December 21, 2011

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and Variant: Book and Boardgame Match-Up

The Game (from Fantasy Flight Games): After the Cylon attack on the Colonies, the battered remnants of the human race are on the run, constantly searching for the next signpost on the road to Earth. They face the threat of Cylon attack from without, and treachery and crisis from within. Humanity must work together if they are to have any hope of survival…but how can they, when any of them may, in fact, be a Cylon agent?

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is an exciting game of mistrust, intrigue, and the struggle for survival. Based on the epic and widely-acclaimed Sci Fi Channel series, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game puts players in the role of one of ten of their favorite characters from the show. Each playable character has their own abilities and weaknesses, and must all work together in order for humanity to have any hope of survival. However, one or more players in every game secretly side with the Cylons. Players must attempt to expose the traitor while fuel shortages, food contaminations, and political unrest threatens to tear the fleet apart. --BoardGameGeek Description

The Book (by Robison Wells): Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life. 

He was wrong. 

Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death. 

But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible. --Amazon Book Description

Do you enjoy being paranoid?  Putting these two together was too easy -- playing Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and reading Variant spun the same gears in my head.

I've never seen an episode of Battlestar Galactica, but in five minutes, I was happily shooting people furtive glances and whispering, "I bet you're a Cylon."  For the first half of the game, there's no guarantee anyone is secretly working against the rest of the players.  Then the second half kicks in.  Is there one Cylon?  Two?  And is it the person sitting to my right?

The paranoia in Variant creeps up on you.  Maybe the rest of the students are just trying to survive, too.  Maybe it's okay to trust that person.  There are plenty of sympathetic characters hanging around Maxfield Academy.  As I read the first half of the book, suspicion tickled the back of my skull.  During the second half, I wondered if it was safe to even trust Benson Fisher, the main character.

Both of these have plenty to recommend them.  Battlestar Galactic: The Board Game is difficult and engaging, with nifty mechanics and painful decisions to make.  Variant has slick, seamless prose and a plot that feeds me plot point after plot point.  But I loved both of these for the reason they're similar.  It's all about being paranoid.  Trust no one.  And try not to blow up the space ship while you're at it.

*As a side note, I'm taking a break next Wednesday for the holidays.  Catch you all in January! 

December 14, 2011

New Game

I'm planning on trying out some new kinds of posts.  I still want to post once a week, but I've realized to keep the book & boardgame match-ups going at the current rate, I need to play three awesome new games each month and have a book to match it to.  Or, rather, thirty-six games a year.  Eek!

So, to a new game.  I love fantasy and science fiction.  I'm always frustrated when these genres are labeled as pure escapism, or are ridiculed for having plots and situations irrelevant to the real world.  A few years ago, watching a movie, I realized that the plot could be summarized to sound like a literary novel.  Thinking harder, most any plot involving character change can be rewritten this way.  Here's a movie description.  Can you guess what film it belongs to?

A young woman, accustomed to small-town life has only small-town ambitions of marriage with her local sweetheart, until she takes a new job.  At first, she's terrified, but slowly learns through her successes that she is a capable woman.  She gains the confidence to see her old life through new eyes and leaves her fiance to pursue her career.

And the answer is...

December 6, 2011

Bookshop Talk: Shades of Milk and Honey

My review of Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey is up at Bookshop Talk.  Fabulous, fun book -- come on over and check it out!

November 28, 2011

Why I Love Bookshop Talk

I know this post is ahead of schedule, but if I waited until Wednesday to tell you why I love Bookshop Talk, you might miss their awesome book giveaway.  There are a lot of book review sites out there, but this one has my undying adoration.  Here's why:

Positive Reviews Only.  I'm not interested in bad books.  I want good things to read.  Recommendations.  Someone might argue that this lacks "balance," but the reasons why someone loved a book can tell me if I'm going to hate it or love it, too.  Personally, I figure if I hate a book the best thing I can do is never mention it.  I heard about The Hunger Games a dozen times before I picked the book up -- probably more than half of those mentions were negative.  But the title lodged in my brain.  My curiosity peaked.  And I thank everyone who publicly derrided the book for spurring me towards it.  I loved it.

Content Table.  The end of every review contains a brief table outlining the language, violence, sensuality, and mature themes present in the book.  I adore this.  When I'm writing reviews, it's a wonderful safety net -- I don't have to spend the review giving caveats if the book isn't right for every audience.  As a reader, it empowers me to better select my next read.  

Nice People.  The people who run Bookshop Talk are super nice.  And they happily take reviews from anyone who has a book they want to gush about (guidelines are here).

Cool Contests. They're having another one, and the deadline's Wednesday!  You can read about it here, but in short, if you write a reviews, you're entered to win any book on their site, or a book by any author they've interviewed on their site -- your pick.  It's a long, long list.  I first learned about Bookshop Talk during their last contest.  I won a book.  I've continued to submit reviews ever since.

The contest is open until 11:59 on November 30th.  Head on over and check it out!

November 23, 2011

The Android's Dream and Rummikub: Book & Board Game Match-Up

The Book (by John Scalzi): A human diplomat creates an interstellar incident when he kills an alien diplomat in a most…unusual…way. To avoid war, Earth's government must find an equally unusual object: A type of sheep ("The Android's Dream"), used in the alien race's coronation ceremony.

To find the sheep, the government turns to Harry Creek, ex-cop, war hero and hacker extraordinaire, who with the help of Brian Javna, a childhood friend turned artificial intelligence, scours the earth looking for the rare creature. And they find it, in the unknowing form of Robin Baker, pet store owner, whose genes contain traces of the sheep DNA.

But there are others with plans for the sheep as well: Mercenaries employed by the military. Adherents of a secret religion based on the writings of a 21st century science fiction author. And alien races, eager to start a revolution on their home world and a war on Earth.

To keep our planet from being enslaved, Harry will have to pull off the greatest diplomatic coup in history, a grand gambit that will take him from the halls of power to the lava-strewn battlefields of alien worlds. There's only one chance to get it right, to save the life of Robin Baker -- and to protect the future of humanity. --Amazon Book Description

The Game (published by numerous companies): Rummikub is played with a set of 106 elegant tiles that are as durable as they are easy to handle. Like Rummy, players build melds of run of the same colors - Red 7, Red 8 and Red 9 - or sets of the same numbers - Blue 8, Red 8 and Black 8. If you're looking for a fast action game where the outcome is undecided until the last play and has a never-ending variety of strategies and play situations, you'll love Rummikub! --Amazon Product Description 

The book starts with the line: "Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out."

