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December 9th, 2004

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04:01 am - Ten-spot
0. It's ladylaw7's birthday, still, just! Happy birthday, Shaina. :-)

1. Would anyone like me to help design a Christmas card this year, please?

Let's be honest: I have two (secular) wintery photos which are quite attractive. Is there anyone out there who likes playing with Photoshop and similar tools enough, and has a sufficient eye for style and art, that they would enjoy turning the photos into something that looks like a nice Christmas card for me, please? There would be gratitude in return, but I'd really rather enlist someone who likes playing with image manipulation software enough that they would find it fun to help. :-)

2. Meg kindly explained to me why the Georgia Bulldawgs (sp?) are playing in the (inter-university college American Football) bowl game that they're playing in last night, but the full explanation took about a thousand words. Now I like sports organisation and geekery, but this lost even me. People, that's not good. If you're interested, here's a list of the bowls and here's an explanation of how the various teams got there, in theory.

Project Playoffs is an ingenious restructuring of US college football which provides a far more satisfactory resolution at the end of the season while still preserving traditional rivalries. It seems eminently sensible to me; in fact, I would go further by promoting and relegating one team per eight-team conference to or from the one below, not one team per 64-team division. Offended Americans, feel free to suggest improvements to British sporting tradition in return. (And, yes, the Boat Race would be better if Oxford and Cambridge had to row in semi-finals to get there.)

3. Are any of you lot in the UK watching When Games Attack, a video game show on Bravo at 7:30pm every weekday hosted by Dominik Diamond? Given the fact that it has Diamond and is on a reasonably explicitly loud'n'lairy laddish channel, it does fairly clearly seem to be an attempt at a Gamesmaster revival. Hurrah, sort of.

4. I am, of course, famously rubbish at answering people's e-mail. My new excuse is that I am deleting any e-mail that comes from anyone with any of my Friends' names because it's likely to be spam individually targeted to me based on the names of those in my social network. Not true yet, of course, but could well be true next year.

5. Amusing work-safe story: lovers in flagrante delicto inadvertently summon emergency services. Bonus points for the story being set in Stanley, where I used to live until we moved to Middlesbrough in December 1981 when I was aged six.

6. Today's bizarre games link concerns the good yeomen of the Mind Games section of the European branch of MIT's Media Lab. Scads of good reading there. Best place to start is the Cerebus project, which attempts to build a more direct interface between the brain and computer control, Now I have a "dangerous thing" level of little knowledge about brain chemistry, neurofeedback and the like after conducting a chat session interview with Sean Adam, whose Alphalearning initiative covers similar ground. However, Alphalearning focuses around brain training towards sporting pursuits and speed reading, has hardware that's rather less convenient to install and doesn't seem to have games that are as good. For instance, there's the remarkably accurately titled Relax To Win, which does what it says on the tin, as described more fully in the PDF-format paper; Mental Leaps tests brain control more explicitly still and gives the positive feedback which should help people's brains become better at useful tasks.

That's not their only trick, though. Their Still Life "uses a movement interface designed to creatively reward a participant for controlling their physical movements in a calm and relaxed way.", which makes it sound like a home game version of The Chair, and "can be customized so that a patient is rewarded for practicing a movement over and over again and getting it correct, thereby turning previously monotonous exercises into an engaging interaction. The program is also able to track progress, so that a physiotherapist needn’t always be present to monitor improvement during daily exercises." I thought most people used DDR and Para Para Paradise for that sort of thing, but perhaps this is the therapeutic version thereof.

Also cool of theirs, Personal Investigator (also see links to three papers at the bottom of this page) targets depressed adoloescents and helps them explore their feelings through the medium of the 3-D online game, the seriously groovy-looking Exertion Interfaces let people play big-scale sport-style physical games against remote opponents over the Internet and iBands merge handshakes, business cards and those horrible Outlook interpretations of business cards. Why everyone can't just have their own userinfo page is beyond me...

7. New UK inter-city indoor athletics competition ahoy! Sounds interesting, but there's already a well-established (outdoor competition) British Athletics League and domestic athletics competitions attract nothing like the attention that international ones do. Artificially creating city-based clubs for this new competition does seem a little bit Inter-City Fairs Cup, but perhaps it'll work. I also note that the two matches for season one would effectively be "North" and "South" were it not for the placement of Birmingham in what would otherwise be the North division and the placement of Sheffield in what would otherwise be the South one. Is there no suitable indoor athletics track in the UK south of Sheffield? Oh dear... :-(

8. Talking of made-for-TV sport, at 8pm and 11pm on Friday, the Fox Sports Network are showing the $10,000 Rock Scissors Paper World Championship as part of The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Good. Good. .wmv preview video here; BitTorrent stream, please, okay, thank you, goodbye, barbecue.

9. All of which makes this eight-minute Flash video about Scrabble and metaphysics comparatively sane. Work-safe, slighly disappointing ending, but diverting all the same.

