Tag Archives: Friday

Positively Charged

PositivelyCharged

Being positive all the time is hard, y’know?

Life throws all bunch of challenges at you, and you’re expected to stay positive in outlook through all of it; that old adage: dance like no-one’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt before.

But thinking – and feeling – positive, even in the face of continuing disappointment and crushed hopes, is kind of difficult. It takes an awful amount of strength to keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off after every, daily setback or failed enterprise and to keep marching on to claim the dream that you have in your <head/heart>. Each knock to your confidence makes you question: why do things so rarely ever work out?

The most recent months have not, in all honesty, been particularly easy for me: things have rarely conspired to go my way, or to shed an arc of light upon some sort of bright glow at the end of the tunnel indicating that things might not always be like this. I know that I’m not the most unfortunate soul out there, and that there are quite literally billions of poorer, far more deserving people out there than me, but that doesn’t diminish that things – for me – are still what could be described as “less than ideal”.

Yes, I am what I would probably describe as “painfully single”. Beneath my cold, obsidian carapace lies a deeply warm heart, and I wish that there were someone else to share it. Now, I’m not suggesting that I’ve been alone the longest time nor that I’m the only single 30-year old person; but that doesn’t resolve the inward struggle that feels like everyone else is Living the Dream™ while I’m left feeling stagnant and still on the launch pad. Keeping the fire alive that you’ll be taking off soon (and that the perfect co-pilot is out there, somewhere) is tough. My journey through single life has been kind of an uncharted one, full of rocky chasms and perilous rope bridges. It’s been made evermore frustrating given that almost everyone else I know has managed to figure it all out by now and returned home for tea ‘n’ medals, whilst I’m still out in the jungle. Clearly, for probably more reasons than my brain would like to boil it down to, I’ve not found the person that’s right for me and vice versa.

And you know what? That’s not my fault. We are all just particles of chaotic matter; drawn together by mere gravity and our own feelings and desires. There’s no great plan; no right that each of us have to happiness. Having faith that ‘everything will work out in the end’ is like having faith in some watchful deity; a faith that the story that each of us are playing out will conclude with the words “…happily ever after.” In truth, there is no set path through the petrified forest of human existence and all we can do is try to survive the things that are trying to kill us or drag us into the darkness to be consumed. The brief patches of clearing where light chances to shine through are simply a chaotic anomaly that brings temporary respite from the shadows.

The frequency of light for all of us is, of course, random; we have no right to bask in the warm photons of love and affection, but when you’re struggling through the woods feeling cold and shadowed and alone, that’s of little comfort. We are all unique and complex and beautiful: using the perceived “successes” of others (or those portrayed in the Hollywood fairytale machine) as a benchmark for our own quest is not a monstrously constructive method of pushing forward in life, because all it does it is force you to conclude that it’s something personal rather than circumstantial misfortune. Matters of the heart are so complex and difficult because they rely on matters of another person’s heart, too. In many ways, that’s what makes them so special; when the matters lock together and coalesce to pull together as one chemical bond. When such an elemental connection is not forthcoming, though, it’s easy to think that everyone else is part of some elaborate conspiracy; as if they’ve all, purposefully and collectively, conspired to deny you dating or romantic success as part of some world-reaching Grand Plan.

There is no Plan. It’s just bad luck; misfortune, whatever you want to call it. Things just haven’t happened yet, but they will, because that’s how randomness and chaos. You don’t, necessarily, need to have faith that everything “will work out in the end”; you just need to have faith that this won’t last forever. What needs to be borne in mind is that – sooner or later – luck will change; the unpredictable winds of chemistry will blow in the perfect direction to change circumstances for the better. It may sound weird, but I can take comfort from the fact that my own local minimum is because of the nature of chaotic particle motion and not because I’m inherently broken or defective nor because of some joy-obstruction cosmic deity; it’s just that chaos hasn’t yet created the perfect conditions under which my particular story will thrive.