Anyone who's not laughing has probably already clicked away.  We'll continue.  The book reads like a spy thriller, with delightfully wry prose pulling us through twists in politics and gunshots.  Of course, there's also abundant science fiction -- both innovative tidbits and imaginative play with the genre's history.  Along with fascinating alien cultures.  What I loved about this book was the reversals.  At one moment, the good guys were impossibly stuck, then a lawyer or an AI does something clever.  The bad guys retaliate by turning their sucess into a trap, and so on.  The novel reads like a gigantic, ever-changing puzzle.

And "ever-changing puzzle" fits Rummikub perfectly.  The rules are simple, but one tile can devastatingly change future moves.  The sets are held in common and can be reorganized in any way, so long as all sets are legal when a player's turn ends.  Usually playing a tile isn't as easy as adding it to the end of a run.  Today, I only won a game because I saw a move rearranging some twenty pieces.  I imagine most people reading this blog have played Rummikub, so I'll be short, but it's that brain-twisting puzzle-piecing that matches these two.  In The Android's Dream, the final play is a delightfully ingenious one I didn't see coming.

As a side note, the content in this book is a notch up from what I usually blog about -- a good fistful of swearing, plus some things that are mentioned in exposition, but not dramatized.  I don't want to give spoilers, but if you'd like more detail, feel free to contact me.

November 16, 2011

Snot & Stuff

My family hasn't been feeling great.  Just in case the written word is contagious, I'm delaying today's post until next week.  Instead, here's the first episode of the Standard Action web series.  It's hilarious.  In a very nerdy way.  If D&D scares you, now's a good time to use expeditious retreat.

November 9, 2011

Ticket to Ride and Leviathan: Book and Board Game Match-Up

The Game (from Days of Wonder):With elegantly simple gameplay, Ticket to Ride can be learned in 3 minutes, while providing players with intense strategic and tactical decisions every turn. Players collect cards of various types of train cars they then use to claim railway routes in North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who fulfill Destination Tickets – goal cards that connect distant cities; and to the player who builds the longest continuous route.

"The rules are simple enough to write on a train ticket – each turn you either draw more cards, claim a route, or get additional Destination Tickets," says Ticket to Ride author, Alan R. Moon. "The tension comes from being forced to balance greed – adding more cards to your hand, and fear – losing a critical route to a competitor." --BoardGameGeek Description

The Book (by Scott Westerfeld): It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever. --Amazon Book Description

Trains and steampunk.  I feel like I could end this post with those three words, but I'll elaborate.  Ticket to Ride is one of those games I can't count how many times I've played.  It's incredibly easy to learn, but still engaging to play, making it a all-around favorite.  It works for families, for gaming groups, and for people who are wary of complicated games.  Set-up is even easy.

Leviathan drips with that steampunk adventure feel, from the cover to the worldbuilding to the clothes.  Simply put, it's fun.

Pacing makes these two similar.  In Ticket to Ride, turns are short and fast.  There's no long, torturous pause and someone completes their fifty-seventh action.  One turn, one action.  Turns whip around the table, which is part of the fun.  This easy-to-learn game keeps me leaned over the board, mind racing along.

Leviathan, likewise, has tight, YA-pacing.  Worldbuilding details are scattered in the text, never slowing it.  Westerfeld unfold an adventure -- and he does it in a strange-but-nostalgic setting.  Wherever the boring parts are, they're not in these books.

Trains and steampunk.  Fast and fun.

November 2, 2011

World Fantasy Convention 2011

World Fantasy was different than other conventions or conferences I've been to.  The panels here debated what the genre should be, not how to write it.  Continuing those conversations outside the panels was part of the fun.  Usually at conferences, I marathon through presentations, but here I took breaks -- both to talk to industry professionals I admire and get to know others.

I got to speak on the "Exploring the Americas" panel, probably because of my epigraphy experience.  Someone asked for nonfiction suggestions for researching the Maya, so I'm listing them here.  The first title, Reading the Maya Glyphs, I read as a teenager.  I'd encourage anyone interested in researching to start there.  It seems fitting to read what the Maya wrote about themselves, first.

Reading the Maya Glyphs, by Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone
Popol Vuh, translated by Allen Christensen (This excellent translation also contains extensive footnotes, which give insight into ancient, post-conquest, and modern Maya)
Chronicles of the Maya Kings and Queens, by Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube
The Maya, by Michael D. Coe

Michael D. Coe also has a book on the history of Maya decipherment, Breaking the Maya Code, and one with Rex Koontz on northern Mesoamerica, entitled Mexico.  I've listed a lot of Coe's books because they're excellent and highly accessible to a non-academic audience.  There are other books, of course, but these are a great starting point.

I didn't get to attend it, but I'm also looking forward to watching Moses Siregar's recording of the Founders of Steampunk panel.

October 26, 2011

Carcassonne Pumpkin & World Fantasy Schedule

 I'm headed to the World Fantasy Convention tomorrow, so today's regular post has been downsized to my Carcassonne-inspired pumpkin picture.

Saturday night, I'll be on the "Exploring the Americas" panel at World Fantasy, which I think will be scads of fun.  Off to pack!

October 22, 2011

Bookshop Talk: The Golden Age

I've got a new review up at Bookshop Talk for John C. Wright's The Golden Age, a brilliant far-future science fiction novel.

October 18, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: Healthy in Five Minutes a Day and Settlers of Catan

The Book (by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois): Jeff & ZoĆ« wrote their first book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2007) so that baking homemade bread would be easy enough to become a daily ritual for everyone. That includes people struggling to balance work, family, friends, & social life (pretty much all of us). They refined their methods for refrigerator-stored artisan dough while juggling busy careers and families.

Their second book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2009), takes that same super-fast approach but applies it to healthier ingredients like whole grains, fruits, & vegetables.  A dozen of the recipes are 100% whole grain, & for the first time, they’ve included a chapter on gluten-free breads.  --From authors' website

The Game (from Mayfair): In Settlers of Catan, players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game. Multi-award-winning and one of the most popular games in recent history due to its amazing ability to appeal to non-gamers and gamers alike. --From BoardGameGeek

I'm sure someone's thinking but you don't even bake bread in Settlers!  Yes, that's true, and yes, I've played games where baking bread is relevant (Agricola, anyone?).  I picked these because they both scream "game-changer." 

I've always loved board games.  As a kid, we played plenty of Risk and Hotels.  Games with dice, games that led to me and my sibling bickering, then starting all over again.  The first time someone pulled Settlers of Catan out of a box, I eyed the hexagon tiles with suspicion.  Surely this was going to be overly complicated and not that cool.  How thrilled I was to be wrong on both counts.  Catan taught me what I'd always wanted in a game.  Simple rules.  Deep strategy.  A nice amount of player interaction, but not in a zero-sum setting.

