Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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Weak gamery, strong geekery

Firstly, a happy birthday to folk, one of the most confident, proactively interesting, stylish and kind men I have ever had the fortune to meet. I fondly remember his generosity both as a host and as an organiser over the past year. Luck, safety and happiness on the next part of your great adventure, John. (It's also remarkable that you can still get usernames which are as good as folk 1.3+ megausers down the line.)

The first Thursday night meeting of the Middlesbrough Gamers Club was very quiet with an attendance of nineteen, but about two-thirds of our order of new games has arrived so we tried some of them out. Incidentally, the George Galloway incident has passed without further mention, except that the Teesside Socialist Worker movement put a leaflet in our letterbox about a talk they're hosting next Thursday concerning Chile in 1973. Pools panel verdict: no-score draw.

Let's do some swift game reviews. Thud, invented by UK World Puzzle Championship team captain Trevor Truran, is vaguely set in Terry Pratchett's Discworld and concerns a battle between 32 dwarves and 8 trolls. The game is played, Entropy-style, over two rounds; in the second round, the players swap over controlling the dwarves and the trolls. Should the same player win both rounds, they win overall; should the game be shared 1-1, whoever had most left when they won their round wins overall.

The game is played on a (I think) 15x15 board with 5x5 right-angled-triangle chunks taken out of the corners. Dwarves line the outside row of squares, except the middle square of the short sides; the centre square is occupied by an immobile rock marked "Thud", with the eight squares surrounding the centre occupied by trolls. Dwarves and trolls move alternately; dwarves move chess queen's moves, trolls move chess king's moves. However, either dwarves and trolls can use a special move when they are adjacent in a straight line. The piece at the end of the line can move up to one square for every piece in the line, so long as they end up taking an opposing piece where they land.

Trolls take dwarves by moving onto one of the eight squares adjacent to the dwarf, whether by a regular king's move or by the special move; dwarves take trolls by moving directly onto them, so long as they have used the special move to do so. The game is played until both sides agree no more captures are possible (the dwarves can keep running out of the way of the trolls but cannot work together to capture another troll).

So effectively it's a chess-draughts-Hnefatafl variant. The dwarf player only has one good tactic: get a block of dwarves together so to produce some offence; the troll player should try to nibble off single dwarves whenever possible to minimise the effectiveness of the block, then sacrifice as few trolls as possible (ideally zero) to stop the block from being effective.

Is it any good? It's just as dry as it sounds, but at least it has nice bits. I'm not completely convinced we were necessarily playing it absolutely correctly, but based on my single game (which ended a draw; the trolls won taking two casualties for either of us) I feel no need whatsoever to play again. Not my cup of tea; for me, it's a three out of ten.

Munchkin is a card game which aims to spoof the sort of power-gamed hack-and-slash RPGs which are all combat and no role-playing. The aim is to kill sufficient monsters and sell sufficient treasure to raise your character from first to tenth level. There are two decks of cards in the game; one of dungeon inhabitants, most frequently parody monsters such as the fearsome Plutonium Dragon, the Gelatinous Octahedron and the Lame Goblin. Even Squidzilla gets play. Other dungeon cards include curses (which sometimes befall you, which sometimes you can play on others) and other cards which let you change your race from human to (for instance) dwarf or elf, or which turn you from someone with No Class to a warrior, a wizard or a thief. The other deck is mostly made up of magic items to help you in combat.

The combat system is simple: compare your level, plus bonuses from magic items, against the monster's level. If you're higher, you win. If not, you may be able to bribe another player into helping; failing that, you can try running away. Should your attempt to run away fail, the monster gets to do Bad Stuff to you. (Particularly bad Bad Stuff if it's Squidzilla.) Killing a monster gains you a level and some draws from the treasure deck.

The gameplay isn't particularly interesting - simple take-that-you-fiend hose-your-buddy cardplay, very heavily dependent on particularly lucky draws. The whole game has a very one-joke feel to it; once you've seen the gags on the cards (which, to be fair, some of which are pretty amusing) then the game doesn't have a lot of laughs left to it, and isn't tremendously interesting as games go. A few interesting possibilities, especially when you have five or six players and a certain degree of table talk, but not particularly interesting gameplay by itself. At least it's reasonably short; the one-hour claim was a large over-estimate with three players, but seems believable with five or six. The game went down well at the club, but doesn't seem subtle or varied enough to be my cup of tea. I say this: four out of ten.

The other games club-related activity I've been doing has been to visit a local branch of the Voluntary Development Agency to undergo the Disclosure process to prove that I am a fit person to work unaccompanied with children. The theory is that if the club can prove it has Public Liability Insurance and has proved that its committee is full of people who are fit to look after children, we become a much more attractive club to recommend as a safe place to visit.

Unfortunately the office in question only stays open until 3:30pm(!) so I had to abandon yesterday's trip there. (In the end, I walked around town and discovered an all-day 50p car park I didn't know about. It's reasonably conveniently situated for the centre of town, but it's definitely in one of the rougher parts of Middlesbrough, which may be why it's not too popular.) Today's trip was far more successful; after taking a £1.40 bus trip from the centre of Middlesbrough to the centre of Stockton, I took a fantastic £1.55 bus trip back which went from within 30 yards of the door there to within 300 yards of our front door here. Don't tempt me to go into greater detail.

daweaver has really turned me on to the Mozilla Firebird browser; a couple of days and I've turned from a harsh critic to a convert. No more pop-ups? Nice. Tabbed browsing? Very, very nice. (Reading your Friends page and want to pop up several comments pages in the background for later browsing, while not losing the Friends page? Simply middle-click. Brilliant.) The party piece is being able to open a group of bookmarks at once - so, first thing in the day, just one single "Open In Tabs" and I can pop up my Friends list and seven other pages I read on a daily basis. A geeky little thrill every time I use it. On top of that, you can score the usual ethical-purity gold stars for strict adherence to web standards and for being non-Microsoft open source.

Of course, it's not perfect; I miss the "close other tabs" tabbed browsing option which was available in the six-months-older Mozilla 1.2.1, I haven't yet found out how to switch on the supposedly-enabled smooth scrolling, it takes a while (about nine seconds) to start, the customisation of the interface isn't as intuitive as you'd like and it all somehow doesn't look quite as nice as MSIE. However, two or three days in, the good points outweigh the bad ones for the way I work and I'm a convert. Hurrah! You were right, daweaver. Thank you for showing me the light; I can only repay you by spreading the evangelism.

The only known cure for reviewing board games, discussing local bus routes and web browsers is providing links (via b3ta) to the latest Flash movies to do the rounds: the charming Patrick Moore plays the Xylophone (though you probably have to be British to know who Patrick Moore is and why this is funny) and the charmingly-stupid-in-any-language I Am The Monkey (the latest bit of faintly puerile WeeblandBobistry). Have a good weekend!

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