting them on the board, but that may
have just been a product of her mood.

Finally, Face-it has been a big success. Face-it has plastic pieces
that rest on a lattice grid. The other day, I put out the board,
grabbed the bag and took a piece out, placing it on the board. I then
handed her the bag. She drew a piece out, and put it on the board.
We proceeded to take turns, drawing and placing until the board was

She'll be getting a few more good ones for Christmas.

Okay, so by most people's standards these aren't really "playing a
game", but as a father it's pretty exciting, especially that she'll
frequently be playing with a toy and she'll scoot over to me and sign, "Board game?"

(Also, see the href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listid=11039>GeekList
version of this post for links to the games)

Essen 2005 Games

Yesterday, I got the chance to play a bunch of Essen 2005 games. Most notably I did not play Caylus, largely because the first game of it took well over 3 hours and I wasn't in the mood for that kind of duration. I'm sure with experience it gets shorter, but I'm a bit averse to games that start at 3.5 hours.
Here are my 1 or 2 play quick comments on each, in the order I played them:

Beautiful artwork, interesting if not especially amazing game, and it's desperately in need of a reference card. Without it, it was common to get confused about the various card placement limitations. I'm also not so sure there's much plan ahead, but it's cute and small.
Sushi Express
Super random, super light, quite fast, not bad.
Techno Witches
Surprisingly engaging pre-programmed measured movement race game. The components are nice and the mechanics are clever. My only wish is they had components for more than 4 players. It cries out for a Harry Potter brand licensing.
Odd Adlung game about collecing spherical objects. Not awful, but nothing too inspired and definitely an odd theme. I bet if you translated it to English and named it "Balls!", you'd get sales on the name alone. Gameplay has an interesting bit or two but ends up feeling mundane.
Simple slap-jack style speed recognition games with attractively illustrated little elemental men. If you like that sort of thing, it's pretty good.
Much better than Candamir. It doesn't feel that innovative, but it is a well crafted combination of familiar mechanics along with a few clever bits. If you like Catan-style development games, this is definitely worth a try.
Disappointing. Very luck of the draw/draft driven and even when I felt I had control I didn't enjoy it much. It has some serious similarities to Taj Mahal, but I think I'd rather play that anyday. It might be better with fewer (we played with 6).
Nice exploration/development/pick-up-and-deliver game. The actions cards are a bit more variable in power level than I'd like ideally (ie, some are very good, some are quite poor) but it's still nice. The exploration element here is very light, but I like it. Plays reasonably quickly too.
King Solomon's Mine
Very cool, but in the end I didn't actually like it that much. Very nice components, though the levels of the stacks are often a bit difficult to read, which is crucial to gameplay. There's also a fair amount of downtime with minimal if any ability to plan ahead. I feel like something's there, but I'm not quite sure.

(See also the GeekList version of this)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Hot" Games

People, including me, come up with all sorts of measures for
enumerating and ranking the "best" games. I personally am a big fan
of Joe Huber's "Happiness" metric, but find it not quite complete.
Briefly, the Huber Happiness of a game is: (rating-baseline)*(game
length * number of plays) where the rating and baseline are on a 0-10
scale (baseline of 4.5 is recommended) and game length is in minutes.
It's a good metric, especially for "best games of all time" and that
kind of thing. However, it misses two qualities I often want included in such a ranking: novelty and "replayability".

Actually, it partially encompasses replayability, in that it includes
number of plays, but this can be canceled out by game length. That
is, 9 plays of a 20 minute game (total, 3 hours) seems likely a
stronger indicator of replayability than 1 play of a 3 hour game or 2
plays of a 90 minute game. So, times played needs to get some more
weight. Of course, "novelty" only applies when looking at a time
window. When you're talking about "all time" there's no such thing.
But, when making something like a "game of the year" or "hot games
this month" list, older games should at least be penalized somewhat.

To this end, I've got a "hot games" metric I've been using for a few
years which I find does a great job of matching my subjective
perception. Having an objective measure of my subjective perception
has an advantage because I can look at my games lot and say "what was
the hot game for me in fall of 2003?" or the like without having to
have recorded it then.

So, my "hot games" metric is as follows:

P = plays of game during interval
T = plays of game, ever
H = Huber happiness from game during interval
S = 1 + (P/T)
X = S*S*sqrt(P)*H

where X is the final score. The "S" term gives a substantial (but not
overwhelming) bonus for novelty and the sqrt(P) term gives a bonus for

What this yields is that my current hot game (looking over the past year) is Fiese Freunde Fette Feten. A year ago today, it was San Juan. A year before that, Electronic Catchphrase. A year before that, Puerto Rico. At some later point, I'll have to generate my (retroactive to 2000) "Matthew's Game of the Year" list or perhaps even "Hot Game of the Quarter".

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Big Games: TI3e, Battlestations and American Megafauna

I don't tend to play a lot of long games. I play a lot of games that
take an hour or less. I play several that take an hour to two hours.
I occasionaly play a two to three hour game. I play games longer than
three hours very infrequently.

Despite this trend, I've played 3 games recently that exceeded this limit though.

First, over the summer I got to play American Megafauna multi-player
for the first time. American Megafauna is a brilliantly detailed evolution simulation game. I'd played it with the solitaire rules before and
found it very interesting, but I don't tend to like solitaire, so I
hoped this would yield an even more interesting multi-player game. I
was wrong. It's not awful, but the randomness that is interesting and
challenging in solitaire is dominating and annoying in the
multi-player game. If I recall correctly, this clocked in at just
over three hours, but it's not likely to be something I'll repeat
multi-player any time soon. Maybe I'll pull it out solitaire someday
when I feel like a good evolutionary romp.

Most recently, I played Twilight Imperium, 3rd edition. This was
good, but wow was it long. Including rules explanation, all four
players having never played before, and a dinner break, it took over
six hours, and we only played to 8 VP. There's a lot going on here,
and I expect to play it again, but it's a shame it is so demanding.
Certainly, with experienced players it would go much more quickly, but
the time required to get experienced would be substantial.

Finally, in late summer, I played href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/12350>Battlestations. This
is almost an RPG rather than a board game, but it's close enough.
It's a game of tactical space combat and boarding action. This was a
blast. Absolutely wonderful, with few qualifications. We played one
fairly elaborate scenario and it took about 5 hours, maybe a bit more
including rules. But, compared to a traditional RPG, this time
included teaching the rules, creating characters, playing the entire
"adventure" and wrap-up. It's been a while since I played a real RPG,
but a five hour session was never enough. Battlestations manages to
really successfully capture the feel of high-action space opera
science fiction. The rules are straightforward, if large. We played
where I acted as a GM, but you could clearly play in a more
traditional player-vs-player mode and have it work well. I really
look forward to trying this one again.

