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.