Monday, November 30, 2009

Event Review - Model Train Show

If you want something done right, hire a nerd.

I know that's not the way the saying really goes, but let's face it, for most things, you couldn't do them yourself anyway. If you want your computer fixed properly, you should almost certainly not do it yourself. If you want someone to tell you exactly how much equity you have in your home based on current appraisal value and time value of money, you should probably not try to figure that out on the calculator that came with your cell phone.

And if you want to set up a toy train display that will bring in crowds and impress everyone, you should not leave that to the local craft club that meets at the rotary club on Tuesday nights after the crochet class leaves. Unfortunately, if you go see the trains at the mall, that's what you're likely to see.

Christmas, that most despised and odious time of year, brings out many horrible things, like rude shoppers, crappy parking, and repeated airings of 'Feliz Navidad.' But it does have a great benefit - people break out model train dioramas left and right. These run the gamut from 'holy crap, that crane is actually unloading the cars!' to 'why is that guy's head bigger than the front window of the store next to him?' And of course, Christmas brings out the uninspired, unoriginal, profiteering bastards who put less time into actually creating the spectacle than they put into marketing it for ten-year-olds and hiring moody teenagers to sell tickets.

The mall shows that get all the publicity are frequently publicized by local news stations, who are giddy to tell people about the pathetic train shows because the marketing people are giving a sliver of the money to some nationally known charity that buys hats for bald kids while they're on chemo. If you're trying to decide if the train show is worthwhile, avoid any affiliation with Marines at Ronald MacDonald's Toy Box Christmas Tree. If you see those big-name charities, it's a sure bet the trains will suck.

If you are interested in seeing some great train displays (and I am - I once saw a scale model of the French Quarter that filled a large display hall, and I spent two hours looking in the windows and checking out the inch-tall street walkers), then you need to find nerds. Look for local model train clubs. Especially around this time of the year, these enthusiasts shake off their mantle of secrecy and open their doors to allow the unwashed masses to walk slowly past their thousands of hours of hard work, allowing their preschool children to lean on the plastic retaining walls and pull parts off the scenery. This, of course, causes incredible consternation among the train modelers, but if you're naive enough to think that you can invite seven hundred people to look at your painstaking effort and carefully constructed dioramas and none of them would be rude enough to just break your crap, then you're high. Any place you put more than ten people, someone is a douche bag.

Still and all, if you want to see some examples of careful, cautious, devoted model-train nerdery, you simply cannot beat an enthusiast's club for dedication and attention to detail. Avoid the mall trains entirely - they seem to think that they've built a whole scene if they have a ceramic old man with his dog next to a model car that would bruise his kneecaps if it hit him in a high-speed chase, and put them both next to a caboose built completely from cheap Chinese plastic, decorated with the names of whichever loser family decided to give ten bucks to Angels of Christmas so that every loser stupid enough to get duped into a six-dollar ticket could see that they were an upright and holy family. The mall train sets have no sense of scale. They lack the obsession over detail that marks the true nerd, and thus are less than merely adequate.

On the other hand, if you can handle having very uptight hobbyists staring down their noses at you and slapping the hands of every street urchin who wants to drop his gum into the tiny model creek, you should treat yourself to a real train show. And now is the perfect time of year to do it - especially if you can go while everyone else is at the mall.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Board Game Review - Pandemic

Every now and then I like to share my dream for world peace, so that people know I'm really just an idealist. See, in my perfect world, my idyllic future, terrible disease wipes out humankind until there are only like eight of us left. Terrible disease could be replaced by a zombie apocalypse, but only if the zombies get tired after a couple weeks and go back to their graves, so that those last eight people can get out and use the bathroom.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks about stuff like this. Somebody went and made a game about this peace-on-Earth scenario, only in this one, you're actually trying to stop everybody from going tits up. Go figure.

Pandemic is a cooperative game, which means I at least wanted to try it. I like cooperative games. It's awesome when you can play a game with people you like and get that social interaction and brain-churn as you try to choose the best move, and yet you don't have to make anyone cry. If you're playing with weaker gamers, you don't have to feel guilty about giving it your best shot, and if you're playing with people who takes games too seriously, you can kick them in the wiener and tell them to lighten up, because it's just a game (granted, you can do that with any game you're playing, and probably should).

So in Pandemic, four different diseases are breaking out all over the globe. They probably have terrifying scientific names, but in typical Big Media fashion, they just get colors - red flu, yellow stars, green moons... hold on, that might be a breakfast cereal. Whatever, there are four colored diseases and you have to cure them before the world is consumed by disease and you all die from purple smallpox.

Every player gets a different character, and each character has a different special ability. The key to winning Pandemic comes in using your ability to facilitate better moves for everyone else. One guy can run around the globe setting up research stations so that the other players can move faster, which will help the dispatcher who moves people on his turn instead of theirs, which in turn helps the guy who has to already be in Hong Kong at the start of his turn if he wants to be able to give his research to the scientist, who can then stop the black toe fungus from destroying the Pacific Rim.

You'll wander around the board, trying to get the cards you need to travel faster and cure white acne, working to beat the clock, because if you run out of cards or the diseases get too out of control, you lose. And in the meantime, every turn, you have to do something bad, which generally means a lot more people get sick. Hopefully, as the game progresses, you'll be curing some of those diseases so that they don't end up overtaking North Africa while you're all bouncing around between North American cities trying to figure out how to stop the pink shingles, but at the start, it can be awful hard to keep up with all the outbreaks.

I did mention that I like cooperative games, but they do often come with a considerable downside - the know-it-all, fun-killing jackass. This is where one guy, presumably the guy who believes he is the smartest person at the table, tells everyone else what they need to do on their turns. Pandemic is the absolute worst offender for this syndrome that I have ever played, unfortunately, because to win, you'll need to plan a seriously complicated series of moves five turns out, and then execute them flawlessly. Plus you have all the time you need to make your plans, so you could wind up with one guy saying, 'So if you move to Brazil and trade a yellow to her, and then she moves to Paris and waits, then I can send this other guy to Milan on my turn, which will allow him to treat the brown bunions in London before he picks up the cure to yellow dermititis.' After a full game of being bullied for an hour, everyone else at the table is likely to have their own response, which will sound like this:

'If you get up and go to the refrigerator, then I can kick you in the ass, and she can stab you with a tuning fork, and the other guy can send you screaming to the Hell you so rightly deserve.'

That's not the only downside, either. While I did find Pandemic to be tense and exciting and interesting, it also has an element where you're doing the same thing every time, and just trying to shave one or two cards off your previous attempt. I know a lot of people love this game, but I can't see playing a whole lot of times. After a point, you pretty much understand how the dynamics of the various characters work together, and it's just a matter of time before you're performing by rote memory. My son completely lost interest after two games; I could play a few more times, but I wouldn't be interested in making Pandemic the cornerstone of my game group.

However, if you're able to play with a group of like-minded gamers who understand the game, and you aren't terribly averse to fairly repetitive game play, Pandemic is a remarkably good game. The challenge of planning out multiple actions and complex turns combines with an escalating sense of urgency as the countdown to Armageddon ticks closer, until you're immensely proud of yourselves when you finally cure orange crush and win the game.