In summary:

  • American Megafauna: C- (works better solitaire)
  • Twilight Imperium, 3rd edition: B- (loses most of it's points for being really long)
  • Battlestations: A+ (very fun experience game)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More obscure hobbies

My original Obscure-Hobbies post got some good replies and I've thought of a few new ones:

  • Geocaching - I can't believe I forgot this one. It's gaining in popularity, but for now it's sufficiently obscure.
  • LEGO building - This is sort of borderline. I guess most people don't realize there are adults who have this as a serious hobby, so that qualifies it as obscure.
  • Underwater Hockey - This is a great one. I'd never heard of it or even imagined it. Rather neat.
  • Power Kites - Jeph Stahl mentioned this. I actually had the opportunity to try this out, years ago, in grad school, and it had quite an impact, literally. These are kites that are shaped like airfoils which mean they produce a huge amount of lift. My one experience with this, it dragged me across the beach and actually knocked me out. It also caused temporary amnesia of the preceding 6 hours. The kites are pretty cool, and for that matter, temporary memory loss is a sort of cool, if a bit disturbing experience to have. Once.
  • Chess Boxing - I saw a link to this, which was the actual inspirating for me posting this additional list. I like the idea of alternating rounds of boxing and chess, but it's a slight shame there is no interaction in the two events, other than the fact that I assume it's harder to concentrate on chess after being hit in the head repeatedly.
  • Contradancing - Again, I'm not quite sure if this qualifies. There are a wide range of forms of obscure dance. Most people are aware of square dancing or folk dancing in general, but Contradancing (while very similar to square dancing) seems to qualify to me. Plus, I have many fond memories of contradancing in the late 80s.

So, the total list is now up to 11: German Board Games, Disc Golf, Fly Ball, Change Ringing, Puzzle hunting, Geocaching, LEGO building, Underwater Hockey, Power Kites, Chess Boxing and Contradancing. What else?

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Baby Signs

Signs is a very cool idea. I had heard about it before my
daughter was born, and we decided to give it a try when she got the
appropriate age. The basic idea is that many babies reach a point where they have the cognitive capacity for language, but lack the vocal control necassary for spoken language. They do, however, have sufficient motor control to make some sophisticated hand gestures.

I was optimistic, but a bit skeptical about the whole notion. My
primary rationale for being skeptical was that if this really works so
well (allegedly helping prevent tantrums because of improved
communication, increasing early communication with the child, etc.)
why isn't everybody doing it. But, we decided to give it a try.

We probably started signing to her around 6 months, and she seemed
pretty oblivious to it. Then, almost exactly on her first birthday,
she figured her first one out. In the two months since then, her
signing vocabulary has exploded. She has a bunch of spoken words too,
but her signs tend to be much clearer. Sometimes it's not clear if
she's saying "bye-bye" or "buh" (book) twice. When she signs, the
difference between flower (sniffing dramatically), apple (fist to
cheek, with motion), banana ("peeling" your finger), eat (fingers to
mouth), and others is quite apparent.

The fact that she can scoot over to us and sign for "eat" when she's
hungry or tell us at snack time what she wants specifically is
amazing. Without the signs, I'm sure she'd eventually figure out a
word or we'd figure out what she wants just by her general agitation,
but this short circuits all that nicely. Currently, she probably is
picking up a new sign less than a day after we start using it.

So, if you've got a pre-verbal baby, I can't endorse this enough. The
only remaining question is why isn't everybody doing this with
their babies?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Obscure Hobbies

I've always found obscure hobbies interesting. I like the notion that
we live in a sufficiently large and rich world that there can be a
great many hobbies people participate in that can each have a
substantial following, but that the vast majority of people are
completely unaware. For some time, I've been meaning to catalog a
list of interesting "obscure hobbies", and this seems as good a place
as any to do it.

I'd be very interested in hearing from other people about items to potentially add to the list. Here's the definition I'm using for obscure hobby:

  • It must have a substantial following. At least hundreds, but ideally thousands of people worldwide.
  • It must be an "open" hobby, that anyone who decided to become involved in, could.
  • It must be something the majority of people have not heard of and don't know exists.
  • It must involve doing something other than collecting. While I'm sure there are lots of obscure things people collect, this doesn't quite count.
  • It must not simply be "competetive X" where X is a well known activity that is not usually done competetively.

Of course, there's a lot of borderline cases and I'll probably be inconsistent in my inclusion or exclusion of particular things, but I'm ok with that.

Some examples of things that don't quite make the cut for "obscure"
(but are still interesting): Scrapbooking, Curling, Model Railroading,
Competetive Scrabble, Wheel Throwing (pottery), LARPing, Knitting and Linux Development.

Over the past few years though I've identified several that do make
the list. I'll try and write more detailed entries regarding some of
these at some point.

German Board Games
This almost doesn't count, but I am including it. People are aware of board games, but people are largely unaware of the entire genre of adult strategy games, "designer games" or whatever you want to call them. They are substantially less obscure now than they were 10 years ago, but still they're pretty obscure.
Disc Golf
If you haven't heard of this, it's a game with rules essentially like golf, but played with specialized frisbees where the "holes" are in fact metal baskets. It is played more casually than competetively, and the discs aren't quite the same as frisbees. This one is also rising out of obscurity, but it counts.
Fly Ball
A team sport for dogs which is essentially a relay race with hurdles and tennis balls.
Change ringing
You know those huge arrays of bells in churches, particularly in England and New England? The process of ringing them in subtly controlled sequences by adjusting the way people pull on the ropes attached to the bells to produce precisely scheduled peals is called change ringing.
Puzzle hunting
This one almost doesn't count since there is a fairly high degree of awareness of these. These are "hunts" not unlike a scavenger hunt which are solved by finding solutions to many puzzles with interlocking answers, often producing additional layers of puzzles. The MIT Mystery Hunt was my introduction to this kind of activity, but many others exist.

So, what should I add to the list?

Monday, September 5, 2005

Happiness by Author

Several years ago, Joe Huber proposed a "happiness metric" for games
which I think works very well. The happiness score of a game is
H = (R-O)*(N*T)
where H is the happiness score, R is the
rating, O is an offset (4.5), N is the number of times you've played
it and T is the average playing time in minutes.

Having been compiling this kind of data for some time, I decided to
see what authors produced the most "happiness". The results aren't
too surprising, but they're still interesting. In particular, while
it's no surprise that Reiner Knizia comes out on top, I'm still
impressed that he outperforms the next highest author by a factor of
over 4. Further, it's nice to see that most of the authors make on the
list by virtue of several games rather than a single dominant game.

Each author is listed along with the number of happiness points
and the games which are the biggest individual contributors to the

  1. Reiner Knizia (67.8k) (Battle Line, LOTR, Traumfabrik, Ra)
  2. Richard Garfield (15.1k) (RoboRally)
  3. Andreas Seyfarth (13.1k) (Puerto Rico, San Juan)
  4. Stefan Dorra (10k) (Medina, For Sale, Hick Hack)
  5. Wolfgang Kramer (8.7k) (6 nimmt!, Princes of Florence)
  6. Uwe Rosenberg (8.7k) (Schnaeppchen Jagd, Mamma Mia, Bohnanza)
  7. Friedemann Friese (8.3k) (FFFF, Power Grid, Finstere Flure, Fresh Fish, Foppen)
  8. Sid Sackson (7.6k) (Can't Stop, KK&K)
  9. Richard Borg (6.2k) (Call my Bluff)
  10. Aaron Weissblum (5.3k) (Spin Ball, Das Amulett, Oasis, 10DiA)
  11. Marcel Cacasola Merkle (4.7k) (FFFF, Attika)
  12. Alex Randolph (4.2k) (Ricochet Robot, Code 777, Ghosts)
  13. Franz-Benno Delonge (4.2k) (TransAmerica)
  14. Alan Moon (3.9k) (Das Amulett, Oasis, 10DiA, TTR)
  15. Reinhard Staupe (3.8k) (Basari)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Paternal Pride

Pushing my buttons

I'm very proud of my little girl for being such a wonderful child, but
every now and then she does something that just really really causes
me to feel extra proud. I realized those things actually tend to fall
in the categories I write about here the most: Technology, Restaurants
and Games. Keep in mind, she's a one-year-old. These things that I
am so proud of may not sound so impressive, but for someone who can't
walk, talk or understand most of what you say, they're pretty cool.