10. Notwithstanding the fact that I've already asked for your help with my Christmas card in #1, I'm going to do the holiday wish-list meme. You can find the rules here, and I've chosen zonefox's version of them because he's put a nice-looking banner with some holly at the top, which is enough to get the duke over everyone else's. Even though I have played hardly any games this year, Matthew Baldwin published the 2004 edition of the Good Gift Games Guide - modern board games which make good gifts, with reasoning - and it got me thinking: I haven't had any new board games for aaaaaaages.

Firstly, three new reprints of old games that I have long enjoyed:

1. I'm The Boss, formerly Kohle, Kie$ and Knete. Structured squabbling and deal-making. Tons of knockabout, petty, back-stabbing, can't-take-this-seriously fun.

2. Wizard's Brew, formerly Das Amulett (actually an updated version, where updates to games have about a 40% chance of making them worse). Two-stage bidding game, where the parts of the game intermesh with each other very well.

3. High Society - oh, it's another bidding game. Quick card game with lots of difficult decisions and brinksmanship. (The same company, Uberplay, are meant to be reprinting For Sale later this year - a bidding game with a highly entertaining interpretation of the dollar auction.)

Two other reprints that I wouldn't mind finding in my stocking:

4. Through The Desert - beautiful little camel-themed tile placement game. If anything ever deserves description as multi-player hexagonal Go, this is probably it.

5. Another forthcoming 2005 re-release by Uberplay, who have picked some absolute peaches to republish. Reiner Knizia's Ra, a bidding game also set in Ancient Egypt. I just like bidding games, OK? :-)

Two other games from the last year or two which I haven't yet played:

6. BuyWord. Monopoly meets Scrabble, if you will; buy letters with play money (Qs and Ks are cheap, Es are expensive) and make words from them. Devised by the late Sid Sackson but never published until well after his death.

7. Ticket To Ride, another train game, for the world cannot have too many train games and this one won a major prize this year. Collect cards to build track on a map of North America to connect towns to earn points.

Two other games that I'm being really ridiculously optimistic about, but some mighty fine games have been reprinted in the past and further reprints here would not go amiss:

8. McMulti - typical second-hand price, $200. Ouch. Game about turning oil into petrol and selling it for a good price. Not a million miles away from what I do at work.

9. Outpost - very hard to get hold of these days, probably about $200 again. Develop a colony in space. Often compared to accountancy, but in a good way. No, that's not doing my chances of actually getting a game of this any good, is it?

And finally:

10. A subscription to Games International magazine, another brave-to-foolhardy attempt to do a mass-market glossy board games magazine for the UK. Technically a relaunch of an older mag.

(15 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2004 08:07 pm (UTC)
Hee...that spelling of Bulldawgs may not be exactly correct, but it's the one most often used.

[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2004 08:10 pm (UTC)
I'll happily go for de facto if I can't have de jure.

Long overdue bedtime!
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2004 09:07 pm (UTC)
Alas, I haven't the time to tear apart your preferred restructuring of the college bowl game system. Damn it. *grin* But you -- and whoever put that together, of course -- severely underestimate the importance of tradition in the college bowl series.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2004 09:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2004 09:31 pm (UTC)
Ack, was meaning to post a big shiny banner all day today! Bad friend, no cookie. :P I hope y'all had a really lovely time tonight. :))
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2004 09:30 pm (UTC)
A few quick notes, before I go all collapsity:

Re: point #2 - Amy's right. It's more about tradition than anything else - which is why so many people HATE the BCS structure. Like, just about everyone. You are far from alone in thinking there's got to be a better way to play, dear. :)

Also re: point #2: It's the Georgia Bulldogs. The team is called the Dawgs ("Who are the Dawgs playing this weekend?") and the fans are referred to as Dawgs or Dawgs fans. There's a radio ad from the early 90s, the Ray Goff years, that is instantly recognizabe to anyone who listened to Bulldog 103.7 (now Rock 103.7) on Saturday mornings: "Something-something-something, Goff and them Dawgs, gonna hunker down tough, gonna play some awesome ball, come Saturdays, this fall!"

Um, yeah. :P

And re: point #10 - You're not allowed to have any more games until you figure out where on earth you'd put them in that room of yours. My guess is on top of the bed. ;P

Love you, am dead, g'night! :D *snogs*
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2004 09:04 am (UTC)
Also re: point #2: It's the Georgia Bulldogs. The team is called the Dawgs ("Who are the Dawgs playing this weekend?") and the fans are referred to as Dawgs or Dawgs fans. There's a radio ad from the early 90s, the Ray Goff years, that is instantly recognizabe to anyone who listened to Bulldog 103.7 (now Rock 103.7) on Saturday mornings: "Something-something-something, Goff and them Dawgs, gonna hunker down tough, gonna play some awesome ball, come Saturdays, this fall!"