I suppose there is one more downside, if you're me - if you all do a great job, you actually prevent my ideal world peace scenario. Humanity makes a comeback, and the next thing you know, the world is afflicted with cell-phone ear and garbage yard, which can only be cured with high explosives and a flamethrower.


Intense, action-packed cooperative game
Every decision matters, and every turn counts
Very flavorful - the theme comes out in spades

Huge potential for the Mensa asshole to tell everyone else what to do
Good possibility that it gets repetitive

Pandemic is definitely a fun game, especially if you can get past the potential problems. If you like cooperative games - and can really cooperate, instead of all doing what one mouthy jerk tells you to do - you should go to Dogstar Games and order it. As an added bonus, if you buy it from Dogstar Games, then they'll be all grateful and keep sending me the games you want to see reviewed. You can get it right here:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I know, you're coming here to read about games (that, or you're entertained by the hijinks of my teenagers). But today, I have something else to share, something that isn't games. It's about...

Yeah, Thanksgiving.

I'm not usually the kind of guy who bothers to follow the crowd with some big holiday cheer announcement. And given how much I despise the Christmas season (I love the actual day, but the season pisses me off - some people would go back in time and kill Hitler, but I would kill Bing Crosby), it may seem a little odd that I would make a special note about this particular holiday, especially since it is almost entirely an artificial holiday.

But I was thinking today, and we're some lucky sons of bitches (and daughters, too - I hate to alienate any female readers who either have no finer sensibilities or who clicked the wrong link and are even now wondering why they haven't closed their browsers and rushed to an eye-cleaning station). If you play games at all, if you hook up with friends or family to enjoy the odd hobby game, or even if you just buy them and put them in your closet, then you are one lucky bastard (unless, like I said, you're a girl. Then you're a lucky something else).

There are literally billions of people in the world (not that you needed me to tell you that), and an immense number of them are hungry today. A staggering number of people will die today, away from their families, left for dead or shot to death or maimed or just dying from dysentery brought on by dirty water and spoiled food. There are mothers missing their kids. There husbands mourning their wives. Today, all over the globe, people are miserable.

But not us. We're sitting here at our computers, surfing the net and checking our email, trying to decide on one more game to add to a stack of games so ponderous that we could sell them all and fund an entire Mexican town for a month. We are thinking about our turkeys, our lasagnas, our steaks. We have so much that we can't even decide how to spend it all. If there has ever been a point where you had to decide between the most recent expansion for Arkham Horror or a used copy of Railroad Tycoon, then you have it damned good.

If you're an American citizen enjoying this site from the comfort of home, then we have even more reasons to be thankful. Because right now, some 20,000 or so of your fellow Americans are on the other side of the globe, in some Godforsaken third-world country, holed up in a tent in the middle of the desert or a cave in a mountainside or some other miserable, rat-infested turdhole, looking forward to wearing body armor while they eat dry-ass turkey and canned cranberries provided by the USO (I was military - even when we got good food, we didn't get good food). And for a lot of those gutsy men and women out there putting their ass on the line so we don't have to, they're grateful for what they have. You should be, too.

And even within the borders of our nation, thousands are going hungry, or enjoying their Thanksgiving feast at a homeless shelter where they're trying to explain to their kids why they had to sell their Hannah Montana bed set along with the house when Daddy lost his job and they had to move into their station wagon. Today, somewhere, there are people hurting, real bad. They're getting kicked out of hospitals because they don't have insurance. They're getting foreclosed because they don't have a job. They're losing their cars, their life savings, and everything they've worked for years to protect. And yet lots of those people, sitting around a cafeteria table and eating Thanksgiving dinner off a plastic tray while surrounded by crazy people who wet themselves and talk to their food, lots of those people are intensely grateful, too. You should be, too.

My point here is not to make you feel bad. I sure as hell don't feel bad. I feel lucky, and humble, and awed by my good fortune - but I don't feel guilty. I've worked for what I have, and while I grant you that I had opportunities others did not, I didn't get here by accident. If you have the money to spend on games, chances are good that you didn't get there because of some random fluke. You may have had chances other people didn't get, and you may have been passed over by the Recession Fairy sprinkling layoff dust all over the country, but just because you got lucky doesn't mean you didn't bust your ass. You shouldn't feel bad for your success, unless you're a giant bag of crap, in which case, go ahead, feel bad.

No, what I want, for myself and for anyone reading this, is to think about what you've got and be grateful for it. If you're usually grumbling about your crappy job and your dirty apartment and your complaining family, give it a rest, just for a day. Today, thank whatever deity you worship for the job that lets you buy a meal, and the apartment that keeps the cold out, and the family who loves you even if they can't stand you. The next time you want to bitch about how lousy you have it, when you see your neighbor driving a better car and you're still driving your '97 Honda POS, be grateful. Change the way you see the world, acknowledge how good you've got it, and quit your bitching. You've got it good.

Now go eat some turkey, and have a good Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Event Review - Speech Meet

I once competed in a speech meet, way back when I was in seventh grade. My only category was poetry - I recited 'Casey at the Bat' and won first place, which was, up to that point, my biggest accomplishment yet. I wish I had done something cooler, like Hamlet or maybe Letters to Penthouse, but whatever. Hindsight's 20-20, I guess.

So when my daughter told me she was in a speech meet, I was thrilled. She is an incredible student - far better than I ever was - and she's sharp as a tack, too. She was in two events, storytelling and debate. Neither of us could be bothered to care a lot about storytelling - her speech coach made her sign up, and she couldn't have cared less. But we were both kind of stoked about debate. She wants to be a wealthy lawyer, and I think she's got the chops. She sure as hell knows how to argue with me.

Sadly, speech meets for junior high kids don't seem to be a very big deal in my city. The meet was at a local high school, and was primarily run by the high school debate team. If these debaters are the upcoming politicians and attorneys for our great nation, then God help us all, because these were some stupid, stupid kids. For one thing, they were all wearing the debate team shirts, which were seriously retarded garments. They had a top five list on the back, for crying out loud. I have an idea that's way more original - you could make a shirt that says, 'Got Debate?' on the front, and on the back it could say, 'Debating: Priceless'. Freaking ignorant nerds. Someone ought to beat them with a rubber mallet just for wearing those stupid shirts.

For the first debate challenge, my daughter faced off against a girl who was not only half an hour late, but was also thoroughly unprepared. The entire thing took five minutes, because the other girl (who told the judge she memorized her case) forgot her case. Total deer-in-the-headlights blank. So my daughter, who spent three weeks writing cases, walks away with almost no points. Apparently, debate is unlike sports, where a win is a win - if you clobber the other team 95-0, you still get to put it in the win column. In debate, however, if the other person gives up and walks away, you get only a little bit of win. This came back to make me more angry later in the day.

The second challenge was between my daughter and one of her classmates. In this particular debate, the judge ended the entire session one round early, and then proceeded to tell both contestants that they left off their closing remarks. Well, no kidding, Whiz Kid, you cut them off before they were done. My daughter, however, kicked ass (metaphorically - it's debate, not kickboxing), closing remarks notwithstanding.

The third challenge was even more of a debacle. In this case, the other kid's main argument against my daughter's intensely persuasive contentions was to say, 'yeah, like what?' Sadly, it was at the end of this particular debate that my intestinal difficulty reared its ugly head, and I was forced to make haste to a public restroom at a public high school and was not able to watch my daughter complete the humiliation of the uninspired mama's boy. I was there long enough to note that the judge for this round cut it even shorter than the last one, just not long enough to see the dorky loser boy start crying.