First, the technology category. A couple of months ago, I was using
our TiVo to play music (using the "home media option"). My daughter
isn't allowed to watch TV yet, so any use of the television, even just
to play music, is very exciting. She eagerly wanted to play with the
remote, and the TiVo remote is a pretty robust device, so I
acquiesced. I gave it to her and she proceeded to press buttons, and
with very little help, figured out that the big yellow button pauses
and unpauses the music. She sat pausing and unpausing the music for
quite some time, rather satisfied with herself. There's something
very pleasing as a father to see a child barely 11 months old figure
out a piece of "grown-up" technology so quickly and adeptly.

Second, the restaurant category. She eats out very well. She is
usually quite well behaved and enjoys the different environments. One
restaurant we've taken her to several times is a favorite of ours,
MaryChung's. At our most recent visit, she rather insistently
wanted to have some of what we were having. While Dun Dun Noodles
seemed perhaps a bit too spicy for a one-year-old, we decided to have
her try some pan fried Peking Ravioli and Mongolian Beef. She loved
them. She ate a couple of ravs all by herself. When I was in college,
we went out to Mary's a lot, often in large groups. We always
ordered ravs. When preparing our order each person would
hold up a finger if they wanted an order of ravs (6) for themself or
hold up their finger, crooked, if they wanted a half-order (3) for
themself. It made counting the total number of rav orders to place
easy. It fills me with great pride that my daughter, still unable to
say much, is just about ready to participate in such a protocol. I
just have to teach her to hold her finger crooked when I say "Ravs?"

Finally, the games category. I don't want to inflict my hobbies on my
children, but at the same time, I'd be extremely pleased to be able to
share them with them. Further, I don't expect her to be able to play
games for quite some time. She is, after all, only one. But, being
who I am, I can't help but get games for her, in anticipation that
someday she will hopefully want to play them. Well, that day came a
lot sooner than I expected. We have for her several games, including
"Chutes and Ladders" and "Enchanted Forest". The other day, she was
playing and started reaching urgently toward the games shelf. I took
out Chutes and Ladders and I set it up. My little girl proceeded to
grab one of the pawns and tap it repeatedly on the board, in a line,
in much the way someone would who was counting out their moves with a
pawn on the board. She must have seen us do this, or it must be in
the genes, but I hadn't modeled the behavior for her immediately
before. On later occasions we "played" Enchanted Forest, dealing the
cards back and forth to one another. On another occasion, I got out
Chutes and Ladders, and just set the box next to her. She proceeded
to open the box, take out the board and pieces and spinner and play
with them. Wow. I must say, while moving Chutes and Ladders pawns
around randomly or dealing cards back and forth may not be "Euphrat &
Tigris", it really drives home the point: Games are often much more
about who you play them with.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Books read and some gripes

At the recommendation of a colleague, I recently read a couple of
novels by China Mieville. Specifically, Perdido Street Station
and The Scar, and then, just like every else in the world, I
read the new Harry Potter.

The China Mieville novels are highly recommended. He imagines a rich
and compelling world and unlike some other fiction that focuses
heavily on the mileu, he manages to execute good stories in this
elaborate world. I liked them both, but found Perdido Street
more satisfying.

J.K. Rowling remains a good writer who writes engaging characters and
enjoyable stories, but this latest book was a bit of a disappointment.
It wasn't bad, but I think it's probably my least favorite of the Harry Potter series so far.
I'll comment below in more detail.

(The following paragraphs contain some spoilers for The DaVinci
, Footfall, Lucifer's Hammer, The Half-Blood
, and the film and book Return of the King.)

While talking to the above-mentioned colleague, I realized a quality
of many books and movies that I find increasingly unpleasant; I don't
like it when a narrative, especially one which supposedly tells a
story of momentous events, ends with the world the same as it started.
Recent offenders include notably The DaVinci Code and the
Return of the King. The DaVinci Code I didn't like for
a variety of reasons, and the fact that the state of the world is
essentially reset by the end of the book just enhances my irritation
at it. In the LOTR movie though, it was one of the only
disappointments. At many levels, I actually feel the movies exceeded
the books. But, the elimination of the scouring of the Shire, however
"hollywood", felt like the only major disappointment to me. In the
books, the world was saved, but the world was changed, pervasively.
In the movie, not as much. Oh well. In contrast, other novels I
enjoyed a great deal such as two of my favorites by Niven,
Footfall and Lucifer's Hammer end in a very different
places than they started.

In a book or movie, particularly science fiction and epic fantasy, the
world can change, and you don't have to worry about the "next
episode". In a TV show, the "reset" effect is often a necassary
premise given the episodic nature of the medium. Some TV shows in
recent years have done an especially good job of moving the story
forward while at the same time, providing enough of a weekly "reset"
that you can get away with missing episodes, but are additionally
rewarded for following the story in detail. In books or movies this reset
is unnecassary and disappointing.

The Half-Blood Prince doesn't fall victim to this, fortunately,
but the book is a bit heavy on the exposition. It felt like very
little happened and when it finally did, it was a little uncomfortably
rushed. Further, what plot there was felt even more contrived than it
often is. Plus, as many others have mentioned, the book read like
part one of two, while most of the previous books have stood alone far

Disk failure

Ugh, what a pain. I had a disk fail, again. This time, there was data loss. I think I've managed to restore most everything from backups and web caches for the stuff that wasn't backed up recently, but I probably missed some stuff. If you notice anything, please let me know.

I am aware that the sparkline graphs on the
SdJ-Virtual-Market-Results don't work, and I'll try to fix them,
but I may not get to it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Board Game Geek Correlations and "mathematical" trade lists

In similar motivation to my other
recent boardgamegeek features
, I finally got around to adding
statistically correlated game recommendations. For example, if you
look at the page for href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/12>Ra, you can see in the
"Related Statistics" block it recommends Traumfabrik. Further, if you
click on the little "i" there, you href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/correlated.php3?gameid=12>can
see that it has a number of weaker suggestions including "Louis
XIV", "Samurai" and "Geschenkt". I posted some details href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekforum.php3?action=viewthread&threadid=73248>in
a thread on the geek.

Additionally, I've become intrigued by the complex but powerful
"matematical" or "no-risk" trade lists that have appeared on the geek.
They are much more complex to moderate than the "ultimate" trade
lists, but not really any harder to participate. However, they seem
to have a much higher success rate; the lists result in successful
trades at a much higher rate. In an effort to simplify the
administration of such a list I created a href=http://mkgray.com:8000/cgi/norisktrade>Mathematical/No-risk Trade
Resolution Tool. The href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listid=9416>first
list to use this is active on the geek currently, though it closes
for new submissions tonight. It's very amusing and pleasing to me to
see this kind of quite complex, but effective construct actually used..

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Lulu.com Review

Ever since I was very young, the idea of self-publishing was very
appealing. I recall thinking at around age 11 that everyone should be
able to publish "book(s)" even if the potential audience size for it
was very small. I was frustrated at the large and (at the time)
mysterious barriers in the way of someone publishing something. Since
then, the web has partially filled that niche. Anyone can publish
content to the entire world at very low cost and independent of the
size of the audience for that content. It's still not a book, though.