Like many people, Catan was my introduction to German-style board games -- games that are fun to play, even when you lose and can't taunt your brothers.  If I tell someone I like boardgames, they'll often name an old, bland game and say they don't enjoy that sort of thing.  Then they get to hear me gush about Settlers of Catan.  As soon as I played it, it became my golden standard for games. 

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day likewise changed my outlook.  I once worked in a bakery.  I love the smell of rising bread.  But, lacking an industrial proofer, baking at home seemed impossible.  Even when I got a hand-me-down bread machine, the recipies all called for exact and complicated amounts of ingredents.  Any slight failure or adjustment led to a brick instead of a loaf.

Then a friend made a loaf from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I tried it, loved it, and picked up the healthy sequel, because I'm a huge fan of whole wheat.  This dough actually rises.  I don't have to knead it.  I can store it in my fridge until I'm ready to bake -- whether I'm making a loaf, muffins, pizza, or delightfully crisp grissini, which make a perfect snack for my little kids (my favorite for grissini is the millet dough, sans fruit -- it makes for tantalizing texture bits).  Better yet, my little kids can help me stir the dough together, which they love.  The ingredients are simple enough that I have a number of our favorite recipes memorized.  Easy.

Both of these were revelations.  If you haven't played Settlers of Catan and don't like board games, head to your local board game store.  Every shop I've been to has a copy in the back, and especially if you go during a board game night (most stores seem to have these), someone could probably teach you how to play.  If baking your own bread seems lovely but impossible, check out the book.  It's made my life a tastier place.

October 12, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-up: Discworld and Discworld

Yes, I feel like I'm cheating this week, pairing up the board game Discworld: Ankh-Morpork and Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, but here it is.  The Discworld series is some thirty-nine books long, so I chose one of my favorite to spotlight below, The Wee Free Men.

The Game (from Mayfair):  Welcome to Ankh-Morpork – the oldest, greatest, and most odorous city on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, a place where trouble is always in the cards. Be one of seven personalities vying for ultimate control of this proud and pestilent city, using your cunning and guile to complete your secret agenda. Along the way you’ll encounter wizards, assassins, watchmen and thieves, all of whom will affect your fortunes and continually change the fate of this mercantile metropolis.--From the Manufacturer

The Book (by Terry Pratchett):A nightmarish danger threatens from the other side of reality . . .

Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, young witch-to-be Tiffany Aching must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland. Luckily she has some very unusual help: the local Nac Mac Feegle—aka the Wee Free Men—a clan of fierce, sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men.
Together they must face headless horsemen, ferocious grimhounds, terrifying dreams come true, and ultimately the sinister Queen of the Elves herself. --Amazon Product Description

The Wee Free Men is the first Pratchett book I read.  Someone told me about the swords that glowed blue in the presence of lawyers; I laughed hard enough to crack a rib and then picked the book up.  Pratchett's a master at telling funny stories that stick with you.  I feel almost silly describing his books, because most book-inclined people I know started reading the Discworld books long before I did.

The boardgame, however, is brand new. I've played a number of other games by this game designer, Martin Wallace, all of them intricate and exciting.  This game keeps the "exciting" part but pares "intricate" down to accessibly easy to learn.  A turn consists of playing a cards from your hand, but this allows for plenty of strategy on the board.  Each player has their own secret winning condition as well.  Trying to guess (and prevent!) those conditions is part of the fun.  It'd be an easy learn for those who don't frequently play board games.

There's also a delightful abundance of Discworld in here.  At one point while playing, I gasped.  Everyone else assumed I'd seen a devastating move to make -- but no, I'd just drawn The Luggage (shouldn't that constitute an automatic win?).  The rules and cards refer to the number between seven and nine, which is marked as 7a on the board.  Those who'd read the books laughed; those who hadn't looked at us a little odd.  The art is enjoyable too.  So, yes, I feel like I cheated this week, but the game does an excellent job of capturing the light, fun feel of Discworld, while at the same time encouraging plenty of thought -- just like the books.

October 5, 2011

Finding Time to Write and Being Mom

Apparently the quest to find writing time never disappears.  As I learned on a recent Writing Excuses podcast, even full-time writers are pinched looking for an extra hour.  It's a topic I've seen pop up a lot, often with stay at home moms asking "how do I do this, too?"  Many conventional answers -- lunch breaks! -- don't apply.  Lunch is the thing that gets cold on the counter while I change diapers, fill sippy cups, and kiss ouchies all better.

But I'm still managing to write -- more than before I had two small children bouncing off the walls. I know everyone's situation is different, but here's how I manage:

1. Set goals.  I talked once about setting goals, but if you don't know where you want to go, you'll never get there.  This affected my writing output more than anything else.

2. Proactively evaluate goals.  If I miss my writing goals, I don't tell myself I just didn't have time.  That makes writing time seem like the weather: completely out of my control.  Instead, I fill in the blank: "I didn't meet my writing goal because I decided ___ was more important."  Then it's my fault.  And if it's my fault, I can fix it.  This also alleviates my guilt and frustration if I missed my goals for a good reason, like "I decided taking care of my sick child was more important."  I can exhale and assure myself I spent my time well. 

3. Get everything else done early. Once upon a time, I waited to fold laundry, load the dishwasher, and mix bread until the children were all asleep -- as if there's time to do those things, let alone write, before sleep deprivation makes my head spin.  Sometimes it's not easy, and sometimes it's frustrating, but I fold clothes with my kids (okay, they jump in the pile of laundry).  I mix dough with my kids (yes, it gets in their hair).  But we have fun, they learn things, and when (if?) they go to bed, I'm free to type. 

4. Plot all day. Bwhahaha...Okay, what I really mean is that often-rote mom work lets the brain wander.  I outline scenes in my head all day, or gnaw over a revision problem.  If I manage a quiet afternoon minute, I let the keyboard fly.  I also keep a notebook handy during the day, and if I can, jot down a few quick notes.

5. Keep your eyes open.  Maybe I like writing too much, but the last time a child vomited on me, I thought, "This sensory experience will come in handy in a scene one day."  As I cleaned him up, I tried to list words and phrases that described warm vomit best.  By the time I managed to clean myself up, I'd moved on to describing being soaked in cold vomit.  I don't know how much narrating my life helps, but it makes me feel like I'm always writing, even if I can't sit at a computer.

6. Enlist support.  Every time I hear someone talk about finding time to write, family support invariably comes up.  I'm exceedingly thankful to have a husband who tells me I can do this writing thing, even when I'm banging my head against the desk.  Making writing group every week isn't just my priority -- it's his, too.  Which is awesome in ten thousand ways.