Weirdly, ‘luck’ can act a lot like an attractive, pseudo-magnetic material: once a little bit of it starts clinging to you, then you feel like you’re attracting a whole bunch more of it. Once you start ignoring the fact that there’s no mystical force governing ‘luck’, you start to realise that its chaotic nature is merely governed by how you approach the world. Give the world a bit of a wink ‘n’ smile, and you’re well on the way towards letting some good things happen. It’s the corniest line in the bible of corny lines, but the only way to properly survive the hyper-cyclone of bullshit that Life™ throws at you is to just purse your lips and whistle; that’s the key. In the meantime, the best way to deal with bad luck is to say “fuck you, bad luck”, walk out of the door with your chin up and a smile on your face, and get on with your day.

So yeah, fuck misfortune; I’m approaching the world with a beaming smile and, sooner or later, I’ll stumble upon the right thing. In the words of a great thinker: “The only thing that matters is just following your heart, and eventually you’ll finally get it right.

[Zinar7]

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Crystal Chronicles

CrystalChronicles

I’m going on a quest.

A quest to play through all of the Final Fantasy main series, in order.

All of them. In order.

Why? Well, for a start, I’ve only really, properly played Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X (even if I have dabbled in III and IX along the way). For a person that claims JRPG to be their almost-favourite genre, that’s sort of embarrassing. So yeah, recently, I booted up my copy of Final Fantasy (the PlayStation port of the SNES version) to prepare my four Warriors of Light for my opening assault on the series. I’m calling this quest #FinalOdyssey, which – hopefully – will last longer than my New Year’s resolution to play more point-and-click adventure games (which kind of didn’t really happen, did it?­). Also, it gives me a perfect excuse to listen to a whole bunch of The Black Mages material, which is never a bad thing.

The Final Fantasy series is often seen as one of those untouchable, unquestionable serieseses, but is it entirely justified? It’s certainly not without its flaws, and (perhaps with respect with the most recent iterations of the series) there are far more qualified rivals that populate the JRPG arena these days: the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles, Persona/Shin Megami Tensei and the Tales series leap to mind. In fact, on reflection, I’ve played more Dragon Quest [aka. Dragon Warrior; FF’s long-term rival and now sibling in the Square-Enix catalogue) games than I have actual, proper Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy VII still remains probably my favourite game of all time, though, and – graphical niggles aside – it still holds up in both storyline and gameplay in spite of its eighteen-year frame.

So, seeing as I’ve only touched the series at certain, key tangents, it makes sense for me to properly appreciate everything Final Fantasy; beginning with the main series, I-XIII. Of course, now that the ‘no sequels’ rule has been well and truly broken, this means that I’ve fourteen (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2, XII, XIII, XIII-2, XIII-3: Lightning Returns) games to play before I die or the world comes to a premature end [whichever arrives first]. Also, there’s also a bunch of the FF spinoffs to look at – the Crystal Chronicles series, in particular, is vastly underrated and (perhaps) deserving of a more favourable appraisal – and, maybe, I’ll get round to them afterwards.

I’m not particularly in a rush to marathon my way through all of the main FF series in a row; more that I’ll play one, take a break, play another, etc.  Fr’instance, I’ve just started hammering through The Bureau: X-Com Declassified in preparation for similar things going on at Watch the Skies! on the weekend (and which I alluded to in last week’s Friday blog), so there’s that. But yeah, games.

XCOM

So, what else have I been playing?

Well, I recently got very, very excited about Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, which is a semi-board game (hey, it’s got a BoardGameGeek listing so it counts) based upon 1-8 people playing as members of the “Baker Street Irregulars” to solve ten fictional cases. It’s more of an interactive novel than a board game, not least because there’s no ‘board’ as such; just a casebook, an address directory and a map of Holmes’ London. And you know what? It’s awesome fun.

Each case begins with an introduction and background to the crime – usually a murder, with some starting information and a few (obvious) leads to chase up. Then, as a group, players follow leads by deciding on a relevant location to investigate or witness to question; look up their location in the directory, and turn to the relevant casebook page to follow up the lead (which may give extra clues, confirm a suspect’s alibi, or provide no information at all). The team continue following leads, gathering data and evidence, until they have enough to report back to Holmes with a ‘confirmed’ suspect and answers to the CHECKSUM question that Holmes will pose.