About two years ago, I researched various self-publishing options.
Several were around, and while the barrier to entry was dramatically
lower than traditional publishing, they were still a bit prohibitive.
Set-up fees in the ballpark of $500 were typical. If you have a book
that has an audience of a few hundred, this makes a lot of sense, but
if the audience is tens or fewer, that setup fee dwarfs the marginal
cost of the individual books. I gave up on the idea.

Earlier this year, I decided to give it another look and discovered href=http://www.lulu.com/>lulu.com. They were offering exactly
what I had always imagined: Zero up-front cost on-demand production of
books from a user-supplied PDF file with a real book binding at
a reasonable price, even for color printing. So, I decided to create
a test book. I created a 40 page photo book of a recent vacation and
had Lulu print it. The result is remarkable, with a couple notable qualifications.

I got a 41-page full color 8.5"x11" photo book with a real ("perfect
bind") book binding printed for under $16 including shipping. The
quality of the printing is outstanding. The paper is heavyweight, the
binding is professional and the photo quality is extremely high. The
photos are almost photographic print quality. In that regard, I'm extremely satisfied.

The qualifications, however, are several, but none overwhelming.
First, the book contained very little text, but much of it is simply
missing in the printed copy. In particular, the text that were in
their own seperate text boxes (I used iWork Pages for the layout)
didn't appear at all. Text that was simply on the page in the usual
way appeared fine. This is relatively avoidable in the future, but it
makes me somewhat nervous about what else might simply not appear.
The other qualifications are more in the vein of RTFM: Lulu
warns you that you should embed your fonts or use a standard font. I
didn't do either and while the text came out mostly fine a couple of
punctuation marks ended up a bit odd and the letters "fi" together
became a hyphen. I'll listen next time. Finally, for the covers,
they have very high resolution requirements. The picture I wanted to
use wasn't that high resolution, so I simply upsampled it. The
resulting cover actually looks fine, but it isn't quite as sharp as it
clearly could be.

Overall, highly recommended. I expect to do at least one more
(larger) project with them and will comment here on that experience.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Gray TiddlyWiki

Last year, I saw a very cool hack called "TiddlyWiki" which was a
standalone javascript wiki of sorts. It was a very cool hack, but was
missing a number of things that would be necessary to make it truly
useful. I assumed it retained it's status as "just a cool hack".
Little did I know.

Last week, for some reason I found myself thinking about TiddlyWiki,
and ended up looking it up. The author, Jeremy Ruston, had continued
development and turned it into a rather impressive little application.
It was missing a few features I would like, but I figured I could
modify it to do those things. In the process of looking around at the
TiddlyWiki site, I discovered that Steve Rumsby had created his own
adaptation of TiddlyWiki which he dubbed "YATWA" which implemented
most of the features I was looking for.

So, I finished it off, implementing a few more features I wanted and I
present the Gray TiddlyWiki. The
Gray TiddlyWiki has links to Steve's and Jeremy's sites as well as
other relevant stuff. Check out the main href=http://www.tiddlywiki.com/>TiddlyWiki site for basic
information. If you're using greasemonkey, you may want to disable
it, or at least disable the "linkify" script because it causes
TiddlyWiki's to break.

Overall, it makes for a very nice "notebook" application.

Saturday, July 2, 2005

2005 SdJ Virtual Stock Market Results

Well, Niagara won. The market was right.

Market statistics

Some little graphs of the offer pricing of the finalists.






Game Winners

The 7 final net worth players, all with net worth's above $40,000 (4x the starting value) were:

  1. Alex Rockwell
  2. Robert Smith
  3. Thomas Verschueren
  4. Dennis Wild
  5. Rich M.
  6. PVD Walle
  7. Christwart Conrad

All of these, except Robert Smith, accomplished this in large part by
owning a great deal of Niagara. Robert Smith had the bulk of his
winnings in cash. George Heintzelman also gets an honorable mention for ending with over $18,000 in cash.

The game had a total of 134 active traders. Alex, the winner, was the second most active trader.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tiger Crane Fly

Tiger Crane Fly (Diptera Tipulidae Nephrotoma)

A relatively innocuous lawn pest, but nice up close. I think this is a Nephrotoma quadrifaria, based on other pictures on the web, but I'm not sure, and that may be a European species. Anyone know?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Delicious Sort Fixed

The Del.icio.us sort
script I wrote in January recently broke due to some
substantial changes in the format at del.icio.us. I fixed it, so it
works again and fixed the annoying bug about items with only a single
bookmarker. Simply reinstall the script to replace the old (now
broken) one.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Harry and the Potters

On Tour Now

I first heard about (and heard) href="http://www.eskimolabs.com/hp/">"Harry and the Potters" last
year, and was pleased to see that they'd be performing in Boston
today. Conveniently enough, it was at the Boston Public Library,
which is across the street from my office. The band is a couple of
brothers who bear a bit of a resemblance to Harry Potter and they
perform a bunch of original Harry Potter themed songs. Prototypical
lyrics include "Blood may be pure but your heart is spoiled, you
wouldn't be tough without Crabbe and Goyle" and "We've got to save
Ginny Weasly from the Basilisk/We've got to save the school from that
unseen horror."

Their singing could be substantially improved. Their lyrics often try
to rhyme but don't quite make it, and their meter is frequently
flawed. Their lyrics are clever but often quite repetetive.
Yet, they're extremely entertaining and oddly captivating. I'm
tempted to call their amateurish sound somehow "refreshing" but that
would be stretching it.

Seeing them live helped me figure out part of it. They're simply
charming. The crowd was a mix of about half adolescents and half
adults ranging from college students to some couples in their sixties.
The performance was imperfect but good, sincere and engaging. I
bought a CD which notes inside, "Recorded at home during April and
May, 2003". Like I said, charming.

If you do take a
, try "Saving Ginny Weasly". It's their best one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Board Game Geek Recommendations

(Executive summary: I wrote some new features for BoardGameGeek that
aids in getting board game recommendations, not unlike the now defunct BGRS
that used to be on this site. See the last paragraphs for links.
Read on for my ramblings.)

I've been an admin
at boardgamegeek
for a few years now, and have been very happy to
help contribute to a site that has been immensely valuable to the
board gaming community. I wrote some features in the past like the
notification of new content, but that's been largely obsoleted by the
availability of per game RSS feeds. Scott and Derk have built a truly
impressive system.

Unrelated to the 'geek, I wrote the Board Game Recommendation Service,
a now defunct system using so-called collaborative filtering to
recommend board games based on other people who have similar
preferences to you. The dirty secret of the BGRS (and many many other
"collaborative filtering" systems) is that its performance is only
marginally better than giving people a list of the top rated items
with the ones they've already rated removed. The average of other
people's rating is a very good predictor of how much you will like
something. More or less, quality is quality. People want systems
like this to work (and they imagine their preferences are particular
and unique) so they seem to, even though the "collaborative" effect is
small. The collaborative system I used for BGRS (and similar systems
in the industry I have seen) did outperform a simple average, but only

Now, on the 'geek, the rank list is very good, but recently it has
started being less useful to me personally as a recommendation system
because of two things: I own most of the games in the top few hundred
and there are an increasing number of wargames which I know not to be
my thing. One way people have been starting to get more refined
ratings has been to use the href="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekbuddy.php3?action=view">GeekBuddies
system. This means if I choose a bunch of "GeekBuddies" who have
similar tastes to me, I can sort out the genres of games that don't
interest me. Unfortunately, this is a small set of people. So,
expanding on the href="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekbuddy.php3?action=gameratings">GeekBuddies
Game Ratings page, I added the ability to do several things (each
optionally) that make it especially useful for finding game
  • Calculate ratings from your buddies and
    their buddies. This casts a wider net of ratings while limiting to a
    circle of at most a few hundred people, rather than the few thousand
    users on BGG.
  • Only show games you don't own. After all, you've
    already bought those.
  • Only show games you haven't rated. If
    you've rated them already, you probably don't need other people's
    opinions as much.
  • Only show games on your wishlist. Helps decide
    what to get first.