Humans, from architects to entrepreneurs to teachers, are creative problem solvers.  Writers aren't any different.  When I first started writing, I thought I'd only pour creativity onto the page, but as it turns out, it takes creativity to find time to write, too.

October 4, 2011

"Canvas" Publishes Tomorrow

My short story "Canvas" goes live on the Daily Science Fiction e-mail tomorrow! It'll be up on the site a week thereafter (both subscription and the website are free). They just got their SFWA pro-market status, too. Needless to say, I'm happy on both accounts.

September 27, 2011

Rejiggering The Thingamajig And Other Stories and High Frontier

The Book (by Eric James Stone): A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues.

One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. --Bio from Eric James Stone's website

The Game (from Sierra Madre Games):
In the near future, nanofacturing techniques will allow incredible new materials to be built atom by atom. But they can only be built in the zero-gravity and high-vacuum conditions in space. Various private and government enterprises race to establish a buckytube mechanosynthesis factory on a suitable carbonaceous asteroid. To do so, they accumulate tanks of water in orbiting fuel depots, to be used as rocket propellant. Also needed are remote-controlled robonauts to do the grunt work.

The key to success is water in LEO (low Earth orbit). At first, water will be expensively upported out of the deep gravity well of Earth. But for a third the fuel and energy, water can be supplied from Luna, the moons of Mars, or other nearby hydrated objects. Extracting resources at the work site is called In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). Whoever develops ISRU technology able to glean water from space rather than Earth will gain the strategic high ground to make money through exoglobalization. --Board Game Geek Description

The book, as you've probably noticed, is a collection of stories.  I love short fiction and Eric James Stone writes amazing stuff; check out his bibliography.  A number of his stories are also available free online if you haven't read his work before (I have a soft spot for the humorous touch; "Rejiggering the Thingamajig" and "The Greatest Science Fiction Story Every Written" are two of my favorites, but I hate to say that because I want to include a dozen others).  "Resonance" is the first story of his I read; it's about a technical difficulty building a space elevator.  Like so many of his stories, the science is detailed, realistic, and fascinating.

And that's the story that High Adventure reminded me of.  I've never played a space game like this -- it has a level of detail that leaves my inner nerd in awe.  Escaping low-earth orbit is costly and time consuming.  The higher the mass of your rocket, the more fuel it takes to more, but as you burn fuel, your mass drops.  The thruster, robonaut, and refinery patent cards all include nifty diagrams and equations for hypothetically possible inventions.  I haven't included pictures of game boards before, but this one speaks volumes.

Yes, the first time I saw this, my head exploded.  Part of me wanted to flee the room; I had no idea what to do with all those lines.  Going over the rules confused me more.  Then we started playing and it smoothed out.  Soon enough, I'd boosted my solar sail into orbit and was hitting a scientific point of interest for later victory points (one in the inner solar system, of course, as the sail doesn't work so well out by Jupiter).  What with learning how to play, I came home late that night.  I distracted my husband with this shiny picture and talk of the rockets I'd built; he became too engrossed to remember to be grumpy (win!).

I haven't managed to build a space elevator in High Frontier yet, but everytime I see that spot on the board, I think of "Resonance."  Maybe next time I play, I'll manage.  Building a space elevator isn't easy.


September 21, 2011

Ygdrassil and The Redemption of Athalus

The Game (from Z-Man): In Yggdrasil the players represent Gods of Scandinavian Mythology (Odin, Thor, Tyr, Frey, Freya and Heimdall) who fight against monsters (Loki, Fenrir, Surt, Hel, Niddhog and Jormungand) to avoid the Ragnarok (the end of the times).In each turn, a God (player) can perform three actions in the Worlds of Yggdrasil. It may appeal to dwarf who forged weapons, seek the help of elves, send Valkyries seeking new souls of vikings who form the divine army, negotiate with caravans, fighting against the giants of ice weaken the gods but can also use the runes, fire giants manage the lands of Midgard, Asgard to fight directly against the enemy.A fully cooperative game for 1-6 players set in Asgard. All the enemies of Asgard (Hel, Loki, Fenris, Surt, etc) are making their way to Odin's Throne and it is up to the player-gods to stop them from reaching it. Each player-good has a special ability and can do actions from different parts of Asgard. --Manufacturer Product Description

The Book (by David & Leigh Eddings): It would be sheer folly to try to conceal the true nature of Althalus, for his flaws are the stuff of legend. He is, as all men know, a thief, a liar, an occasional murderer, an outrageous braggart, and a man devoid of even the slightest hint of honor.

Yet of all the men in the world, it is Althalus, unrepentant rogue and scoundrel, who will become the champion of humanity in its desperate struggle against the forces of an ancient god determined to return the universe to nothingness. On his way to steal The Book from the House at the End of the World, Althalus is confronted by a cat--a cat with eyes like emeralds, the voice of a woman, and the powers of a goddess.

She is Dweia, sister to The Gods and a greater thief even than Althalus. She must be: for in no time at all, she has stolen his heart. And more. She has stolen time itself. For when Althalus leaves the House at the End of the World, much wiser but not a day older than when he'd first entered it, thousands of years have gone by.

But Dweia is not the only one able to manipulate time. Her evil brother shares the power, and while Dweia has been teaching Althalus the secrets of The Book, the ancient God has been using the dark magic of his own Book to rewrite history. Yet all is not lost. But only if Althalus, still a thief at heart, can bring together a ragtag group of men, women, and children with no reason to trust him or each other. --Inside Flap

An old book and a new board game.  The Redemption of Athalus is a stand-alone fantasy novel packed with the wit, plot, and close scrapes of a longer series.  I'm either a lazy reader or an economical one, but I love the punch of this single-volume story.  Larger-than-life and yet so-human characters struggle to stop the end of the world in a drama of gods and men.  This also neatly describes Ygddrasil.

Ygddrasil is probably one of the hardest co-op games I've ever played.  The resources are tight, the monsters always progressing, and even one wasted turn can spell doom.  No loafers among Vikings, not here, not if you want to win.  As a bonus, it plays six, accomodating a larger gaming crowd, and if the base game isn't hard enough (it is!) there's an advanced version.  Part of the fun -- besides gnawing away my fingernails -- is the interaction as the group brainstorms strategies.  The Redemption of Athalus is likewise full of very different people trying to solve the same problem by utilizing their various strengths.  Their brainstorming is clever (we'll pretend mine is too), often makes me laugh, and always results in a close scrape.  This book also has one of my favorite literary moments, but alas, it's near the end and I wouldn't want to spoil it.

An older book?  Yes, but still as good as the day it was printed.  A new game?  Yes, but definitely worth the effort to learn, especially if you love an epic backdrop.