Of course, at heart, it’s a deductive game; but one that’s unlike any other game I’ve ever played. It’s got more in common with a Choose Your Own Adventure book; except you’re not limited to the options of “Turn to Page 45 / Turn to Page 32” but have almost complete freedom to follow up any lead at any time and to draw your own conclusions (perhaps, in the process, accusing the wrong suspect). To draw video game analogies, where the likes of Choose Your Own… are like on-rails shooters, Consulting Detective is like a fully-3D FPS. It’s most fun with a group of 5-6 participants, and is presented in the form of a ‘story’ – following a lead in the casebook reveals a story that must be read out to the other investigators; which may be helpful, may reveal nothing new, or which may send you on a merry trail yielding nothing revolutionary at the end.

Moriarty

Despite the sheer amount that I’m enjoying it, I am a little apprehensive that there will, at some point, come a time when we run out of cases to play. On that day, I will be a bit sad.

Oh well, not to worry; because someone is already working on a Cthulhu-themed version of Consulting Detective, by the name of Arkham Investigator. And it looks badass. You can get the first two cases as Print-n-Play versions already, but it looks like there might eventually be 8 cases, and also that the game might get a proper, printed release at some point. Either way, go and check it out because why the hell wouldn’t you.

[While we’re on the subject, how awesome would a Commander Vimes: Watch Detective be? Whilst I was poking around the internet for Consulting Detective­-alike games, I stumbled across {mistery.io} and I’m rather tempted to make a few Discworld stories, just for my own amusement.]

Anyway, so yeah; that’s what I’ve been up to. What have you been playing recently?

[Zinar7]

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Grey Matters

GreyMatters In a little over a week’s time, on Saturday 6th June, I’ll be part of a terrifyingly efficient extra-terrestrial mission of <REDACTED> to colonise/diplomatise/annexe/annihilate [*delete as applicable] Earth, on behalf of Alien Conclave One. I’ll be doing this from the comfort of a comfy-ish chair in a mezzanine balcony overlooking a small village hall in South Oxfordshire. Yes, you heard that right. I’ll be participating in a thing called “Little Wooden Houses presents Watch the Skies!”, and Watch The Skies! is what is known as a megagame. WTS_1 Watch the Skies! (hereafter WTS!) is a megagame designed by Megagame Makers, and playable by 50-60 people who’re involved in defending Earth from an invasive alien threat; taking place over the course of ~8 real-time hours, and three in-game years (2020 to 2022). Now, I’m not expecting anyone to really know what that actually means, so I’ll explain: a megagame is part-board game, part- role-playing game, part- live-action role-play event that takes place over the course of the best part of a day, and involves upwards of fifty people engaging together in a gigantic, united struggle and/or storyline with multiple, overlapping game elements and having a good time. For this game, the Little Wooden Houses people are running their own edition of WTS!: on one side, there’ll be 40 or so Human players, divided up into teams of four representing the major nations of Earth (the US, Russia, Great Britain, China, etc.), as well as players representing ‘neutral’ organisations like Earth’s media; all working together to counter the alien threat, while at the same time trying to meet their own, secret national objectives and further their own ends. On the other side, a semi-united Alien front is made up of three Alien teams (“conclaves”) that have their own, mysterious plans for Earth which may involve peace, abduction, obliteration; or all of the above. I’m going to be one of the Aliens perched up in the mezzanine gallery overlooking the main game area in our village hall global conflict-space, and I’m super excited about it. AliensGuy The ‘game’, in essence, is therefore formed of [Human] players role-playing as diplomatic leaders, military strategists and scientific researchers (each team has a Head of State, a Foreign Minister, a Chief of Defence and a Chief of Science) and carrying out their own tasks/agendas whilst, along the way, global strategy is played out a bit like a board game; uncovering the ‘fun’ through Human players work out how to deal with the diplomatic situation of Extra-Terrestrials making contact with Earth. As of last week, players’ roles and nations have all been designated (and their pre-game preparation packs sent out), so it’s encouraged that Human players get into the spirit of the game and dress up as their national stereotypes and fully role-play as their governmental roles. The Human teams must learn about the Alien’s movements, establish communication channels and defend Earth’s airspace if necessary; perhaps, in the process, stealing (or bartering for) Alien technology to sell to big corporations, improve defences or bolster Earth’s offensive capabilities. The Humans will, of course, also need to deal with the standard terrestrial crises and inter-nation conflicts which might get in the way of all of this “Alien” business. Along the way, other national & international crises will be introduced by Game Control (made up of Mac and Charlie; the resident heads of Little Wooden Houses) to make things extra difficult, and the Global News Network will be publishing reports of the ongoing events which may, or may not, be accurate. TrustNoOne Part of the fun of being an Alien is in trying to make the game interesting for the Human players; to follow the general direction set out by Game Control, but also to act like completely non-terrestrial entities that will be utterly non-human in their actions and agenda. How the Alien teams actually work is something that is kept secret from the Human teams and, indeed, even from us until the day of the actual event. Megagame Makers have held two, official UK events for Watch the Skies!; both unique in terms of the participating players and with unique storyline. For Little Wooden Houses’ edition of WTS!, Charlie has tweaked the plot and sequence of events to ensure that there’s no advantage for anyone participating that may have played the game previously or elsewhere. What’s going to be interesting for me being an Alien member (and hence more a part of the game than a “player” of it), is in watching the united Human front to see what they do when we throw a bunch of problems their way:

Will they unite together to effectively null the Aliens’ military power through capture of the primary Alien leaders and theft of key Alien technology? Will they reject the Aliens’ peaceful approaches and unleash their Doomsday weapons to annihilate the orbital craft? Will the United Nations break up over disagreements regarding the Aliens’ true intentions, causing World War III and destruction of the Earth whilst the Aliens merely spectate from orbit without getting involved? Will Aliens infiltrate Earth’s major positions of government and bring into action an international decree to give cats equal rights to humans, eventually leading to the Feline Republic overthrowing the British government and passing a ban on dogs?

We shall see. If this sounds genuinely interesting, I recommend watching the video put together by Shut Up And Sit Down during Watch the Skies!’ debut event (May 2014). Furthermore, The Independent recently did a neat article on the recent Watch the Skies! 2 game  held in London in March 2015. [FYI, Shut Up and Sit Down’s video from Watch the Skies! 2 can be found here: (http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/susd-play-watch-skies-2-pt-1/)%5D

Of course, I’m writing about LWH’ WTS! here now, because I fully intend to run a debrief after the event and blog about how it all worked out and what happened (without giving away any information about the motives or operation of the Alien teams). From the perspective of someone that intensely enjoys the prospect of observing how a bunch of my friends will choose to respond to extra-terrestrial contact and/or aggression, I’m well excited. Watch the skies, because they’re watching you. [Zinar7]

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Mind Games

MindGames

I realised recently that I have a habit of, automatically and subconsciously, saying “Have fun!” to someone as we say goodbye or part company. I’m not exactly sure where I picked this up from (it was @tweetjard, quite possibly), but it’s an interesting observation to make about something that I do on an almost daily basis without even noticing.

I kind of say it almost like it’s an order: HAVE FUN ON PAIN OF DEATH OR FEEL WRATH OF EIGHT THOUSAND ORC SPEARS. Or, something along those lines, anyway.

Having fun is genuinely one of the few things that I try to take into every endeavour that I undertake; whether it’s just making everyday tasks (cleaning, cooking) a bit more interesting by introducing mini-games to the process, by making little jokes in my head to force a smile from myself, or by making up little challenges/quests to lighten the mood of menial tasks. Such games might be trying to trying tea bags into the mug from four paces across the kitchen as if I’m playing darts (inspired by the scene from Would I Lie to You?), pretending that my spreadsheet data-entry is actually some sort of secret code-breaking operation and that I only have twelve minutes to fill the sheet before the circular saw kicks into gear to chop the princess into tiny pieces, or treating the car wash like some sort of mechanical Moby Dick into which I must plunge and emerge the other side (presumably out of the blow-hole; I don’t know, I’m not a whale expert).

But yeah, having fun is important.

Maybe it’s this mentality that explains why games and the concept of hold such fascination for me; as if there’s some sort of microchip in my cerebrum that responds to the process of amusement and/or challenge and finds something to do with the 50% of my brain that isn’t occupied by the (menial) task at hand. Just in the procedure of everyday existence, my brain devises cunning challenges or games to subtly (perhaps, imperceptibly) relieve some of the tedium of life’s more mundane facets. I’m just always looking for ways to make light of things, or inject a dose of silliness directly into the veins of humdrum normality; probably to the annoyance of my friends, who’re probably way bored of playing Yellow Car by now.