I may add additional filters in the future like "Exclude Expansions",
"Exclude Category" "Supports N players", and "Length between X and Y",
but it's pretty useful as is. So, check out the href="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekbuddy.php3?action=gameratings">improved
Game Ratings page. Additionally, I wrote some code for user RSS
feeds (eg, href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekrss.php?geek=mkgray>my rss
feed) and the href="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekbuddy.php3?action=recent">GeekBuddies'
recent posts page. Thanks very much to Scott for letting me add
these features. I welcome any additional comments, feeback or
(btw, these are some of the features I mentioned earlier for those of you keeping track)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Month metric update

A while ago, I posted the idea of a month metric for gauging quality/longevity and overall "goodness" of a game. Essentially, count the number of unique months in which a game is played. That is it's score. Read the old entry for some more discussion of it.

I figured I'd post an update of games with a high month metric. I've
only been keeping accurate numbers since 1999, so the theoretical
maximum score is in the sixties.

Electronic Catchphrase is the only with a score above 30 at 32, and I expect it
will continue to go up though more slowly than it did in recent years.
Five games get scores above 20: Crokinole (25), Can't Stop (23), 6
nimmt! (23), Call my Bluff (23) and Battle Line (21).

Another five games score 15 or above: Zirkus Flohcati (16), Speed
(16), Lost Cities (15), TransAmerica (15), and RoboRally (15). This
list rapidly betrays my taste for fairly short but not overly light
games. RoboRally is the only one on the list (with the occasional
exception of Crokinole) that goes over 45 minutes.

Sixteen games have a score of 10 or above and there starts to be a
number of "big" games here: Ra (14), For Sale (14), Apples to Apples
(13), Knockabout (13), Carcassonne (13), Hick Hack in Gacklewack (12),
Princes of Florence (12), Puerto Rico (12), Ricochet Robot (11),
SpinBall (11), Traumfabrik (11), Settlers of Catan (11), Medici (10),
Igel Argern (10), Lord of the Rings (10), and Schnaeppchen Jagd (10).
The auction games (Ra, Medici, Traumfabrik) and LOTR would all be
higher if they were more favored in the groups I frequent.

In the end, I'm pretty happy with the month metric. All 27 games on
the list are "great"s. Some recent games seem likely to make the list
within another year or two (Ticket to Ride, Oasis, Heroscape, San
Juan, Adam & Eva) but it's too early to be sure and the month metric
has that conservativism nicely built in. The only games that seem
like their "missing" from the list are Vinci (current score: 8) and
Euphrat & Tigris (current score: 8) and they'll get there, though it
will take more than two months.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Pair of Sea Nettles

Two Sea Nettles (New England Aquarium)

Sea Nettles, a variety of poisonous predatory jellyfish are extremely photogenic.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Slogger, Spotlight and boolean logic

Spotlight is great. In a just a few days of use I've already found it
extremely useful. But, there's two things that have further improved
it's value: Slogger and "secret" codes and logic.

Slogger is a firefox plugin (href=http://www.kenschutte.com/firefoxext/>available here) which
lets you log the full content of every web page you visit. With
Spotlight, this means every web page you visit is now indexed. Very
useful for the "I know I just saw this...". Sort of like a better
version of Google Search History without the nagging privacy issues.
Unfortunately, Slogger on OSX has some issues. First, the log
directory selection doesn't work, so you have to manually set it using
about:config. Second, they've got a (common) firefox extension bug
(not Mac specific) which causes pages loaded in the "background" (eg,
background tabs) to not get logged. I fixed this and provided href=http://www.mkgray.com:8000/slogger.diff.txt>a patch to version 0.3's slogger.js file
which fixes this. They're up to 0.5 now, and my patch won't work
directly on that version, but the basic idea is the same. I've sent
the info over to Ken Schutte, the maintainer.

Secret logic. Spotlight lacks a sophisticated query grammar, or
does it? On the href=http://www.apple.com/macosx/tips/spotlight.html>Spotlight
Tips page they list some useful special keywords like "kind:image"
for restricting searches, but some experimentation has turned up a few
others. We know that a space implies "AND", but it is a "least
precedence AND". Using most other punctuation ("+ "and "," both work,
for example) acts as a "high precedence AND". The "|" (pipe)
character is an "OR". Finally, "(-token)" seems to act as an
excluder, which isn't quite a NOT, but close enough. It has to be
immediately after another keyword with no space. The different
precedence ANDs are nice.

So, "xmas|christmas bob|robert" is ((xmas OR christmas) AND (bob OR
robert)) and "jack+jill|hansel+gretel" is ((jack AND jill) OR (hansel
AND gretel)). The exclusion operator doesn't seem to combine with
others except as a final exclusion step, but something like
"foo+bar|baz(-quux)" works as "(((foo AND bar) OR baz) AND NOT quux)".
As noted on the tips page, putting a phrase in double quotes looks for
that phrase, but it doesn't seem the most consistent; that phrase
appearing in text files, for example, will not show up. Finally,
prefixing the whole query with a single quote has some effect, but
what exactly that is isn't obvious: it seems to exclude any image
search results and according to macosxhints, it doesn't search deleted
text in Word files, for example. Hopefully, Apple will provide some
more detailed docs on this, but in the mean time, exclusion in
particular is really useful to have.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Tiger first impressions

It's been about a year since I switched to OSX. I've
been very pleased with it, and have been looking forward to a number
of the new features announced for Tiger. So, like a good Mac devotee,
I went out to the Mac store on Friday night, along with hundreds of
others, and picked up a copy of OS X version 10.4, aka Tiger.

Overall, it's very good. The feature I was most looking forward to,
Spotlight, delivers on those high expectations. It's fast, it works
and is integrated throughout the OS. The interface is frequently
awkward, incomplete or inconsistant, but it works so well, and with a
few exceptions, it works the way you want to that these flaws are
forgivable. Within smart folders (whether in mail or in Finder), you
can create reasonably though not arbitrarily complex queries.
However, in the search bar, there is no syntax (whether with parens,
"+" and "-" symbols, or something else) for more complex queries.

I've already found Spotlight quite useful, but there have already been
occasions where I've wanted to do a structured restriction of a query.
Switching to a Smart Folder for such a query isn't too bad, but it
would be nice to be able to add it to the tex queries in some way
similar to the way google has the search qualifiers like "link:" and
"site:". The ability to add "comments" to files which will then be
found in Spotlight is nice too, though I'm not sure I'll use it a lot.
One of the nicest accidental Spotlight surprises was that Adium, a
very nice IM client, stores its logs as HTML and these are
automatically indexed. They simply show up as "Documents", rather
than their own category, which would be nice, but still, very slick.
Sadly, Stickies are not indexed, which seems like a dumb oversight.