September 14, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: The Desert of Souls and Asara

The Book (by Howard Andrew Jones):In 8th century Baghdad, a stranger pleads with the vizier to safeguard the bejeweled tablet he carries, but he is murdered before he can explain. Charged with solving the puzzle, the scholar Dabir soon realizes that the tablet may unlock secrets hidden within the lost city of Ubar, the Atlantis of the sands. When the tablet is stolen from his care, Dabir and Captain Asim are sent after it, and into a life and death chase through the ancient Middle East.

Stopping the thieves—a cunning Greek spy and a fire wizard of the Magi—requires a desperate journey into the desert, but first Dabir and Asim must find the lost ruins of Ubar and contend with a mythic, sorcerous being that has traded wisdom for the souls of men since the dawn of time.  But against all these hazards there is one more that may be too great even for Dabir to overcome... --Amazon Product Description

The Game (from Rio Grande Games): Compete with your fellow players for the most beautiful towers. Players take on the roles of famous architects and using their chicanery, try to obtain the best construction parts. With these the exuberant towers are erected. Think ahead, use your tactical sense and it will help you to stay ahead of the other players and thereby become the greatest architect of the country. Exciting construction entertainment for the whole family. --Board Game Geek Description

The Desert of Souls is the kind of ripping yarn I could see being told late at night: it's filled with adventure, danger, and mystery.  Asara's the kind of game that keeps me awake late at night, with finger-biting choices overlaying strategic choices.  These both have a Middle Eastern setting, and even the board color scheme and the book cover seem to match, but it's that late-night component that really makes these two similar.   

The Desert of Souls is fine sword and sorcery, our hero perpetually jumping from frying pan to fire.  It's not just that, of course (I loved the narrator's elegant voice and the refreshingly honorable protagonist) but this story never gave me the chance to lean back, exhale, and stop worrying about the characters.

Asara leaves me with that same weightless feeling in the gut.  It plays a lot like Alhambra, with some monumental differences.  In each round, certain actions can only be taken so many times.  If enough people buy a tower base, for example, then I can't.  If I needed to build this round to score and the building spaces are gone, no points for me.  There's a balancing, figuring out what actions can be delayed and which ones have to be immediate.  Inbetween, there's the nail biting, wondering if another player is going to topple my carefully laid plans.  Reading The Desert of Souls, I'm similarly biting my nails, trying to figure out how they'll get out of this one.  Either one of these is a great adventure.

September 6, 2011

What The Hunger Games Taught Me About Writing

I naively thought I could read three chapters of Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Gamesand then go to bed, but this book glued  itself to my hands and wouldn't release me until I finished the final page.  There are a bushel of reasons why I love this book, but I'll stick to one: it taught me about pacing, and it wasn't the lesson I expected. Apparently my writer-brain still works during sleep deprivation.

The bane of pacing, I'd been told, was description, flashback, internal dialogue and world building asides.  Yet I found all of these in abundance in The Hunger Games.  A conundrum.  As I read, it slowly added up.  Pacing, description, flashback, and internal dialogue that don't add tension slow the pace.  All of these literary tools can be used to increase tension, and thus pacing.  The Hunger Games does this masterfully.

Take for example this meal:

"The supper comes in courses.  A thick carrot soup, green salad, lamb chops and mashed potatoes, cheese and fruit, a chocolate cake.  Throughout the meal, Effie Trinket keeps reminding us to save space because there's more to come.  But I'm stuffing myself because I've never had food like this, so good and so much, and because probably the best thing I can do between now and the Games is put on a few pounds."

If you haven't read the book, this might not mean much.  If you have, it's one more concrete, painful contrast between the poverty Katniss has grown up with and the bounty and power of the Capitol.  She's at their mercy -- they have everything, she has nothing. It also shows Katniss' personality and her desire to survive.  Instead of sulking about her imminent demise or forgetting her troubles in the face of luxury, she's calculating.  Food isn't pleasure or forgetfulness: it's one of the few assets she has.  My sympathy for her jumps.

Consistently, the details Collins gives paints a world of the powerful Capitol and Katniss, the survivor.  The former raises the conflict; the latter makes me care about the conflict.  Without these moments -- description and internalization -- I doubt I'd much care about the action scenes. 

All writing involves balancing, of course.  Description often faces scorn because bloated, bland description is so easy to spot.  Cut entirely, it can leave a manuscript feeling hollow.

September 1, 2011

Two New Reviews Up

I've got two new reviews up at Bookshop Talk!  Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, a very old favorite, and The Shifter by Janice Hardy, a new gem.  If you're a writer, Janice also has a phenomenal writing blog, The Other Side of the Desk, you should check out.

August 30, 2011

Book & Board Game Match-Up: At the Gates of Loyang and The Man who Ate Everything

The Game (from Z-Man): At the Gates of Loyang is a trading game in which you are able to produce goods by planting them and later selling them to customers. You can use the abilities of some helpers to increase your income or production.

Fields, customers, helpers, and miscellaneous objects are represented by cards. Each player receives two of these cards per round distributed by a bidding/drawing mechanism in which you end up with one of the cards you draw and one of the cards of a public offer filled by all players. Additionally, to these cards you always receive one field for free each round.

Placing one good on a field fills the complete field with goods of this type. Each round, one unit per field is harvested. After planting, harvesting, and distributing cards, each player can use as many actions as he wants, only limited by the number of his cards or the number of goods he owns. At the end of his turn, he can invest the earned money on a scoring track, where early money is worth more than late money. The game ends after a certain number of rounds, and the player who is first on the scoring track wins. -- Board Game Geek Descrption

The Book (by Jeffery Steingarten): When Jeffrey Steingarten was made food critic of Vogue in 1989, he began by systematically learning to like all the food he had previously avoided. From clams to Greek food to Indian desserts with the consistency of face cream, Steingarten undertook an extraordinary program of self-inflicted behavior modification to prepare himself for his new career. He describes the experience in this collection's first piece, before setting out on a series of culinary adventures that take him around the world.

It's clear that Vogue gave Steingarten carte blanche to write on whatever subjects tickled his taste buds, and the result is a frequently hilarious collection of essays that emphasize good eating over an obsession with health. "Salad, the Silent Killer" is a catalog of the toxins lurking in every bowl of raw vegetables, while "Fries" follows a heroic attempt to create the perfect French fry--cooked in horse fat. Whether baking sourdough bread in his Manhattan loft or spraying miso soup across a Kyoto restaurant, Steingarten is an ideal guide to the wilder reaches of gastronomy. -- Amazon Review

Jeffery Steingarten often sits at the judges' table on Iron Chef America.  Dry and sarcastic, my family adopted him as the objective truth about food.  If Jeffery applauded a dish, it was certainly delicious.  If he scorned it, well then!  Eventually, I picked up his book.  I now had hundreds of pages, instead of soundbites, of his humor.  I was not disappointed.  I ended up reading bits aloud to relatives and it circulated among us faster than influenza -- except without any ill side effects (unless you count an obsession with perfect pie crust, which is in actually a blessing, not a curse).  I thought the book might only dwell on unobtainable, elitist foods, but the book's a happy mix.  I can fantasize about hunting truffles in France, but dig into his expansive ketchup taste-testing methodology.