As if to make a bad situation even worse, my daughter (who completely destroyed her opposition in three out of three matches) did not make the semifinals. Why? Because she did not get enough points against the first opponent. Both of her other opponents, on the other hand, did make the semifinals, because my daughter ran them so hard that they were given points for continuing to attempt to counter her brilliant, unrelenting logic (despite failing completely). So to sum up, my daughter prepared for three weeks, executed her debate skills with the brilliance of a military tactician, and two of the three people with whom she mopped classroom floors went on, and she did not.

I can only hope that the debate team process improves as my daughter gets older. As it stands now, I could not be any less impressed. I know that my daughter could rock your face off in a debate - as I said, she does it to me all the time. I'm not just saying this because she's my kid (though that is a completely sufficient reason). If she was a bonehead, I would tell you, because it would be funny. No, she's a damned brilliant kid, and it makes me sick that she wasted her efforts on such a complete circus sideshow.

In fact, that gives me an idea for the next speech meet. Instead of wearing those dumb-ass t-shirts, the high school debate team could wear round red noses and huge shoes, and when they arrive at the school, they could all pile out of a VW Bug. Instead of crappy nachos and dry pizza, the cafeteria could sell peanuts and cotton candy. Because while watching my daughter destroy her competition in a contest of genius was one of the proudest moments I've had in a long time, the debate team at that high school was a circus.

If you get the chance to attend a debate contest when your kid is in high school or college, I'm betting it would be very cool. But if your kid is in junior high, just drop her off and then go spend the day at the batting cages. They serve hot dogs there, too.


Massive pride in watching your kid kick ass
Bonding with your spawn

High school debate teams should be competing, not judging

Oh, yeah, one more note - my daughter took third in storytelling.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Party Game Review - Dixit

Before I get to this review, allow me to apologize for being two days late. I had every intention of doing this one on time, but was unexpectedly afflicted with some sort of debilitating illness that required me to be a maximum of thirty feet from a toilet at any given moment. I spent most of my weekend either in bed or in the bathroom, and hoping desperately that my body did not confuse the two. More details, I believe, are not required. Or probably desired. So I'll just jump to the review.

I’m pretty sure recreational drug use is legal in France. I have no actual proof, and have done absolutely no research whatsoever to corroborate my assertion, but I have considerable evidence that it’s true. Exhibit A: Dixit.

In my several years as a game reviewer, I have played some very odd games. There’s one where a retarded, myopic giant gives small children multiple contusions because he thinks they’re fish sticks. Or the one where you have to collect cookies and milk before your opponents can get peace and love, and the rules change every two minutes. And those are odd, and I happen to know for sure that at least one of those is made by people who smoke some serious wacky tobaccy. But for sheer proof-of-stoned weird, I think Dixit takes the cake. It’s also proof that games don’t have to make sense to be fun.

Dixit is basically a family-style party game, but only if you have a small party, because it maxes out at six. This is definitely a case where more means merrier, but you can play with as few as three, if you’re having trouble rounding up gamers with a healthy appreciation of the bizarre. You’ll each get a hand of cards with pictures on them, and each round, you’ll take turns establishing the theme.

If you’re the leader, you’ll pick one of the picture cards in your hand and, without showing it to the rest of the group, say a word or phrase that you associate with that picture. You can even sing or hum or make a sound, if you’re feeling particularly extroverted. Like if you have a picture of the rabbit knight looking at three mismatched doors, you might say, ‘lady and tiger,’ then set your card face down. The other players will each try to pick a card that matches what you said, and that they think will fool everyone else.

This is where it gets weird. All the cards have art - no words or anything, just a seriously psychedelic painting that may or may not be the product of a heroin bender. If they had the kind of art they used to put on pulp magazines, with guns and masked vigilantes and chicks about to fall out of their clothes, that would be one thing. If they had naked girls like you might find on a deck of playing cards you could pick up at a Tijuana gentleman’s club, then it would be awesome, but you couldn’t really play it with your family without giving Child Protective Services a good reason to open an investigation. But instead, they have stuff like horned snails playing football and a night sky full of random letters, and one card where a man made of leaves wanders around black sand dunes. I couldn't make this stuff up - at least, not without illegal narcotics, or at least some a couple bottles of NyQuil.

The scoring is great, though. This is where Dixit quits being Apples to Apples on peyote and turns into a really fun family game. After everyone has picked a card, the leader shuffles them and flips them up so everyone can try to guess which one was his. If you guess right, you get points. If someone guesses your card when you’re not the leader, you get points. The leader gets points for every player who guesses his card, unless everyone gets it, so he can’t make it too easy or he’ll just wind up watching everyone else scoring off his stupidity.

I swear I'm not exaggerating about the oddness of the art on these cards, but at the same time, it is strangely charming. Bright colors on whimsical illustrations give the whole game a sense of wonder that defies logic and linear thinking. The art is crazier than Lyndon LaRouche, but it's a lot of fun to let your mind wander and just come up with stream-of-consciousness ideas that make it all work.

Dixit is not a strategy game, or a tactical game, or a game where the smartest player always wins. It's fun and charming, and it's a great way to spend an evening with your family. Because the art has a childlike break from reality, it is entirely likely that an eight-year-old will beat you, which is kind of important in family games, anyway.


Fun and charming and whimsical
Creativity for everyone
Really cool art
Great family game

Clearly, hallucinogenics were involved (that may not be a con, depending on who you ask)

If you can live without all the strategy and maneuvering and tricky plays that make you play all those other games, Dixit is a great game to play with your family. Adults might dig it, too - though they may want to drink first. You can find it here:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Activity Review - Croquet Golf

It's a scientific fact that teenagers are stupid. There are actual studies that confirm this, not that any person who has ever raised a teenager ever had any doubt. The studies say something about the underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex and hormone release rates, but those are just big scientific words that mean 'teenagers are stupid.'

I mention this because if teenagers were not stupid, I would not have had the opportunity to play croquet golf. And my life might have been just a little bit emptier without the memories of endless bickering and teen angst mood swings to carry me into my old age. Which, if my kids don't leave the house after high school, may happen sooner rather than later.

We initially had plans Saturday for an actual event (I won't spoil it for you because we're going next Saturday). But when that plan fell through, we began to scramble for alternative activities. Play a board game? Not exactly an alternative activity in my house. My son wanted to watch a movie and make popcorn, demonstrating that there is virtually no originality in him. I couldn't come up with one single cool thing we could do, and my wife was out of town. We were stumped.

Then my daughter brought out croquet golf. This is a fake croquet set with one cheap-ass plastic putter and four colored wiffle balls, plus some hoops and a couple 'holes' that sit on the grass. At first, I was not sold, but then I remembered that it was very late and I had an article to write and no other decent alternatives (if I had been thinking, I would have suggested we visit the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, but that thought did not occur to me for several days).

If you've never had the chance to enjoy a late Saturday afternoon playing a ludicrously cheap lawn game with two teenagers who couldn't agree on the time if they were staring at the same clock, then you should celebrate your existence and keep using birth control. Batting very light plastic balls around an unkempt front yard with a cheap plastic golf club is bad enough, but when the rules change from turn to turn (which I allowed because nobody sane wants to argue with a teenager for very long), it turned downright unbearable.