Dashboard, I wasn't particularly looking forward to. It seemed
like it was a bit more sizzle than steak. It turns out, that's only
partiallly true and the sizzle is really really nice. It'll take a
bit more use before I determine if it is actually useful in the long
run, but for now, there are several useful widgets and having very
fast access to them is convenient. Plus, they are pretty.

Automator is a bit of a disappointment, but I didn't have high
expectations. All of the first several "workflows" I wanted to create
turned out to be impossible because of either missing actions or the
lack of multiple inputs on existing actions. Further, the ones that
are possible are not always straightforward to build. There's also
some weirdness with other application interactions (see below about
Mail). I'll have to try it a little more to be sure, but my gut says
that until there's a much wider corpus of "generic" actions, I won't
find it so useful.

Mail has a few changes, the biggest of which is "Smart
Mailboxes", which is really a spotlight feature. Smart Mailboxes are
great. I love being able to filter and slice up my mail and Smart
Mailboxes dramatically improve this capability. Key to this
usefullness is their speed. Most smart mailboxes come up effectively
instantly. A couple of the very large mail boxes (roughly 20,000
matching messages each) take a few seconds, but that's clearly related
to the display of the messages, not the underlying query. Another
smart mailbox, which relies on the 20,000 message box as a qualifying
condition, but further narrows the list substantially, loads
instantly. Mail added some other nice Spotlight features, including
improved searching within mail and easy quick Spotlight searches of
senders, names, and the like. The user interface of Mail has also
changed and I'll agree with the href=http://arstechnica.com/reviews/os/macosx-10.4.ars/3>Ars Technica
evaluation that mail has been "beaten with the ugly stick".

One more Mail weirdness. In all of the smart mailbox filtering, there
is no filter for read versus unread messages. Annoying, but
manageable. However, if you go into Automator, you can create an
Automator workflow which selects unread messages and then you can tell
Automator to display those. They pop up as though they were their own
mailbox, but they really exist only ephemerally. There is no mailbox,
even though you have on selected, the message list corresponds to
those selected by your Automator query. A little weird. Overall
though, other than the ugliness, the new mail features are very
powerful and useful.

Preview now allows you to, among other things, annotate PDF
files. I like this idea a great deal. It remains to be seen if I'll
use it much, but I think I might.

Overall, I like it a lot. The system speed seems better, if
anything and Spotlight remains the star of the show, but it's
amazingly well integrated.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

SdJ 2005 Virtual Stock Market Game

As we are about to enter the season of speculating over who will win
the Spiele des Jahres this year, I thought it would be nice if people
could put their (fake) money where their mouth is and participate in a
virtual stock market. I've always wanted to implement a virtual stock
market, and this seemed like a good excuse.

The basic idea is that you buy "shares" in the various games and only
the eventual SdJ winner pays out in the end ($100 per share). So, go
put your prognostication skills to the test in the 2005 Spiele des Jahres Virtual Stock Market Game.
I'll post the top few "winners" when the award is given.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Sleeptracker Review

While I was in college, I thought it would be really great if I could
arrange it so my alarm clock would wake me up when I was in a light
sleep rather than when I was in a deep sleep. I tried hooking up a
microphone to the computer near the bed to detect sound (I assumed I'd
be more likely to roll around and the like when in a light sleep) and
trigger based on that. There was too much ambient noise in a college
dorm environment and I gave up on the idea and I haven't had a
computer near my bed to try again since.

When I read about the href="http://www.sleeptracker.com/">Sleeptracker, I was naturally
very pleased, but at the same time skeptical. Their webiste had the
tone of a scam; light on specifics, high on claims. A while later,
Gear Live published a href="http://www.gearlive.com/index.php/news/article/sleeptracker_watch_review_03221147/">very
positive review and my interest was again piqued. I decided to order one.

It works. I wouldn't say I bounce out of bed, exicted and happy to
start the day with it. I'm simply not that much of a morning person.
However, I've not had that awful "please, not now" headache feeling I
often get when the alarm goes off. Of course, with a baby, the baby
often beats the alarm, in which case it's less effective.

It works by having an internal accelerometer which detects motion over
some period of time (it seems to require two movements in about a
minute, but that might not be quite right) and it considers such
movement a "light sleep" moment. It then ignores you for 8 minutes
and starts waiting for movement again. It's a simple and good system.
It doesn't require any reliable skin contact, it isn't sensitive to
ambient light, noise or even to my detection movement by someone else
in bed.

I wish they'd put such an explanation on their web site that explains
this rather than mumbo jumbo like: "[it] continuously monitors signals
from your body that indicate". Yeah, singals like whether or not
you are moving
. It would improve their credibility a lot. They should at
least put something in the manual. The fact that it uses an
accelerometer was apparent after playing with it for an hour or two.
The managing partner in the company stated it explicitly in href=http://www.gearlive.com/index.php/news/article/interview_with_lee_loree_sleeptracker_inventor_04131225/>this
interview, so it's not a big secret. Oh well.

It's a bit expensive ($150), but it does what it says and it does it
well. I'm glad I have mine.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Around the World reactions

I played Around the World in 80 Days several times before the Gathering and didn't play it once
at the Gathering. This wasn't because I don't like it any more; in
fact, I like it a great deal, but I was focused on new games a lot.

But, it's worth mentioning that there was a very interesting
bi-modality of the reactions to this game. Many people seemed to have
a similar reaction to me, which is that it was a fun, interesting
light strategy game. Several comments were made suggesting it would
be a good SdJ contendor. Others seemed to have a very negative
reaction, which really surprised me. I can see someone not especially
liking it, but I was rather surprised by the frequency and magnitude
of the negative opinions, given the similar occurence of very positive

Given that, maybe it really is a Spiele des Jares 2005 possibility.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gathering 2005 Photos and Summary

Louis XIV, one of the Gathering favorites

David Hansel goes for worms to go with his 4's in Heckmeck

Genevieve Gray watches a game, kindly avoiding pointing out her father's strategic errors

James Miller, Greg Schloesser, Patrick Korner and Herby Levy play Dorra's Kreta

As usual, the Gathering was a great experience. I played many fewer
games this year (about half) partially because I played longer games,
but mostly because we had to spend a lot of time with Genevieve. I
still managed to play over 50 games and over 30 new-to-me games and
had a great time gaming, socializing and visiting some sights around


As previously mentioned, the big hit for me was Fiese Freunde Fette
Feten. Other games ratings, though many of these are based on a single play:

Very good games I expect to have some longevity: FFFF, Amazonas,
Heckmeck, Carcassonne: The Discovery, Diamant, Fjorde, Jambo, Louis
XIV, Ticket to Ride Europe.

Games that have potential, but I didn't play enough to be sure:
Dungeon Twister, Farfalia, King Arthur card game, Kreta, Manila, Oltre
Mare, Submarine, Tower of Babel.

Not bad, but probably nothing special in the long run: Adventure
League, Boomtown, Dancing Dice.

Not impressed: Montanara, Oriente, Walk the Dogs.

People & Sights

Genevieve was very good in general and spent some time in the hall,
playing on the floor, playing on the table and socializing with and
charming everyone in sight. She didn't win any tournaments though.

Gorilla at the Columbus Zoo, expressing disappointment in Knizia's "Tower of Babel"

Genevieve Gray meets a sea turtle at the Columbus Zoo

We didn't spend all of our time gaming though, and visited the
Columbus Zoo with friends at the Gathering who also brought their
kids. Genevieve enjoyed the zoo and loved the aquarium portion
with manatees and sea turtles.