Wanders by whistling The Ramblin' Wreck. ;)
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2004 09:11 am (UTC)
Hey, y'all can't even decide if y'all are insects or scientists.

"I'm a Hottentot from Agnes Scott, and I go with a guy from Tech..."
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2004 09:20 am (UTC)
::hands on hips::

We know we're scientists. We can't decide if we're CARS or insects. Gosh, Meg, get it right! :P


Up with the White and Gold, down with the Red and Black...
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2004 09:33 am (UTC)
oh, and you don't call yourself a "ramblin', gamblin', helluva engineer"?!

so really, you can't decide if you're cars, insects, OR scientists. :P

Glory, glory to old Georgia...and to hell with Georgia Tech!

[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2004 06:31 am (UTC)
Ticket To Ride was successful at this year's Thanksgiving gathering. Especially by the 14+ year-old, who cleaned the clocks of the adults by creating his rail from Montreal to Vancouver and then down to Santa Fe, and started to go back toward LA before the game ended.

BTW, have you heard of this site? My board-game loving friend has all of his games listed in his profile on their site, so he can use it to know if he's bought a game or not. :)
Date:December 9th, 2004 11:03 am (UTC)
Project Playoff is rather useful, insofar as it gives a great basis for working out which are the top N sides one might wish to follow through an alternate ranking system.

I'm far from convinced by their division of teams into A and B flights based purely on home attendances, as that penalises great teams in small markets - the likes of undefeated Boise and decent New Mexico and UTEP go into the B side purely on the basis of geography. On the other hand, there are just six sides in the top half ranked at 100 or below, so perhaps swap those six for the top from B (ranked down to about 50 or above) and we're away.

Grouping by geography looks a very sensible plan. Allowing teams to schedule their own matches, perhaps not so sensible, as some teams will stack their schedule with matches against puny colleges. However, award and subtract points based on the quality of opposition... ah, we're heading for a Glicko ranking system at such a rate that we may as well bite the bullet and go for that.

Initial values: incorporate these elements.

* Actual victories in games this year, and (at a diminishing value) over the past two years, regardless of opposition.

* Sagarin's ratings for BCS purposes are almost right, but he's stuck in the 90s with an ELO rating. (For those joining this conversation in progress, ELO is a forerunner of Glicko; while ELO measures position, Glicko measures position and uncertainty.) The top 80 teams have Sagarin scores in the area between 100 and 70.

* The BCS poll itself is useless for these purposes, as it only attempts to distinguish to find the top 8. For that, it's fine; for these purposes, it's like the current Eurovision system at finding the difference between the 12th and 13th best songs. Oops.

Off the top of my head, I'd be minded to weight as follows:
10 points for a win this year, 7 for a win last year, and 5 for a win two years ago. A consistently great team would pick up around 220 points from here, a more mediocre team perhaps 100.
Then add in Sagarin * 10, so we get a spread from 1220 to 800, and (given that the overall formula is primarily ELO-based, and ELO is a degenerate form of Glicko,) an implicit uncertainty nearer 100 than 200.

Promotion and relegation? Eight-up eight-down might be a starter; bottom side in each division goes (ordered by Glicko rankings, head-to-head results, handwaving for three or more tied teams) replaced by the most successful side in the play-offs from the corresponding division below. There will need to be geographic realignment every few years, for values of "few" somewhere between 3 and 7.

Improvements to British sporting tradition? Have Division II sides enter the FA Cup at the second round, not the third. This increases the First Round Proper to a 64-game programme, allows sides from Divisions V and VI to enter in the previous round, and would cut the -3rd round from the current 124 matches to 37. The Prelim and Extra Prelim rounds, they go entirely.
Date:December 9th, 2004 01:09 pm (UTC)


Chris: You've got it backwards. Vowels are actually cheap in Buyword, Q and Z are expensive. The system is basically that letters get purchased in groups of 2-5 at a time. Each letter has a 1-4 dots (1-point Scrabble letters = 1 dot, 10-pt letters = 4 dots). The price of a set of letters is the total number of dots on that set SQUARED. So ESTQ would be 1+1+1+4 = 7 squared = 49 dollars. After purchasing letters, you may then arrange them-- along with letters previously collected-- into words, and sell them back to the bank using the same algoritm. So if you already had a U, QUEST would get you 4+1+1+1+1 = 8 squared = 64 dollars. Got UION? QUESTION yields 11 squared or 121 dollars. And so forth.

- Peter
Date:December 11th, 2004 04:22 pm (UTC)
Mind Games sounds very fun. Right now I'm studying the physiology (including feedback, neuronal connections... etc.) of the human brain. Really quite fascinating. I'll go check out the link, it'll be a nice break from studying for finals. :-)

I have never heard of any of those games (on your list)... What do you base your favorite games on? (As in, what are your normal standards for a game to reach a level of favoritism?)
Date:December 18th, 2004 01:27 pm (UTC)
Does Dominik Diamond still fit onto a TV screen?

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