It’s things like that, though, that make me sort of worry that I’m a bunch more immature and frivolous for someone that is thirty years old and pretending at being a grown-up. It’s true; I can, oftentimes, be immature and childish and with feet fairly firmly planted in the pursuits of empty-headed things, holding a very adolescent sense of humour and what amuses/entertains me. Should I feel guilty that my always-on brain is drawn to geek culture, video games and music rather than a desire to learn about architecture, politics and art? I’m much more at home being sat in front of a games console than a library desk; and I’d be far the most uncomfortable person at a dinner party, were I ever invited to one. Do I cling too much to youth and not growing up?

I dunno, probably.

I’ve always been a bit like this, but the mentality for looking for “fun” in the context of tedium was first planted when I worked in retail before I properly embarked on this whole “academic career” thing. Only when one has had to work in customer services can one truly develop a true contempt and bitterness for the everyday public; where, often, the only way to stop oneself from going truly insane is to occupy the brain with anything that’ll distract from the mind-eroding numbness of dealing with the human hordes. For me, it was dreaming up secret personas and characters for all of the customers that would stop by, or mentally trying out object combinations for point-and-click adventure games in my head to test out when I got back home. [Yes, I know I’m a sad case but, at the time, I thought I was achingly cool so shut up].

Part of my [s]ill[i]ness is also that I just can’t turn my brain off – it’s always running, always thinking; always processing. It’s always computing about how something can be optimised, or light-heartedness placed in a gap where there is none: fr’instance, navigating a busy shopping centre (with people dashing around in different directions at different speeds) causing my psyche to enter ‘Senna Mode’, looking for the “gap” and the quickest way of navigating the imaginary zombie hordes. [Granted, I am usually doing so with the end goal of reaching Forbidden Planet in the shortest possible time, so I guess I have fair incentive to shortcut through the shuffling masses, but that’s not the point.]

What I’m saying is: fun is everywhere. Sometimes it’s presented to you in the form of a neatly-packaged medium that directly provides entertainment or amusement; sometimes, you just need to use your imagination to find a way to inject some silliness into the proceedings.

Godspeed to that.

mad-max_fury-road_poster2

Anyway, speaking of zombies hordes and childish pursuits and more conventional packages of “fun”, I’m pleased to report that I finished my time with MediEvil earlier this week; putting to bed the minor guilt of having it sat on my shelf, unplayed for so many years. Broadly, I had a good time (at least, when the appalling controls and horrifying camera weren’t trying to pitch me into oblivion at every opportunity), but it did remind me how much I enjoy[ed] the kind of 3D action-adventure/platform games of the PlayStation era that have kind of fallen out of favour: there’s an innocent charm in being an skeletal knight, barrelling around a cartoonish, Hallowe’en Town-esque gothic world with blocky textures and atrocious collision detection and terrible voice acting.

I now kind of have a hankering to follow it up with starting Pandemonium! again and hammer the shit out of some baddies by jumping on their heads, because Pandemonium! was pretty much the dictionary definition of “relentless, innocent fun”. I spent many, many hours of my childhood ploughing through the pseudo-3D platforming world of Lyr, bouncing on creatures’ heads and trying not to fall off platforms into pits of endless oblivion. Hopefully, though, I’m better at it than I was eighteen years ago; because, eighteen years ago, I was FUCKING TERRIBLE AT IT.

[tl;dr: Pandemonium! was awesome. You should play Pandemonium!.]   

Anyway, I’ve talked quite a lot here when both of us could totally be doing something way more entertaining than a Friday blog talking about the merits of inventing your own jokes and mini-games, so I’ll move myself on.

HAVE FUN.

[Zinar7]

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Hack / Slash

HackSlash

Just over a week ago, I hit the milestone of Thirty Years Old. Huh.

It’s kind of put me in an odd mental place. I’m supposed to be a grown-up now, right? I’m supposed to gotten to the point in life where I’ve nailed a secure job, become father to a loving family and stopped feeling like I’m still pretty lost in this whole Life™ business.

Oh well.