21st century baby monitoring

I'm very glad we figured out the baby monitoring solution, and it substantially increased the amount of
gaming we could do. Genevieve wasn't so thrilled with the hotel room
and a couple times we had to run up to the room and comfort her back
to sleep, but she did well. I suspect she just wanted to be
downstairs gaming with us.

Graeter's ice cream is very very good

We also went out to Graeter's Ice Cream which is delicious. In
particular, their "Buckeye Blitz" is a chocolate peanut butter ice
cream that is among the best ice cream I have ever had. I can see why
Keith Lockhart gets it shipped in to Boston.

Fabulous Friedemann Friese

Gaming glitterati - Rick Thornquist and Greg Schloesser

Back at the event, I got to talk to a lot a lot of folks "in the
business". While I remain mostly uninterested in being in the
business of games (I like keeping my work and hobbies separate), I'm
always interested to know more about it. Jay Tummelson and Stefan
Brueck are always interesting to talk to. And, as always, Friedemann
Friese is always a real pleasure to talk to. I gushed profusely to
him about FFFF and it was interesting to get his take on some of the
cards and bits from the game. It'll be interesting to me to see which
things get changed in the US edition other than some discreet
obscuring of any exposed nipples. For example, one of the cards is
"Kutterpullen", or lifeboat racing, a hobby that Friedemann apparently
has done. It sounds like it may change to "Bowling" or "Softball
League" or the like.

Some board game geek

Scott Alden of boardgamegeek
and I got to play a few games and talk quite a bit. With luck, some
of the stuff we talked about will make it to the geek soon. Scott
spent a lot of time recording GeekSpeaks at the Gathering, and
everyone should keep an ear out for them.

Lots of Heroscape on the prize table

At the prizetable, we got very lucky. Tournament winners get first
picks, followed by everyone drawn randomly. My wife's name was second
among the non-tournament winners. We got "Piratenbilliards", a great
dexterity game I first played at the Gathering in 2002. Then, the
luck of the pick ended, and my name was picked second-to-last. I
still got Zendo. Maybe the luck handn't actually run out.

Overall, it was a great Gathering. For me, only one standout hit
game, but overall one of the best Gathering experiences I've had and
they've all been quite good.

All new at the Gathering

I usually play a lot of new games at the Gathering, but this year, it
went to an even greater extreme. With two exceptions (Liar's Dice and
Quack Shot), every game I played at the Gathering this year was new to
me this year. In fact, with only a two more exceptions (Diamant, Walk
the Dogs), every game I played was new to me at the Gathering. This
is a good thing, since I haven't had much other opportunity to play
the new stuff. In the 6 months leading up to Gathering 2004, I played
63 new games. In the 6 months leading up to Gathering 2005, I only
played 25 new games. This month alone I've played 34 new games (2
pre-Gathering) which is about the same as last year, but I played many
fewer total games this year.

More new games: Farfalia is good. Dancing Dice is another good dice
game and more fun than I expected. I'll post more details and an
overall summary along with a few photos when I get home.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Miscellanous notes

More second play improvements: Australia and Carcassonne: The
Discovery, both of which were "fair to good" on their first play have
been bumped up in my esteem on a second play. A second play of Louis
XIV also left me happier with it. English cards helps too. It's not
revolutionary, but it's quite a good game.

Jambo is very good but many people already seem to know that.
Montanara, not so much. Adventure League is fun and a good middle
weight Knizia game and warrants another play. I was neither
unimpressed nor excited by it.

Another game to add to the "good buzz" category is Diamant, but it's
not quite as new as some other (being all of a few weeks "old").
Shadows over Camelot is also getting a lot of good comments, though it
is long and there is only one copy so I haven't had a chance to play

Friday, April 15, 2005

A confluence of interests

Gaming, href=http://www.mkgray.com:8000/blog/Technology/>technology and href=http://www.mkgray.com:8000/Personal/Fatherhood/>fatherhood converged in an interesting
way. I am here at the Gathering, as is href=http://www.mkgray.com:8000/gray/genevieve/>Genevieve. Genevieve requires frequent naps
and goes to bed before 8pm. Unfortunately, this makes getting gaming
done a little harder, as either my wife or I have to be up in the room
while the baby sleeps. Further, we have to be quiet and the room has
to be dark, so it's not even conducive to having some friends up to
the room to game.

We checked if the baby monitor would work, but the distance from the
room to the hall is too far. Another couple was in a similar
situation, though they had two rooms, one for them and another for
their boys. We came up with a great solution. Their room was within
range of our baby monitor, and naturally their two rooms were
adjacent. So, after all the children were asleep, we put the
receivers for their monitor and our monitor in their (the other
couple's) room. Then, we put our laptop next to those baby monitors.
Fortunately, the hotel as free WiFi, something all hotels should have.
We installed Skype on our laptop and
theirs. We then made a call with Skype from our laptop to theirs, and
all the adults went down to the gaming hall with their laptop which
could "hear" any noise coming from either room. It worked great, and
all children slept peacefully and all parents had peace of mind and
got to play Louis XIV.

We used a similar set-up during Genevieve's naps during the day with
much success, and she timed her naps well to coincide with the endings
of a game of Fiese Freunde Fette
and later a game of href=http://www.bgg.cc/game/12002>Jambo. The impressive thing to
me is not that we did it, but that it was simple to execute with no
advanced planning. VoIP over wireless, baby monitors and
interoperability are good things.

Other than gaming at the Gathering, the Columbus Zoo is very nice and
Genevieve loved the manatees. And, as always, href=http://www.graeters.com>Graeter's Ice Cream is extremely

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Fillers, retries and more raving about FFFF

"Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck" and Diamant win the awards for best fillers
of the newer stuff. Both seem to be nearly universally enjoyed. I
was impressed with how well Diamant does with as few as three or as
many as eight. It's a very different game with fewer, but still fun.
The King Arthur card game may be a slight step up from "filler" but's
it's a nice card game that should surprise noone that it's by Knizia,
very much his "feel".

I played Amazonas, Fjorde, and Tower of Babel all again. Each has
improved with play, Amazonas perhaps the most. Amazonas has more
going on than it seems at first and plays pretty quick anyway. Fjorde
takes more like 45 minutes than the listed 30, but has two very
different "games" within it that mesh nicely. Tower of Babel I
enjoyed more with fewer players, but now that the gameplay is a little more
apparent, I may enjoy it with more players. Still, it was the least improved.

Fiese Freunde Fette Feten remains my favorite. I'm up to five plays,
two games in a row two nights in a row. For me to play the same 90
minute game back-to-back is a real rarity. In addition to an
entertaining and engaging theme (if a bit more "adult" than many)
which produces nice narrative, the underlying game is clever,
interesting and has some real tactical depth. The auctions offer good
opportunities for tacitcal play, but the nature of the cards, the
multi-faceted goals and the multiple, sometimes conflicting goals is
what really makes the game part of this shine.

Jay says there will definitely be an English edition, though he
probably (certainly?) won't use the Rio Grande imprint. It sounds like
there will likely be some minor art changes (there is some cartoon
nudity), but Jay said he'd try to keep it to a minimum. One or two of
the life activity cards may need to be changed as well, since some of
them aren't quite a cultural match to the US.

I'll probably play again before the Gathering is over, but I'm eager
to have it in English despite now being fairly familiar with the
German cards.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What's the Buzz?