Finally my son managed to bounce his oversized ping-pong ball off a stray leaf and into the hole, ending the game. And at this point, I demonstrated that I am not much smarter than my children - I suggested that we play again. But there was no way I was going to listen to 'you didn't say that' for another half hour, so this time we clearly defined the rules, which offended my son because he didn't think we were playing right. I guess they play croquet with their grandparents during the summer, who obviously have a great deal more patience than I do.

The second game went much better, and not just because I won. Then we took turns jumping over the shrubs, which resulted in more than a couple minor scrapes as we found out that the shrubs were not only taller than we thought, they were also more than a little prickly.

That night, after the sun went down, we found ourselves in the same revolving situation that seems to plague teenagers who think that their parents double as cruise organizers - nothing to do. Once again, we mentioned the old stand-bys, but we really didn't want to do movies or games. Instead, my daughter suggested we play indoor croquet golf.

See? Kids are stupid. We have hardwoods, for crying out loud, and recent unrelenting North Texas rainstorms have caused something of a foundation problem, which means that the entire house slopes gently from the living room to the kitchen. Indoor croquet golf had to be one of the most inane suggestions ever.

Needless to say, we had a very good time, though we did get stuck in the kitchen a lot.


Physical activity, maybe even outside
Mildly entertaining - almost as much fun as jumping over bushes
Spend time with people who usually annoy you without wanting to club them like baby seals

Almost impossibly stupid

Monday, November 16, 2009

Card Game Review - Chrononauts

If you could go back in time, would you stop Lincoln's assassination? Would you save the Hindenberg? Or would you just go back and tell Dustin Hoffman not to make Ishtar?

In Chrononauts, each player is a time explorer separated from his timeline. You might be from a timeline where we signed a Vietnam Peace Accord and legalized weed, or where Wilson kept the United States out of World War II and Martin Luther King became president. So one of your goals is to get back home, by manipulating events to bring about the history you remember.

Of course, just fixing time would be too easy (that's not exactly an 'of course' situation - I would think it might be difficult to fix time, but I guess it's not that bad. It worked in Time Cop). So while you're traipsing around, throwing time all out of whack and bringing about the apocalypse, you're also supposed to collect artifacts, like the Ark of the Covenant or the Mona Lisa. Get the three artifacts you're supposed to get, and you don't have to worry about getting home any more. I guess you don't mind being stuck in an age where John Lennon makes a Beatles reunion album if you have the creation of the universe on Betamax.

The timeline cards are all laid out in order, with symbols that indicate what events become paradoxes if specific lynchpin events are altered. Like if Hitler is killed in 1936, then Germany never invades Poland, D-Day never happens, and Isreal is never founded. But then your parents never met, because you grandfather was an American G.I. and your grandmother worked in a Paris brothel, and just like that, you've got a paradox.

To fix these paradoxes, you have to patch them with other events that also never happened. For instance, if Al Gore wins the recount in 2000, then Obama never gets elected, creating a paradox that can be fixed by rigging it so Sarah Palin becomes the first woman president. And if you get hit by a car in your mom's driveway, you have to arrange for your dad to beat up Biff at the school dance. You also have to play Chuck Berry.

As the game progresses, more and more paradoxes will be generated, which is sort of good because you can patch them to create your own alternate future, and sort of bad because they could unravel the fabric of the universe. So there's a bit of a downside. Also, if you screw up enough stuff, you set off nuclear war and blow up the world. Also a downside, unless you're actually trying to get back to a timeline where the world died in 1962, probably so you can hook back up with Cable and Bishop.

This is the best Looney Labs game I've played so far, which is kind of ironic, because it's also the least attractive. The art may be weak, but the game is brilliant. It ends in about 20-30 minutes, and it's so fun that you'll want to shuffle up and play again. There are so many different things going on all the time, with opponents grabbing dinosaurs and you helping to set up David Koresh's outreach ministry to the poor and time fracturing into a thousand pieces. You'll want to keep track of which opponents are grabbing up all the artifacts, and while you want to patch the timeline to get extra cards (and prevent the disentigration of the universe), you also don't want to get guns banned in the United States and send your hippie opponent back home.

If you're a sucker for pretty games (like most of us), Chrononauts isn't going to be your new favorite, because it's just not very attractive at all. But if you like a smart, fast, amusing game, you'll probably get a kick out of Chrononauts. It has several expansions, too - while the main game starts around 1900, you can get another set where you can make the South win the Civil War, and another set called The Gore Years where you can stop the World Trade Center attack or capture Osama Bin Ladin (though not in the same timeline).

Chrononauts surprised the heck out of me. I mean, I've figured out by now that Looney Labs makes some pretty fun games, but Chrononauts is a much more serious game than anything else I've seen from them. It might even be possible that in an alternate past, Andrew Looney turned down his first joint and decided to make some serious games, and then just made the one before the paradox was fixed at a college free-love party where he got a mad contact high. Whatever the case, we now have Chrononauts AND Stoner Fluxx, so I'm pretty sure the drugs came in somewhere.


Deep and involved
Plays fast
For the first time in a Looney Labs game, you can plan several turns ahead
Different ways to win, but none of them are easy

Really weak art

I think Chrononauts is a hoot. If you want to try it, you can preorder the reprint right here:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Board Game Review - Magnifico

At first glance, you might look at Magnifico and think, 'oh, great, another Risk clone.' But that's like looking at RuPaul and thinking, 'wow, that chick has great legs.' Sure, there are some things in common, but the differences are a lot more important than the similarities. I'll let you decide for yourself if you think I'm talking about Risk or RuPaul.

Magnifico has players taking the helm of upstart nations attempting to subjugate Western Europe at the beginning of the 16th century. Only instead of just raising armies and shooting people with archaic weapons, you buy designs from Leonardo da Vinci and use his wacky, ahead-of-their-time inventions to grind everyone else under your fruity Renaissance comfortable footwear. Tanks, cannons, submarines, and airplanes are just a few of the nifty devices you'll use to run roughshod over everyone else.

I admit, that sounds like Risk: Old Europe. But it's not. That's just the jumping-off point, and there's so much more in Magnifico that if you sit down thinking you're playing a new twist on an old classic, you're bound to be disappointed. Magnifico is as much a game of managing limited resources, blind auctions and long-term strategy as it is a military simulation. If you want to simply enjoy a conquest game, I can recommend a bunch - but this one isn't it.

For one thing, you don't spend your money to just hire more troops. Every turn, you can recruit one soldier in any place where you already have at least one soldier - and that's it. I guess since the television isn't invented for a few hundred years, you can't blow all your cash on a Super Bowl ad to recruit for the National Guard, so instead you have to just grab whoever is passing by the office that day and give them a uniform and a really awkward firearm.

However, you will spend a lot of money. You need money to win the auction for first player, then you need money to buy the inventions and art from da Vinci, then you need money to build them. You also have to pay money every time you want to attack someone, and so if you blow your entire pile of cash on the Mona Lisa and plans for an armored sailboat, you'll sit there like a Quaker your whole turn. Maybe you can earn a little more money churning butter or something, because you're certainly not going to be doing any fighting.