Perhaps I should be thankful that, instead of the tedium of a straightforward life, my life is still full of twists and turns and the opportunity for adventure. Maybe I should feel heartened that, even at this great age, I’m still a bit of a dreamer; one who still hasn’t given up on the dream of meeting someone new or falling into my ideal career or still having the time and energy to learn and have fun. I’ve never married, never had kids; (relatively) debt-free; still inquisitive, curious and open to new ideas; still just as passionate about the things I love as I ever was.

It’s just a sad twist of fate that, as I pass into my fourth decade on Starship: Earth, I still feel completely in limbo between being a child and being a grown-up. Since I’ve spent so long at University and living in student-type accommodation and hanging around with other University students/postgrads, I still feel very much like an adolescent; still working out where their calling is in life, and who it’s with. Yet, I’m now undeniably a thirtysomething now and that’s supposed to mean mortgage, childcare and family saloon until it’s all pallbearers and headstones. My age clearly denotes that should be a proper adult by now, with responsibility and a role to play in CamBot-5000’s ‘Big Society’; particularly in the light of The Lizard God’s re-election as leader of our great nation. I mean, It’s not like I’m not an actual grown-up (I feed myself, wash myself and clothe myself daily with only a minimal amount of difficulty), but it kind of feels like I’ve still got a lot of growing up still to do and a lot of things to discover about both myself and the world around me.

Because of my complex work and life situation, I’m still trapped (at least, in my head) in the wilderness between adolescence and proper adulthood; a no-man’s land between the two trenches sniping at me from either side. Mentally, this puts me in a tricky position – still feeling a connection to youth and naïvety because my friend group is – generally – slightly younger than me, and because the five or so years that I spent in the throes of PhD kind of sheltered me from the kind of ‘growing up’ that most people of my age have had to endure. I’m also well aware that my hobbies and interests still remain an anchor to ‘youth’; from my passion for gaming (console and tabletop) to my continuing aural commitment to musical genres that are typically seen as being primarily the domain of younger people.

Despite that, I feel proud to be a thirty year-old that still holds such fire for the things they’ve always believed in. I’ve been playing video and computer games for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never had a break from them being my biggest interest in life. Regardless of how I may feel about the state of the popular strand of video games (all Spunk Gargle Wee-Wee and Fee-Fuh), I still retain an intense passion for video gaming. It was, though, a bit of a shock when I realised that the game I’m currently ploughing through (the PlayStation hack ‘n’ slash-type thing set in a light-hearted gothic Hammer Horror-type world, MediEvil) is SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD; despite it feeling like the days of PlayStation action-adventure games were hardly any time ago at all.

Of course, I shouldn’t be too surprised, given that there are now two whole console generations separating the likes of MediEvil and the current PlayStation 4 roster, but perhaps it’s just a reminder at how many gaming years have passed without my brain really realising. I didn’t ever play MediEvil at the time of its release so I’m not drawing on any particular nostalgia shock, but more the fact that my years of hunching over mine and my friend’s PlayStations are still some of the years of gaming that I remember with most clarity. Before the PlayStation, I was predominantly a “PC” gamer – although, technically, I was an “Amiga” gamer since the Amiga-500+ was, technically, not a PC – but the PlayStation was my first proper console and hence there’s a special little patch of nostalgic warmth reserved in my heart for it and everything it brought forth. Either way, I felt like a bit of mindless, retro fun to counter the reality of adulthood and, hence, booted up some PlayStation nostalgia, and hence have recently lost myself in the hacky-slashy world of Gallowmere.

MediEvil is, in actual fact, pretty good. Sure, it’s no The Last of Us and time has hardly been kind to either the graphical fidelity or the game’s control system, but there’s charm enough to ward away the most intense criticism. It’s as close to Hallowe’en Town as one can get without infringing Tim Burton’s copyright on cartoonish, gothic horror; a brightly-coloured, trick-or-treat action-adventure game gone terrifyingly right. In many ways, I feel that MediEvil and ‘me’ share a lot in common: distinctly rough around the edges, difficult to control and bridging the gap between true horror and multi-coloured cartoon. Still, while we both continue to hack and slash away through unclear, blocky graphics with little in the way of instruction or tutorial, I’d like to think that I’ve aged marginally better than a seventeen year-old shiny disc.

[Zinar7]

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friday_012

F012

In my last, mid-week post I detailed a little bit about what my physical music collection looks like in the year MMXV. So, to flesh out the journey of how I got here a little bit, for my regular Friday blog I thought I’d explore a little of why music means so much to me.