At the Gates of Loyang is a delightful strategy game.  It's in the same series of games as Agricula, but this one (for me) has a cleaner lay-out and more engaging strategies.  The mechanics here -- from score-keeping to card distribution to money management -- leave me with exhilarating trade-offs to make.  Do I buy that extra prosperity point, or use the cash to buy a vegetable?  Do I take that customer, or will I fail a future order and earn disgrace?  I'm also fascinated with the game pieces.  I love the tiny wooden pumpkins, leeks, and beans.

So, why match these two together?  Besides the food element (and the fact I've wanted to highlight both of these for a while), they're both fun.  They're bright.  The book engages my taste-imagination and gets me excited about life and food.  The game likewise, keeps me imagining new strategies to fit new situations, wondering what choice I should make -- there's enough happening that I always feel the game is one step beyond my complete control, but if I ride the rounds well, I'll still come out on top.  Also, did I mention there are tiny, wooden leeks?  I always want to fire up a grill and cook this after I've played At the Gates of Loyang.  Yes, I've made it, and yes, it's delicious.  I blame (thank?) Alton Brown for my fixation on leeks.

August 23, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves and Prolix

The Book (by Lynn Truss): A panda walked into a cafe. He ordered a sandwich, ate it, then pulled out a gun and shot the waiter. 'Why?' groaned the injured man. The panda shrugged, tossed him a badly punctuated wildlife manual and walked out. And sure enough, when the waiter consulted the book, he found an explanation. 'Panda,' ran the entry for his assailant. 'Large black and white mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.' We see signs in shops every day for "Banana's" and even "Gateaux's". Competition rules remind us: "The judges decision is final." Now, many punctuation guides already exist explaining the principles of the apostrophe; the comma; the semi-colon. These books do their job but somehow punctuation abuse does not diminish. Why? Because people who can't punctuate don't read those books! Of course they don't! They laugh at books like those! Eats, Shoots and Leaves adopts a more militant approach and attempts to recruit an army of punctuation vigilantes: send letters back with the punctuation corrected. Do not accept sloppy emails. Climb ladders at dead of night with a pot of paint to remove the redundant apostrophe in "Video's sold here". -- Amazon Book Description

The Game (from Z-Man): In Prolix players score points by coming up with words whose letters match those of the tiles on the board. Unlike other word games you don't need all the letters of a word to be on the board to use that word. This means that you are free to use all those words you always wanted to use in other word games but were always a few tiles or cards short. Of course the letters in your word won't score if they aren't on the board so even huge words can be stinkers if you don't use them at the right time. Letters score based on how rare they are and where they are on the board. Once you finish scoring your letters all tiles move across the board changing their value. If you have a great word but it's not your turn, you're allowed to interrupt another player's turn and score. But be careful because you can lose points by interrupting with low-scoring words. And of course other players can interrupt your turn if they wish or even force you to say a word by flipping the timer. --Amazon Product Description

Both of these are just plain fun in a word-nerdy, language-loving way.  Yes, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves is filled with hilarious examples of poor punctuation.  Generally, I'm too busy chuckling to realize I'm also learning something.  I heard the joke about the panda years ago, but that only made me happier to pick up the book.  Who doesn't need more books with grammar-loving pandas on the cover?

Prolix is a treat, too.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy other word games, but sometimes piecing together tiny words feels limiting.  The first time I played Prolix, I got to score "derivatives."  Ah, that calculus class did me some good!  18 points!  The game description sums it up pretty nicely.  I love the interrupt game mechanic.  Even if it's not my turn, I still need to wrap my head around the letters, so there's no down time waiting for someone else to finish up.  I'm always engaged.  As a bonus, there's also a challenging set of rules for solo play.  The only downside of the solo game is that my husband doesn't look impressed when I tell him I won (he should; it was hard).

August 16, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: Race for the Galaxy and The Golden Age

The Game (from Rio Grande Games): In Race for the Galaxy, players build galactic civilizations by game cards that represent worlds or technical and social developments.Each round consists of one or more of five possible phases. In each round, each player secretly and simultaneously chooses one of seven different action cards and then reveals it. Only the selected phases occur. For these phases, every player performs the phase’s action, while the selecting player(s) also get a bonus for that phase.--Manufacturer Product Description

The Book (by John C. Wright): Phaethon, of Radamanthus House, is attending a glorious party at his family mansion celebrating the thousand-year anniversary of the High Transcendence. There he meets an old man who accuses him of being an imposter, and then a being from Neptune who claims to be an old friend. The Neptunian tells him that essential parts of his memory were removed and stored by the very government that Phaethon believes to be wholly honorable. It shakes his faith. He is an exile from himself.

And so Phaethon embarks upon a quest across the transformed solar system -- Jupiter is now a second sun, Mars and Venus terraformed, humanity immortal -- among humans, intelligent machines, and bizarre life-froms that are partly both, to recover his memory, and to learn what crime he planned that warranted such preemptive punishment.  --Inside Jacket Copy 

Science fiction this week!  My husband recommended The Golden Age to me some time ago.  Left without books from the library, I finally picked it up this week.  I shouldn't have waited.  I've read science fiction that feels like a compilation of books I've read before, but I've never read anything like The Golden Age.  It was a little difficult at first -- steep learning curve -- but piece by piece, the story immersed me.  It wrung my mind out and I still have that happy dazed euphoria of reading something truly worth pondering after the last page is done.  I'm still amazed that John C. Wright was able to create such a distant, vivid society, and make me care about its workings.

Race for the Galaxy had that same, creeping effect on me.  I didn't get it the first time a played it -- usually I'm pretty quick on the uptake, but I felt like I hadn't grasped it.  Several games later, I know what I'm doing, but the strategy possibilities are expansive.  I find myself guessing, working, looking for new angles to play.  It keeps my head working hard.

That's why these feel similar to me.  They make me think, they make me stretch.  The Golden Age unfurled a vast civilization for scrutiny; Race for the Galaxy offers a myriad of strategic plans to explore. 


August 10, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: Dealing with Dragons and Dixit

The Book (by Patricia C. Wrede): Take one bored princess.  Make her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family.  Have her run away.

Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.
The Princess Cimerone has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul.  But then, she's never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, or a stone prince either.