The money part of da Vinci is a critical reason this is nothing like Risk - but there are other good reasons. Take combat - you can only start three fights in a turn, so you're not going to just plow through the opposition in a single turn. And that's good, because if you go in prepared, it's almost impossible to lose a fight as the offense. As in, the defenders will probably lose every single one of their guys, and you'll walk in unscathed. But then if you don't ramp up your defenses to an unreasonable degree, they'll just come sailing back in and kick you out again.

You can't play Magnifico defensively. There's no hiding in Australia while everyone else dukes it out. You can build castles to improve your defenses, but if you don't staff them properly, they'll just change hands when your opponent (who obviously has more balls than you do) kills all your guys and steals your castle.

While we're talking about stealing stuff, you have to be really careful with those magnificent inventions. When all your guys die, your tanks and planes don't. Instead they now belong to the bastard who just drove a 16th century Sherman right up your ass. They're his planes and tanks now, and he's going to use them to hit you again.

There are some wacky, seemingly unbalanced factors at work in Magnifico, and for the first half of your first game, you might think it feels like it was invented by a tenth-grader during study hall. You'll find yourself asking, 'Why do I lose a guy every time I set sail?' and 'Why can't I hire more soldiers?' and 'Do you like me? Check yes or no.' In order to really appreciate Magnifico, you have to come at it from a non-standard point of view.

And if you can manage to put aside everything you expect from Risk or Dust or Attack! or any of a huge array of other global conquest games, and just let Magnifico be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, you'll find that there is a really good game here. It's aggressive and fast, tricky and deep, and pretty darn easy on the eyes. You can win the game with a good attack strategy, but you can also win by making stuff. You can win by sponsoring art, and you can win by holding castles. This isn't a run-of-the-mill land grab.

In fact, Magnifico is a very fun game, and while I don't know that I would put it onto the 'never sell this game because I'll play it all the time' pile, it's certainly on top of the 'play this the next time I get a chance' pile. It's got an unexpected mix of European and American gaming. It kind of sneaks up on you, but it's an awful lot of fun once you get into it.

And that's not something I can say about RuPaul.


Turns are fast - a big game that plays in less than 3 hours
Fun, funny art
Tons of depth
Plan ahead or lose badly

Not at all what you expect
You may not get it right off... or at all

I really liked Magnifico, but it sure wasn't what I thought it was. If you can clear your mind of the Risk clone notion, you might be very pleasantly surprised. You can get it here:

Friday, November 13, 2009

So I'm Late. Sue Me.

I have had a ludicrously busy week, and I haven't been to bed before 2 in the morning for several days. Right now, I would rather sleep than have raucous monkey sex with Scarlet Johanssen. I have this cool, interesting game to review, but if I do it tonight, I'll screw it all up. So tune in tomorrow, when I'll replace this weak-ass excuse with an actual game review.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Board Game Review - Acquire

Reviewing old favorites is a little like driving a bulldozer through a field full of bunny rabbits and orphans - you're almost guaranteed to piss off someone. Acquire is an old standby favorite, reprinted by Avalon Hill several years ago, and stands to this day as one of the great Sid Sackson games ever made. Opinions on the game tend to vary from 'man, I love that game' to 'I think I'll pay $200 for one on eBay'. Reviewing a game this time-tested and sacred tends to summon the rabid fans who come out with pitchforks and tar if you make the slightest mistake, and because it has been played by so many gamers, you also get the people who want to prove how far off the beaten path they are by telling you that you're an idiot if you liked it.

For the sake of the metaphor, I'll call the Acquire fanatics 'bunnies', and the it's-cool-to-hate un-fans as 'orphans'. And I'll try to hit them both with my metaphorical bulldozer.

Acquire, for those readers who have only been playing games for the last twenty minutes, is a highly abstracted game of corporate takeovers and high finance (unless you get the version with hotels, in which case it's an abstract game of hotel takeovers and high finance). The growth of various corporations is represented by a numbered grid, and as you play, you place plastic tiles over those numbers. Place two of them next to each other, and you form a corporation. Place a tile so that it links two corporations, and the bigger one swallows up the smaller one.

The key to making money in Acquire is to buy, sell and trade stock in the existing corporations. When a corporation gets eaten up by another corporation, the players with the most stock in the now-defunct company get buyout bonuses, and anyone with that stock can dump it to get money or more stock in other companies. Placing tiles properly is important, but to really excel, you have to be able to manipulate stock prices and make smart investments.

There's quite a bit of strategy and long-term planning in Acquire, and you have to be able to recognize where you're likely to make money. It's fast-paced and cutthroat, with the constant temptation to get in over your head or get tied up in a no-winners bidding war. Many decisions you'll make as you play can get you so far behind that you'll be out of the game, yet very few of those decisions are so decisive that you'll shoot past the competition. It's tricky and really fun, and while it's easy to suck, it's hard to be brilliant at it.

And that's kind of the downside. A mediocre player can be shut out fairly easily by more skilled players, which is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I do prefer games where the better player wins, but on the other hand, new players could be completely disgusted when they go the whole game holding a huge pile of nearly worthless stock that tied up all their finances while the experienced players swim in money like Scrooge McDuck. I'm not opposed to games where people get knocked completely out, but it does kind of suck to be so far behind that you've got a snowball's chance in Hell of winning, but have to keep sitting there the whole time, anyway.

I'll be the first to admit that the reason I know about this particular 'flaw' is that it happened to me. I made a couple really short-sighted stock purchases and it cost me, big-time, because I was broke for the rest of the game. It's not hard to fall into that trap, though, especially if you haven't played Acquire a lot, and it really does diminish the enjoyment you can get out of a game when you know you can't win, but you have to stick around and see who gets to laugh at you when the game is over.

However, even if you are the guy who spends his first three turns ruining himself for the rest of the game, Acquire is still a lot of fun. It is a very fast, very fun game with lots of chances to bluff, plan, and make quick decisions. It's not hard to learn the rules, but it's got incredible depth, especially considering how simple it is to pick up. And talk about staying power - the first version of the game was released in 1962, and it still gets played today. That's the kind of longevity you see in Monopoly, except without having to roll dice all day long and grumble about having to be the shoe.

Acquire isn't a perfect game. The tendency for a weaker player to take himself completely out of the running could make a lot of gamers happy to avoid it. But it is an incredibly good game, it moves incredibly fast, and is a ton of fun, so if you've ever played and said, 'man, did I suck,' give it another shot. And then, if you still hate it, you can write me a note that says, 'I still suck.'


Abstract theme that does a great job of representing big business
Brilliantly simple rules create amazing depth
Fun and fast

Player elimination that means you can't win, but you still don't get to go see what's on TV

I have good news - Dogstar Games has Acquire. In case I don't drive this home often enough, they provide the review copies that let me tell you about stuff like Chaos in the Old World, Space Alert, and other games from publishers who won't return my emails any more. So if you want to pick up this really great classic game, go get it right here:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Event Review - Volleyball Tournament

I'm not in good shape. I work out three or four times a week, push some weights around, but it's really barely keeping up with the food that my nearly-forty body seems to want to keep packed on my ass regardless of how much or little I eat. Plus I smoke, and it certainly doesn't help keep me in shape when every third intake of breath sounds like someone stepping on a bag of potato chips.

