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?
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.