I’d always been ‘into’ music, even as kid. Maybe I hadn’t quite figured out at that point which aspect of it was calling me most strongly, but I was always drawn to listening to – and playing – music. I’ve always been a sucker for a beat; something primitive like a rhythm overlaid with a melody. That was always there from birth and never really went away but, to properly engage with the wild, unexplored territories of rock, metal and punk (at least, unexplored by me), I needed some sort of sonic sherpa to pilot me ‘thru the wilderness.

That guide was Mary Anne Hobbs.

I recall, with enormous fondness, staying up every Tuesday night to listen to the BBC Radio 1 Rock Show which started at midnight; listening to it with my headphones until at least 0030, when my tape recorder would kick and record the final hour-and-a-half using a 90-minute cassette tape. Already, on the Wednesday morning at college, we’d discuss what new songs (or old songs) we’d heard on the show before we had to go to bed; before going home after school to immediately pop our recorded tapes into our Walkmans (Walkmen?) to catch up with what we’d missed. There was no iPlayer back in 2001, only whatever (now completely archaic) analogue technology you had to hand. And I fucking loved it.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I fell in love with rock music: it was a Rock Show sometime in March 2001, and the show opened with Foo Fighters’ ‘This Is A Call’ followed immediately by Tony Iommi’s ‘Goodbye Lament’ (which features Dave Grohl on vocals). From that humble point on, I was a complete acolyte to the distorted guitar.

The Rock Show ushered in introductions to some of my very favourite bands – Amen, Funeral For A Friend, Rammstein, Deftones, The Mad Capsule Markets, Pitchshifter and Rival Schools. I remember first hearing Biffy Clyro’s ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake’ and having my mind absolutely blown, and Cradle of Filth’s ‘Bitter Suites to Succubi’ alerted my ears to the wondrous delights of black metal. I recall those times being a killer time for UK post-hardcore: Hundred Reasons hooked me for life when I first heard ‘Remmus’, and it was a time when Lostprophets were still very much among the underground and letting loose the likes of ‘Shinobivs.dragonninja’ which still holds up today (even if the legend of Lostprophets has sort of taken a bit of a critical hit in recent years).

Not long afterward I became a discipline to the Church of the Rock Show, I became a Kerrang! devotee. I know that it’s cheesy to have nostalgia for things that used to “good” in the past but are “rubbish now”, but Kerrang! was totally one of those things: it was properly glorious in about 2001-2003; covering the full gamut of rock and metal and punk, and being (relatively) unaffected by the fads or the tastes of the mainstream. Naturally, I suspect that I’m looking through rose-tinted goggles at K!s ‘golden’ years, but I genuinely miss the days when – once every few months – the magazine would be adjoined by a free, mix CD containing new music. Again, before the widespread popularity of digital music and downloads (ha, you try downloading a full album on a 56.6k modem 😛 ), the free K! CDs were the fuel to my fire and ushered in discovery of many of my now-favourite bands.

For mega nostalgia, some awesome person (hint: not me) catalogued all of them over here: Discogs.com/Kerrang Magazine. Without them, I’d never have gotten into Weezer and Jimmy Eat World (‘Knock-Down Drag Out’ and ‘A Praise Chorus on Hot Stuff: The Noise of the Summer); The Distillers (‘Sing Sing Death House’ on The Devil’s Music: Vol. 4); Silverchair and Finch (‘The Greatest View’ and ‘New Beginnings’ on The Best of 2002); and Probot, Murderdolls & Turbonegro (‘Centuries of Sin’, ‘I Take Drugs’ and ‘Sell Your Body [to the Night]’ on Reload). Picking up a copy of Kerrang! nowadays may fill me with disappointment at both the dumbed-down journalism and the downgraded quality of the music being covered, but I still hold massively fond memories of my formative years with the K! brand that I still find it hard to hold a grudge against it. I never found the same sort of charm in other magazines like Metal Hammer or Rock Sound as I did with K! itself; and the walls of my room were sprawled for most of the tail-end of my teenagedom with tiny pictures (and strips of the Pandora comic) cut out of various issues.