I played another 9 games today. The recurring theme for me seems to
be that if I had high expectations, I find myself a bit disappointed
and if I wasn't expecting much, I find myself pleased. The major
exception remains Friedemann Friese's new game (co-designed with
Marcel-Andre Cassasola-Merkle, which I forgot to mention yesterday>Report-2
) which I expected to be good and now having played it
three times can continue to enthusiastically recommend it.

Kreta, I had no preconceived notions about other than it being Stefan
Dorra (a plus) and Goldseiber (neutral). It's pretty good. Nothing
revolutionary, but nicely done. Australia was a bit of a surprise;
it's a light, simple, fast Kramer-Kiesling game. Better than
expected, but I didn't expect much. Louis XIV, I expected great
things and I found it good, but probably not great. I'll play it a
couple more times before I really decide. It may be great, yet.
Submarine, all the reviews seemed to say it was very dry. Well, yeah,
I guess, but I've played drier games. Clever mechanics that combine
in interesting ways. I liked it.

As for what the "buzz" is this year, I wouldn't say it's particularly
focused. Last year, St. Petersburg, Power Grid, Goa and Ticket to
Ride had a lot of play and a lot of positive buzz. The new stuff is
getting a lot of play, but not a lot of overwhelming consent on what's
great. Loius XIV seems to be in general impressing most people
though, and Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck is getting a lot of positive
comments and play as a filler. A couple of well-developed prototypes
are getting a lot of positive opinions and I hope they see publishing.
Everyone I've played FFFF with has enjoyed it a great deal as well.
Ticket to Ride Europe has also been well received, though not getting
as much play as TTR did last year.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Friedemann Friese strikes again

This evening proved more successful in terms of finding good games. I
played Carcassonne: The Discovery, by Leo Colovini, Fiese Freunde
Fette Feten, Gone Fishing, and Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck. The Discovery
is a nice distillation of the Carcassonne mechanics down to a very
basic level, with a nice variant of meeple management. Gone Fishing
is a nice 2-player bluff, tactical and memory game. Heckmeck is a
very nice little dice game by Knizia. Reading the rules, it doesn't
sound like much, but it works very well.

Fiese Freunde Fette Feten is great. By a good margin, it's the best
game i've played so far. The goal of the game is to live out your
life according to a dealt out set of "goals". These goals include
things ranging from "get married and have children" to "start a cult"
to "have a heart attack", so maybe milestones or the like may be a
more apt description. Through card drafting and auctioning, you have
various life experiences like "love at first sight" or "go to bible
study with a date" which have various effects, like starting
relationships or increasing various attributes like religion, drug
use, wisdom and illness. When things line up, you can achieve your

The game offers some very interesting choices, as often it is hard to
sequence your goals, as they may be conflicting. The auctions and
drafting provide some nice player interaction, but further players can
become "friends" or even get married and share some of the benefits
and penalties of various life experiences. Of course, that can
change. One of things Friedemann said he was trying to accomplish
this game was a game that is fun and has a amusing and entertaining
quality but is a serious strategic game at the same time. It's rather
entertaining when you can lose a game (as I did) by failing to have a
heart attack because I didn't smoke enough. Oh well.

The art is beautiful, as Maura's work usually is, and rather funny.
There is a moderate amount of language in the game, so it's worth
waiting for an English version, especially since the theme is all the
richer when the names of the cards are understandable. Jay Tummelson
of Rio Grande flippantly reassured us he would be publishing it,
though Friedemann seemed to think (perhaps correctly) that there may
be some issues with some of the art in the US for being a little

Sunday, April 10, 2005

2005 Gathering of Friends, Part 1

Well, I've been here a couple days now and as always, it's great to
see people I don't get to see very often and the weather is wonderful.
In terms of games, nothing has really jumped out at me so far, but
that may be because of unreasonably high hopes for a few of them.

Manila is a better betting game than most. It was better played
quickly. Amazonas was good, but I was sort of hoping for more, given
it is a "big box" from Stefan Dorra. Tower of Babel wasn't as
interesting of an experience and I hope that was partially because it
was late and it was five players. I hear it is better with fewer, and
I really had high hopes for a Knizia game from Hans im Gluck. Ubongo
is another good entry in the "speed parallel puzzle sovling" genre.
Fjorde is nice. Ticket to Ride Europe is quite good. I enjoy
standard TTR, but I'm not as much a booster of it as many are. I
enjoy this new version somewhat more. The map feels "better" somehow
and the rules tweaks seem improvements.

I'll try to post some more detailed comments as the week goes on.
I'll even try to answer questions posted as comments.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

24, the arithmetic game

There's an arithmetic game called 24. The idea is to take four
integers and using the four basic arithmetic operations plus grouping,
produce the number 24. A friend recently mentioned this game again
and mentioned two of the more difficult sets: "3 3 7 7" and "1 3 4 6".
They're good ones. Some simpler examples: "1 2 3 4" is solved as
1*2*3*4. "3 4 5 6" is solved as (5+3-4)*6. "5 5 9 9" is solved as
(5*5)-(9/9). For low integers, roughly 80% of combinations work.

Of course, if you try to solve one of those 20%, you're just going to
be frustrated. My friend wrote a program to simply spit out a yes/no
answer as to whether a given combo works. I though it was a good idea
so I wrote one too. Knowing something is solvable without knowing the
solution makes for a good puzzle.

Other ways the puzzle is played is to not limit yourself to 24, but to
try to combine a set of numbers to produce 0, then 1, then 2, then 3,
etc. Some sets of numbers will let you get quite high. "1 2 5 6" will
produce every integer up to 43, and 60 distinct integers. "2 5 9 10"
will produce 79 of the numbers from 0 to 100 and 124 distinct values
overall. It's first miss is 41.

Some values are "easier" to hit than 24, which is to say an even
higher fraction of sets can be combined to produce it. "2" is the
most universal result for low numbers. All but 2 combinations of
numbers 8 and under can be combined to equal 2. Limiting yourself to
numbers 7 and under, you can always produce 0. All of the single
digit results are more frequent than 24, as are 10, 12, 14, 15, and


Friday, April 1, 2005

Games I Never Win

(Like many "list" blog entries, I'm not sure this serves any purpose other than self-indulgence, sorry.)

On average, I do reasonably well at most games. I'm better at some, worse at others. There are some I'm really bad at, like Hick Hack in Gacklewack, which I've won once in 16 plays. I'm doing something wrong, but at least I have that one win. There is, however, a limited list of games that I have never won, not even a single game. Obviously, there's a bunch of games I've played only once or twice and haven't won, but I'm not counting those. Without further ado, games (I've played 5+ times) that I've never won:

  • Coloretto (0/12)
  • Arbos (0/8)
  • Metro (0/7)
  • Wyatt Earp (0/7)
  • Zum Kuckuck (0/7)
  • Das Amulett (0/6)
  • Drahseilakt (0/6)
  • Power Grid (0/6)

I don't see any big unifying theme. A couple of them are games I
continue to enjoy very much: Power Grid and Zum Kuckuck. A couple are
games that my poor performance has certainly taken the shine off of:
Coloretto and Metro. I've never especially liked Wyatt Earp, but I
feel that way about many rummy games, but others like it so much I've
been convinced to play it a bunch. My hands are shaky, so Arbos is no
surprise; it's more of a surprise that no other dexterity games are
present. Das Amulett and Drahtseilakt I also still like. Of all of
them, I'd really like to win a game of Power Grid.