Princess Cimerone ran away to find some excitement. She's about to. --Back cover of my well-used copy.

The Game (from Asmodee): One player is the storyteller for the turn. He looks at the 6 images in his hand. From one of these, he makes up a sentence and says it out loud (without showing the card to the other players).  The other players select amongst their 6 images the one that best matches the sentence made up by the storyteller.

Then, each of them gives their selected card to the storyteller, without showing it to the others. The storyteller shuffles his card with all the received cards. All pictures are shown face up, randomly, and every player has to bet upon what picture was the storyteller's.

If nobody or everybody finds the correct picture, the storyteller scores 0, and each of the other players scores 2. Otherwise the storyteller and whoever found the correct answer scores 3. Players score 1 point for every vote gotten by their own picture.  The game ends when the deck is empty or if someone reaches 30 points, so he wins.Otherwise the greatest total wins the game. --Board Game Geek Description

It's pure, happy coincidence that Dealing with Dragons and Dixit alliterate.  The book is an old favorite -- one of the first books I actually owned (as opposed to pilfered from my mother).  I read it, re-read it, and then kept my little brother up late at night reading it to them.  Dry humor, adventure, and fairy tales turned on their head at every turn: what's not to love?

Dixit has the same nostalgic, fractured fairytale quality.  Each card feels like something I've read somewhere, but can't quite name.  Half the fun of this game is the tantalizing, mind-tickling art.  The other half is chewing over how to describe your card.  Optimally, when it's your turn, you want one -- and only one -- other player to guess your card correctly.  Describe the card too obviously, and no points.  Too obscure, and you have the same problem.  It ends up being a delightful balancing act.  If I quote The Princess Bride to describe the swordsman, will everyone guess it?  No one?

Dealing with Dragons has been on my shelf since elementary school.  I played Dixit for the first time this year.  Both make me feel nostalgic and happily wrap me up in myth, fairytale, and adventure.

August 3, 2011

#AmWriting Birthday Party!

Today is the second birthday of #amwriting.  If that looks like a typo, it's a Twitter thing (click here, scroll down, and it'll make sense).

I didn't realize this was a community until recently.  I listened to Johanna Harness talk on about how the hashtag took off and continues to take off -- she mentioned a lot of people see it, think it's clever, and start using it without realizing there's thousands of people in on it.  That was me!

Today's my usual day for a post on writing, and coincidentally, I'd planned to write on goal setting.  The best piece of writing advice I've gotten is to write a book every year.  It sounded a bit crazy at the time.  Then my husband, who'd been at the same presentation, reminded me -- in September.  I had nothing new to start on, and between the recession and a toddler, finishing a draft before New Year's was downright insane.

My husband encouraged me to do it anyway.  Sometimes I only had five minutes a day to type, but during that time, I was #amwriting at rapid speed.  I finished the draft mid-December.

I've kept it up, with two novels the year after, and I'm planning on hitting two again this year (one down, one going strong).  Before then, I'd written a few books, but I planned to finish them when I finished them.  Now I have goals I'm accountable to, with real deadlines.  It means I write more.  And the more I write, the more I learn, because #amwriting is the best teacher.

I didn't know there was a community, but I'm excited to have found others who peck away at their keyboards, whether it's for five minutes or five hours a day.  There's a large group of the #amwriting community posting about their experiences today, all linking to the next blog, so go check out Phoebe Jane for more happy returns to #amwriting.

July 27, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: The Hanging Gardens and Shadow Spinner

The Game (from Rio Grande): The hanging gardens were one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, as all history courses teach. But, did they actually exist? Nothing remains of their reported splendor, which was built for the eyes of Amyitis. Without an exact reference to follow, players will re-build the hanging gardens according to their own tastes. Card follows card with magnificent buildings, sparkling fountains, and exotic plants as the players work to rebuild the legendary gardens. In the end, the queen will be pleased and rewards the victory palm to the player whose work on the gardens most impresses her highness.--Amazon Product Description

The Book (by Susan Fletcher): Every night, Shahrazad begins a story. And every morning, the Sultan lets her live another day -- providing the story is interesting enough to capture his attention. After almost one thousand nights, Shahrazad is running out of tales. And that is how Marjan's story begins.... 

It falls to Marjan to help Shahrazad find new stories -- ones the Sultan has never heard before. To do that, the girl is forced to undertake a dangerous and forbidden mission: sneak from the harem and travel the city, pulling tales from strangers and bringing them back to Shahrazad. But as she searches the city, a wonderful thing happens. From a quiet spinner of tales, Marjan suddenly becomes the center of a more surprising story than she ever could have imagined. 

I realize that the time periods for these are different, but I love the rich, Middle Eastern theme running through both of these.  There are a number of games and books set in this area, but these both focus on places of beauty: the hanging gardens, and the Sultan's harem.  Well, what's left of the harem.  Shahrazad's story is ancient (it's the frame story for One Thousand and One Arabian Nights) and one I've always loved.  The Sultan had been marrying a girl every night and killing her in the morning, until Shahrazad braved marrying him to save others, armed only with her skill for storytelling.  Susan Fletcher draws me right into this tenuous world, throwing Marjan -- a girl with her own strengths -- into the mix. 

The Hanging Gardens is a clever strategy game.  The cards are divided into six cells, with each cell either blank, or filled with a garden type.  Players overlap the cards to create sets of three or more of a kind.  When a set's created, players take one of the available scoring tiles (which themselves come in sets).  I love spacial games.  Usually tiles are involved (like with Carcassone), but I'd never seen a game with an overlapping card mechanism.  It always leaves me chewing my lip -- cover up this, or cover up that?

Both Shadow Spinner and The Hanging Gardens are are fun, engrossing, and leave me feeling like I've traveled a step away from home.  As a bonus, here's a recipe for the mind-meltingly-good Turkish dish Hunkar Begendi.  Apparently I shouldn't type while hungry.  My recipe book also calls for fresh-chopped tomatoes on top, along with parsley. 

July 20, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: Born to Run and Breaking Away

The Book (by Christopher McDougall): Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.

With a sharp wit and wild exuberance, McDougall takes us from the high-tech science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultrarunners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to the climactic race in the Copper Canyons. Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that you, indeed all of us, were born to run. -- Amazon Book Description

The Game (from Fiendish Board Games):A luck free race game based on cycling. Players control a team of 4 cyclists. For each cyclist the player chooses one of his available movement allowances and moves that many squares. Once all cyclists have moved the expended movement allowances are replaced with new ones calculated according to the cyclist's position in the peloton; being at the back of a group brings a high replacement value, being at the front a low one.