So when the volleyball tournament at work asked for volunteers, my first inclination was a rousing, 'hell no.' But then I remembered my new-found commitment to trying stuff, and decided to give it a shot. Hell, when I was 19, we spent whole days playing volleyball in the sand down by the beach, shirts off to get a tan (and show off our killer abs), ogling girls and pretending we were cool. Well, OK, we were pretty cool. Broke, stupid, and lazy - but cool.

Since this was a work tournament, our team had to have three guys and three girls. The girls seemed to be coming out in droves, including some girls who had no business whatsoever playing any athletic event that involved exercise more strenuous than lifting a cheeseburger. But for the guys, it wound up being me and two work friends.

(If you work in an office, you know about work friends. These are guys that you generally like, but you've never been to their house, you never see them outside the office, and you wouldn't help them move unless they were paying in gold bullion. These are completely unlike actual friends, in that in the case of actual friends, you've slept on their sofas, shared motel rooms in the middle of Missouri, and would help them move a body. The other players on the team were most definitely work friends, and should not be confused for actual friends.)

Selecting uniforms seemed to be a priority, starting several days before the tournament. This was not good news for me, because I thought we were just going to play volleyball at work. In the end, we had stickers that we put on our shirts with the logo for our team. As we are so creative, the logo was a volleyball. And the shirts had to be gray, which created another problem for me, because I ended up playing in the only gray t-shirt I own, which happens to have a huge Thundercats insignia on the front (thank God I decided against picking up that Saved By The Bell shirt last summer).

The actual day of the tournament came, and it was hot. I don't know what kind of cosmic prankster decides that the end of October should be great weather for sunburn and heatstroke, but whoever it is, he must have created North Texas. We couldn't show up in shorts and t-shirts - it's an office job for the government, not a software company - so we all had to go down to the locker room and change. For the record, there is no situation I can imagine in which I want to see my work friends without pants (with the possible exception of a few female work friends, but in those cases, seeing them without pants would probably result in criminal charges or divorce proceedings).

Warming up takes on a whole new tone when you're nearly forty years old and it's nearly 90 degrees. After hitting the ball around for thirty minutes, we were all sweating like marathon runners (this may have had something to do with the extra layers of insulation most of us carry, but certainly had something to do with the fact that North Texas had apparently been teleported to Equitorial Africa for the day). We were also able to determine that we all completely sucked at volleyball.

The game itself allowed us to cement the notion that we were ill-equipped for strenuous physical activity. We ran out onto the sandy court, only to be displaced by our whiny competitors who showed up five minutes later and demanded that they be allowed to play from the side where we were currently attempting to remember how to rotate. We were then soundly trounced by a team who not only did not contain fat people, but who had held tryouts to determine the most appropriate warriors to exert their sports dominance. We rotated out a girl every time so that everyone could have equal play time, while they had six players who probably should have been tested for anabolic steroids. I continue to be amazed at anyone who takes winning this seriously, especially when there was absolutely nothing whatsoever at stake. The losers, in fact, got to hit the showers first, because the winners had to stay and play again.

We did encounter one thing that the winners probably did not - incredible pain. All the guys were about the same age, which is to say we are way too old to be diving face-first into anything that is not an overstuffed sofa. After twisting, jumping, diving, and otherwise doing things normally reserved for high-school athletes and trained pole dancers, we were having trouble walking. I thought I was at least somewhat healthy, but it's been nearly a week now, and my back still makes a sound like the lid coming off a can of Pringles every time I try to look over my shoulder.

So, to sum up:

1) I got a sunburn.
2) I had to shower with men (though I understand this is common in sports).
3) We got soundly trounced to the point that we would have been embarrassed, if we weren't so damned proud that we were able to actually play in the first place.
4) We all twisted, sprained or tore something.

And after all that, we decided to do it every week.

What? It was fun!


Get exercise and have fun at the same time

Who cares about cons. It's fun.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Board Game Review - Bolide

I like racing games, especially games that let me really feel like I'm hurtling through turns, barely in control of a super-powerful racing machine, shredding the tires and smoking the brakes in a neck-and-neck, hell-bent-for-leather contest of wills. In other words, I really like Formula D.

But this review is not about Formula D. Tonight's game is called Bolide, which probably means something if you're from Italy, and just confuses me because the only Italian I know, I learned from Sopranos, and so most of the words I know have to do with things you might do in the bathroom. It's a racing game very similar in theory to Formula D, in that you're driving race cars around a really big race track, trying to go as fast as you can afford without flying off the track and into the stands, where you can make some unlucky woman an instant widow.

However, aside from being a racing game, Bolide really doesn't have much in common with Formula D. Rather than rolling to see how many spaces you move, Bolide pretty much lets you decide how far you want to go, and then penalizes you if you do something stupid, like hit the gas going into a hairpin turn. It uses a rather ingenious method of simulating physics - you move your car, tracking which direction you went, and then you make the exact same move with a little pawn that tells you where you can go next turn. So if you went seven spaces forward and two to the left, then on your next turn, your pawn will be seven spaces ahead and two to the left.

The pawn indicates the center of a bunch of places you can end your next turn, but it's actually kind of a small area, especially if you're really hauling ass. Completely understanding how this works would require you to read the rules, play the game, and then read the rules again (at least, it did for me), so I'm not going to spend half an hour trying to figure out how to explain all the ins-and-outs. Instead, I'll just say that Bolide does a better job simulating the physics of speeding cars that any other game I've ever played. It's not just clever, it's downright brilliant.

That pawn thing is the heart and soul of Bolide, but there are several more rules that help to make this a really cool racing game. Sharp braking lets you juice it hard into a turn and then slow down fast when you need it, and you can hit your boosters now and then for a little extra kick, if you're feeling lucky. There are enough rules for this to be a whole game, though the poorly translated rulebook does a Godawful job of explaining them. There are even advanced rules for customizing your car and driving in the rain. It's a good game.

However, I don't think I'll probably play it again. It's terrifically smart, but it's not the fast-paced burning rubber that I love about Formula D. There's a lot of counting off spaces and calculating your move, and while it's absolute genius, it makes what should be a game about roaring engines and gutsy drivers into a careful series of calculations and long-term planning. If I didn't already have Formula D, and love the bejeezus out of it, I would probably want to play Bolide all the time, but I do, so I won't.

Plus it's a total bitch to work through the rules. As far as I can tell, the rulebook is translated into English from Italian by a Bolivian living in Japan who speaks Urdu as a first language. There are words in there that I don't even think exist in English, and if they do, I'm pretty sure he's not using them correctly. If it weren't for the pictures, I don't think I could even have played the game. I've seen some pretty bad translations, but this one is the worst.

And while the little plastic cars are cool, the tracks really fail by comparison when you put them up against the gorgeous art in the new Formula D. It's like the designers of this game wanted you to be bored. It doesn't work - I really did enjoy Bolide - but it's not for the art, I'll tell you that.

Now, to be fair, I want to be clear that I like my racing games with a heaping helping of kick-ass, with the careful planning in a cup on the side. If you really like to think about what you're doing, and you're good at working out your moves in advance, you'll probably love Bolide. I do like it, and I think it's really smart, but when I head into a turn, I don't smell the overheated engines and feel the tires slipping on the asphalt as I push just a little harder to overtake the one lucky bastard who hit a lucky upshift. Instead I smell the scented candle we just lit to try to compensate for having dogs, and wonder if I set a timer for Dexter. I just can't get into it like I do with Formula D, so I'll keep playing the game I know I love.