Sprint points are earned by being among the first 8 to cross the sprint lines so there is always a trade-off between slipstreaming ("drafting") the other riders in order to build up high movement allowances and making a break for the front to be the first to cross the finish line. --BoardGameGeek Description

Born to Run is miraculous simply because it made me want to go running -- something I usually consider monotonous torture.  The effortless prose and smooth storytelling transformed running into something other than one dull footfall after another.  Break Away has that same effect on me.  Often racing games reinforce that the sport isn't exciting: roll dice.  Move piece.  Wait.  Repeat.  Break Away is the brilliant antithesis of that.  Strategy is king.  Do I punch ahead, or hang in back and hope for a killer slipstream?  Should store up this lap to sprint to the finish, or try to score this lap around?  It's made me think about cycling as a mental and strategic endeavor instead of a purely physical one.

I read Born to Run because I'm a fan of ethnographies, but this pulled me into two cultures: that of the Tarahumara, and that of ultramarathoners.  I was happily impressed with McDougall's writing skill.  He had me laughing, pondering, or biting my nails on every page as he dangled a bit of history, science, or story.  Breaking Away, likewise, keeps my brain engaged.  Other players' moves heavily affect my own in the search for a good slipstream, so even when I'm not moving one of my cyclists, I'm counting, plotting, grimacing, or cheering when someone makes just the move I needed.  Breaking Away is also nice because it accommodates a large number of players.  If you like running and cycling -- or want to -- Born to Run or Breaking Away are excellent choices..

July 13, 2011

Book & Board Game Match-Up: 7 Wonders and Warbreaker

The Game (from Asmodee): 7 Wonders lasts three ages. In each age, players receive seven cards from a particular deck, choose one of those cards, then pass the remainder to an adjacent player, as in Fairy Tale or a Magic: the Gathering booster draft. Players reveal their cards simultaneously, paying resources if needed or collecting resources or interacting with other players in various ways. (Players have individual boards with special powers on which to organize their cards, and the boards are double-sided as in Bauza's Ghost Stories.) Each player then chooses another card from the deck they were passed, and the process repeats until players have six cards in play from that age. After three ages, the game ends. In essence 7 Wonders is a card development game along the lines of Race for the Galaxy or Dominion. Some cards have immediate effects, while others provide bonuses or upgrades later in the game. Some cards provide discounts on future purchases. Some provide military strength to overpower your neighbors and others give nothing but victory points. Unlike Magic or Fairy Tale, however, each card is played immediately after being drafted, so you'll know which cards your neighbor is receiving and how his choices might affect what you've already built up. Cards are passed left-right-left over the three ages, so you need to keep an eye on the neighbors in both directions. --Amazon Product Description

The Book (by Brandon Sanderson): Warbreaker tells the story of two princesses, Vivenna and Siri. Vivenna was contracted through treaty to marry the God-King of rival nation Hallendren. Instead Siri is sent to meet the treaty. Vivenna then follows to Hallendren in hopes of saving Siri from her fate. Both sisters become involved in intrigues relating to an imminent war between their home nation of Idris and Hallendren. -- Wikipedia

 Both of these are about nation building.  In 7 Wonders (which just won the Kennerspiel des Jahres!), you can choose a variety of strategies to win – military, science, markets, monuments, etc.  In Warbreaker, the broad cast of characters tries to manipulate a nation with varied approaches, from subtle suggestions to outright warfare.  Part of the enjoyment of 7 Wonders is deciding what strategy you’ll use; in Warbreaker, it’s figuring out who’s using what strategy to accomplish what goal.

My favorite thing about 7 Wonders is that it’s played drafting-style, and as far as military and trading go, you only deal with your neighbors.  Effectively, this means that you can actually play with seven people and have the game move as quickly as if it were only three.  I love elegant strategy games, but when you toss in lots of players, they usually slow to a crawl and it’s impossible to keep track of what everyone’s doing.  7 Wonders is always fast-paced, and as an added bonus, the art is gorgeous – the kind of stuff that really should be on my walls. 

Warbreaker also has a strong visual component.  Brandon Sanderson, master of intricate magic systems, deals heavily with color in Warbreaker's magic.  The setting also isn’t Ye Olde Drab Medieval, but a tropical valley next to an inland sea.

Being someone who both enjoys subtle strategy, political maneuvering, and sweeping colors, I heartily recommend both 7 Wonders and Warbreaker.

July 11, 2011

"Canvas" sold to Daily Science Fiction

My flash-fiction story "Canvas" just sold to Daily Science Fiction -- my first pro-paying sale.  I'm pretty jazzed about it.  DSF is a great magazine.  Subscription's free, and every weekday they e-mail out a story.  They also keep an archive of all of these on their website.  I'm not sure when my story will actually appear, but I'll be sure to let you know.

My favorite living short story writer, Eric James Stone, has a number of stories published in Daily Science Fiction, which made selling "Canvas" even better.  If you haven't read anything by him, I highly recommend it.  I was terribly excited when he won a Nebula this year.  His bibliography contains a truckload of his work available either for free through magazines like DSF or free via audio podcast.

July 6, 2011

Critiquing and The Causation Fallacy

I've seen writers bitterly complain when the friend of a published novelist gets a book deal -- certainly they're just riding coattails.  There might be a correlation here, perhaps even a causality, but I sincerely doubt it's the one complainers are thinking of when they shake their fists.

Let's assume that the published author and friend are both in a writing group together (I can name several incidences like this, so I think that's likely).  People bring different strengths to a writing group.  Something I've noticed about a good writing group is that people have different strengths.  Someone might have a killer eye for plot holes.  Someone might tune into how well the emotions are working, or the pacing, or a dozen different things.

All these things work together for the good of the author and the manuscript, who goes out and sells it.  Huzzah!  A breakthrough.

Would it really be surprising then, that a second person from the same writing group also get a contract?  Maybe the friendship helps them wiggle a toe in the door, but I'm convinced manuscripts stand or fall on their own merit.  This second author is critiquing and writing regularly in a good group.  He or she is likely also doing other things (reading, going to conferences, sending out manuscripts).  I doubt having supporting writing friends hurts, either.

Which brings us to our last Critique Secret: Good critique groups help each other succeed.  Hopefully after this series, that doesn't sound like a secret.

Do I think it's coincidence that there are a number of writer's friends who get published?  Of course not.  But I doubt there's some secret ring of agents and editors laughing maniacally in the corner, either (unless they're currently watching Megamind, which was excellent). 

There's a lot more to say about critiquing (I'm sure I'll come back to it in the future; I love this topic), but for now, here's the link to Critters, an excellent online critiquing workshop.  Click on "Workshops" on the far right to find genres other than SF/F/H.  If you don't have a writing group, dive into this one!  The water's great.