I like my racing games fast and crazy, and on that front, Bolide doesn't deliver, no matter how stunningly brilliant it might be.


A physics simulation mechanic that is absolute genius
Good, well-rounded rules that let you test your technical aptitude
Virtually no luck - the best driver will win, just about every time

Translation is hilariously bad
Substitutes realism and smart play for speed and thrill factor

While I can't give Bolide a blanket recommendation, gamers who like to really think about their racing games will probably dig the hell out of it. If you're one of those gamers, you can get Bolide from Dogstar Games. And why should you buy it from Dogstar Games? Because it's cheap, you get free shipping, and because if they hadn't sent me a copy, you wouldn't have been able to read about it. So if you're going to get it, get it here:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Game Review - Summoner Wars

Tonight is a great night. I've been looking forward to writing this review for nearly a year and a half, and finally, after all the waiting, I get to reveal one of my absolute favorite games. It's called Summoner Wars, and it was the best game I played at GenCon 2008. The reason you haven't heard of it before now, however, is because you can't buy it yet.

Yeah, OK, that's a little confusing, so I'll explain. The guy who made Summoner Wars is a good friend of mine. He has done a ton of work for Hasbro, including several projects I'm not sure I'm supposed to tell you about (I think they involve regular Langley contacts and maybe a secret black list). He's been refining Summoner Wars for something like two years now. The first time I tried it was two GenCons ago. He broke out this set of home-printed cards with art he cribbed from a video game and said, 'hey, wanna try my game?' It was so much fun, it was all I could think about for the rest of the time I was there. I got to play it again at GenCon this August, and was amazed at how much it had improved. Considering the original was my favorite game of GenCon 2008, I was damned impressed that it was so much better a year later.

At its most basic, Summoner Wars is a tactical card-based game where you try and kill the other guy. You have one leader, your summoner, and if you lose him, you lose the game. He calls up his troops, grunts and warriors and heroes and the stuff of legend, and they run amok causing bloodshed and mayhem. So this is the kind of game men play (but women can totally play, too).

Where it gets amazing is the incredible amount of tactical decision-making and strategic planning that goes into the game. Every fighter has some kind of special ability that breaks the rules, so they might run faster, or hit harder, or go out of turn, or otherwise just be irritating. You have a grid where all the action occurs, with each card-slash-warrior moving a few spaces, hitting hard, and hoping to live through the next turn. It's like one of those reality shows on Bravo with the fashion designers, only instead of breaking down in tears and acting all gay when they get sent home, the soldiers on this field just die. So it's approximately 273 times more entertaining, with an added plus that you don't actually get dumber when you play.

Summoning your brawlers isn't as easy as just plunking down a warrior and saying, 'there he is. Bite me.' In order to bring in your troops, you have to spend cards from your magic pile. And in order to have troops in your magic pile, you have to either kill enemies (their deaths power your spells) or dump cards from your hand. Some decks can drain your opponent's magic pile, or improve your own, or make your own guys cheaper to summon. You'll almost never have enough magic to summon everything you want.

Deciding what to do on your turn tends to be a matter of limited resources and too many objectives. You want to crowd the enemy walls to keep him from summoning, but you also want to protect your summoner. You want to keep a constant supply of cards in your magic pile, but you also want to hang on to those game-breaker cards that can turn the tide, even if you don't have enough power to make them work just yet. You can't play too offensively, or you'll leave your summoner wide open, but you also can't let your opponent have the run of the field, or he'll set up such a tidal wave of brutality, it will look like a Mortal Kombat fatality move. You'll want to keep a careful watch on both sides, both to make sure that your opponent isn't setting up an ambush, and to take advantage of opportunities to set your own.

It may sound a little like this is just a new CCG, but it's definitely not. For one thing, when you buy both starters, you're getting all the cards there are. For another thing, you need the cards to tell you what you're summoning, and track hits and stuff, but once they're on the board, they act more like miniatures than any game of Magic: The Financial Raping. They move around, stab each other in the man tackle, and shoot each other from a distance. There's a definite card play aspect to Summoner Wars, but it's more of a tactical maneuvering game than a card game.

The first release of Summoner Wars is made up of two boxes, each with two decks. You can play Phoenix Elves, Tundra Orcs, Guild Dwarves or Cave Goblins. Each deck has its own play style, complete with advantages and disadvantages, but after two years of testing, they're all very balanced against each other. Will you swarm your opponent with goblins, or take quality over quantity with the dwarves? Do you take unreliable raw power with the orcs, or employ the rather expensive precision of the elves? Knowing the decks is a decided advantage, but even a new player can win, if he is cautious and smart.

Now, the astute reader might wonder how I can be objective when the creator of Summoner Wars is a friend. And while most of you don't know me from a hole in the wall (and some of you might actually prefer the hole), I can point to more than one review where I beat the crap out of a game made by a friend. Hell, I've panned two games from Small Box Games, and that guy shared my booth at GenCon.

I know I've been handing out a lot of high praise recently, and I hope to find something soon that really stinks so I can compare it to dirty feet or loose bowels. For now, you'll just have to read about how much I adore Summoner Wars. And you'll want to go put in your preorder right now, because by God this is one of the best games I've played in a long, long time - I mean like Heroscape good - and you'll want to have these in your hands as soon as you can. Plus your preorder gets you the promo. You know you're a sucker for the promo.


Easy to learn and play
Immense tactical and strategic depth
Fantastic art
Balanced and well-tested

May be addictive

You can preorder yourself some Summoner Wars right here, and if you like games, you should:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Totally Awesome Thing Review - Swedish Massage

My latest experiment in trying new things nearly failed completely. In order to fully understand how a perfectly good activity came close to becoming a colossal failure, I need to tell you a story.

My 15th anniversary was last week. My wife spent a great deal of time and effort to come up with a really unique and interesting present, and told me Friday that I had an appointment Saturday afternoon, and to avoid making other plans.

I should make it clear here - I do not like surprises, especially when I know they're coming but I don't know what they are. From the time I found out about my appointment to the time I actually left the house, I was worried. I know my wife has my best interests at heart, and I know she put a lot of thought into this surprise, but even the most well-meant gestures can go horribly awry.

And they did. It turns out that the surprise was a one-hour Swedish massage. With a dude. Now, maybe I'm old-fashioned, but up to this point, there are two scenarios in which I want another person to have hands on my naked back:

1) I am about to do the horizontal hula with the person in question.
2) This is a medically necessary procedure performed by someone who has been to at least eight years of secondary education, and hopefully I will be drugged into a stupor.

Obviously, a massage from a dude fits neither of these qualifications. In fact, a massage from anyone other than my wife falls far outside either of these factors, unless the massage is extraordinarily expensive and has what is commonly called a 'happy ending,' and is delivered by an attractive woman wearing just a smile. Then it's pretty close to that first one, and we could probably let that slide.

Now, in my wife's defense, she did think about the gender of my intended masseuse. The way she saw it, she would want a female back-rubber, so it would make sense that, in order to remove the sex factor, I would also want a masseuse whose gender matches my own. She was very wrong, as I indicated when I ran out of the salon like it was on fire upon discovering that I was going to be naked while a man rubbed me all over.

Needless to say (or maybe it's not needless, but I need to be clear on this anyway), the massage did not occur on the date intended. No amount of friendly persuasion was going to convince me that I wanted some hairy-backed man to rub oil into my naked body. I left the salon as quickly as I could, thinking impure thoughts about loose women to purge the visual of the narrowly avoided man-rub.

However, I have been trying to experience new things, and after further reflection, I decided that I may have been a little hasty in dismissing the idea of a professional massage completely. After all, James Bond gets massages, though the back-rubbers in the movies are always, ALWAYS women. And in James Bond movies, they're also hot, but I'm able to separate film from reality. I decided that I could get a massage, as long as the person giving it to me is a woman. She could be a 40-year old blocky Russian weight-lifter with a mustache, as long as she is currently female.

So I scheduled the massage again, this time with a female. With a week to prepare myself mentally, I walked into the salon confidently, ready for whatever indignity they could heap upon me. It turns out that aside from having to wear dorky shower shoes and a robe while I sat in a comfortable wicker chair and drank a glass of water, there was really no indignity. Just pure awesome.

You've seen movies, so you're probably familiar with the process of getting a massage. You lay on your stomach with your face in a little donut, and this woman comes in and rubs your back. And legs. And feet. And shoulders. And pretty much every other piece of exposed flesh that would not be covered by your standard pair of Fruit of the Looms. I don't know about every other masseuse in the country, but this woman was GOOD. I was so relaxed by the end of the massage, I thought I was going to melt. When she was done, I felt better in places I didn't know I was hurting. I was so loose, I felt like I was 25 again.

Now, there are a few things to consider if you're going to schedule a massage for yourself. First, it's prohibitively expensive. I might be able to save a couple bucks by going to some hack in a strip mall, but frankly, if I'm going to spoil myself rotten, I'm going to the place where they offer me a glass of wine and a relaxation room. Which means I won't be doing that again very soon, because I have bills.

Second, you absolutely cannot be self-conscious. Whoever you choose to rub you down, they're going to see every part of you. If you hate letting people see that mole on the back of your leg, or the broken toe that points the wrong way, or the cyst right below your ass cheek, stay home and take a warm bath. I spent the first ten minutes wondering what this lady thought of my tattoos, and then five minutes wondering how she felt about the hair on my back, and then 45 minutes not giving a rat's ass because I was experiencing Nirvana (and not Smells Like Teen Spirit, shotgun to the face Nirvana, either). If I had been overly concerned about the hair in my ears or the bald spot on my head, I never would have been able to relax. Happily, I don't really care who sees the patchy carpet on my shoulders or the glare from the back of my head, so this was pretty easy.

Third, hygiene is an absolute must. Shower before you go. Wash your hair. Clip your nails, and while you're at it, use the little scraper tool to remove that black gunk that gets stuck underneath your toenails. The last thing you want, while you're being reduced to a gelatin-like state, is to make the masseuse throw up. Sure, she's probably seen someone more disgusting than you, but do you really want to compete for that top spot?

Finally, drink a lot of water, both before you go and after. I did not do this. I didn't really think about it, because until the big day, the only time I had ever given or received a back rub it was with the intent and/or hope of getting laid. It turns out that a professional massage releases all this crap out of your muscles, and does some Harry Potter voodoo all over your lymphatic system to clean out your body. And if you let all that crap flood out of your muscles and then don't drink enough water to flush it (and I mean literally flush it, unless you're one of those 'if it's yellow let it mellow' people), all that crap goes back where it came from, and three hours later you've got a headache, your back is tied up like a hangman's noose and you're about one greasy donut away from puking up an alien life form.

I am really glad I decided to take advantage of the massage. It's not the manliest thing I ever did, but it sure was cool. I'm also really glad I picked a female, because there were times during that massage that I'm pretty sure a dude would have had his junk in my ear. And more importantly, the only way I want a man to make me feel that good is if he's injecting me with morphine (and then that's all - just the morphine, then he leaves).

I will definitely be getting another massage at some point. I don't know when, because I'm going to have to save up to afford another one, but I know I want to do it again. I never wanted one before I got one, and now I can't wait to do it again. I daresay a Swedish massage is better than a hooker - it lasts longer, costs less, and provides virtually no opportunity to contract a venereal disease. Not that I have a basis for comparison.


Feel like a million bucks
Get treated like a celebrity James Bond
Better than a hooker

Really expensive
If you don't drink a lot of water, it will hurt later

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Announcement - Project Valour-IT

I'm not usually a fan of fundraising. I'm always getting those ludicrous calls asking me if I'll support the local sheriff's department with their bid to help unwanted lemurs get the medical treatment they need to prevent teen pregnancy. I usually hang up on them, but only after I mess with them a little and cuss at them for my own sheer enjoyment. I love when they go, 'so, can we count on my support?' and then I go, 'no, but if you can count to two, you can count on my ballsack.'

But today I got a different kind of request, one that was not only personalized (the guy's a fan), but actually hits home a little. The reader who contacted me was asking if I would like to add a little blurb about fundraising for Project Valour-IT, a charity that drums up money to supply wounded vets with stuff they need to get better. I was skeptical - I would rather donate a cup of warm urine than buy a 'support the troops' ribbon magnet and put money into the pocket of some opportunistic vulture capitalizing on American patriotism. But this one was for real. I checked it out, and it's a good one.

The three things that I see that they do, primarily, are laptops, Wiis, and GPS devices. The laptops are voice-activated (super-handy if you've had your hands blown off), the Wii systems go to hospitals to help with physical therapy (if you've ever played Wii Boxing, you know it's a workout and a half), and the GPS devices go to troops with head injuries who can't find their way back from the 7-11 because of the shrapnel in their heads, and are therefore smoking the entire pack of cigarettes they went out to get in the first place and then having to wander all the way back and get another one, and in the meantime, the milk goes bad.

Part of the reason this particular charity made me slow down long enough to notice is that my old man is a disabled Army vet. He got the back of his head blown off in 'Nam, and the metal plate they attached to keep his brain in his skull gives him migraines when it rains. He's still alive and kicking, and one tough son of a bitch, to boot, but he had to fight tooth-and-nail to get the 100% disability he needed to retire, and I thought that was a load of horse crap. He got it, but we should have just given it to him. He busted his hump for his country, got the crap blown right out of him, and he deserves whatever he can get. And so do these busted-ass vets coming back all effed-up, getting half-assed treatment at Walter Reed and then trying to get back to work as functional members of a society that has absolutely no idea what it means to sacrifice in times of war.

So join me in dumping a couple bucks into Project Valour-IT. There's an ad right over there on the left, and if you click it, you can donate to a remarkably worthy cause. Plus Team Navy is getting its ass kicked, and I'm ex-Navy, so do me a favor and make the Marines look bad. You know, by doing something other than administering an IQ test (that's a surefire way to make a Marine look bad. If they were smart enough, they would have gone Navy). The money goes to a common fund - the contest is just for fun and sport and to give me a reason to mock the Marine Corps. But hurry up, because this contest ends on November 11, and then the ad comes down and I go back to pretending I don't care about anything but board games, alcohol and hookers.

Man, between all these special updates and announcements, nobody is ever going to get to read actual game reviews around here.