But yes; while I may have made my peace with the demise (or deterioration) of my favourite music magazine, I still miss the Radio 1 Rock Show the most. Mary Anne left full-time duties of the show in 2003 or so, and despite both Mike Davies and then Daniel P. Carter being very competent hosts ‘right up ‘til the present day (or so I’m led to believe, when I’ve caught the odd show in the last few years), I was never quite as enthralled by the music as I was when Mary Anne was at the helm. I kind of drifted away from the show around the time that I moved away from home to start University and my time as a weekly Kerrang! subscriber kind of came to an end. If I’m being brutally, brutally honest, then my years of college – absorbed 100% by music and the joy that it brought me to passionately engage with it with my friends around me – are the ones from the past that I look upon with most fondness. Sure, it’s probably fairly common for thirtysomethings (or, in my case, almost thirtysomethings) to go a bit glazey-eyed about their time as a carefree 17/18-year old, but it’s with valid reason.

Of course, you can never go back. But if you could, then if I could be transplanted back into the sixteen year-old me once again then I would fucking love to go back and make of my mistakes again; at least, this time, I’d do it safe in the knowledge that they were some of the best times of my life, accompanied by some of the most life-changing noises that I’d ever hear.

Never forget, never surrender. Keep your heart open to music; always.

[Zinar7]

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friday_011

F011

I’ve always said: celebrity deaths come in threes. Then again, so do the deaths of my treasured possessions, it seems.

The last week or two have mainly been spent trying to mend, or replace, pieces of electrical equipment that seem to have decided push up the daisies: first, my cellphone; then, bits of my car; and finally, my TV. I’m beginning to think that I have some sort of curse: a sort of Midas Touch that causes electrical equipment to expire by merely being in the same geographical location as me. Perhaps I’m made of magick.

[it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that my digital camera has also developed some sort of fault that I’ve not quite been able to get to the root of; which does mean that the ‘bad things come in threes’ rule has been shattered and that I may have actually broken the universe. If a gaping maw of inter-dimensional cataclysm has opened up near you, then I’m desperately sorry.]

While sorting out a new cellphone and repairs to Big Suze have been no great cause for festivity, this recent state of affairs has forced me to pick up a new TV to replace my old, enormous CRT monolith and finally join the world of High-Definition. I’m not usually one to crow about graphical fidelity or anything, but my, is it purdy. I’ve most recently been playing a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted (the PS3 one, although I still sort of maintain that the original one is better, if less pretty) and my goodness does it look good. Obviously, I’m a massive automotive nut and am “well into” motor racing and stuff so am already slightly aroused by the sight of attractive pieces of metal and carbon fibre moving at high speed, but NFS:MW it a delight to look at; with its lovely reflections and lens flare and sunset filtration and gorgeously cinematic, pre-race short films.

Oddly enough for an avid watcher of motor racing and things going fast and things, racing games have never, really, found a particularly special place in my heart: yet, I can’t really explain why. Somehow, the accurate racing simulations (Gran Turismo, Forza, Project Gotham Racing, etc.) have always felt too methodical and not enough like a game to me; requiring expenditure of countless hours in the digital garage, tweaking every last nut and bolt in order to shave hundredths-of-a-second off a lap time. Funnily enough, I adore stat-based /RPG elements in a story-based game with character development and adventurin’, but grow restlessly yawnsome when I’m forced to stare at too many stats and upgrades in other genres (strategy, simulation, etc.). My main motivation, when playing a video game, is still to have fun; whereas simulation games (be them racing, farming or goat simulators), for me, have always placed too many barriers in front of the important business of fun.

Need for Speed has always felt a little different, though; blending some aspects of the engine-tweaking upgradability with the sheer, foot-to-the-floor velocity of OutRun. The movement of Criterion Games developing many of the latter Need for Speeds (Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted and The Rivals) has meant that they’ve absorbed a lot of the features that Criterion previously introduced to Burnout; slow-mo, metal-bending crashes and friendship-ending revenge takedowns. Weirdly, then, NFS:MW feels like a public safety video highlighting the perils of street racing; with time slowing to render every smash, shunt and shimmer in a haunting ballet of wrangled metal. It’s been a genuine delight to take such a perverse amount of pleasure at watching digital cars crashing/breaking in high-definition, perhaps acting as some sort of poetic justice countering everything else that’s doing its best to self-destruct in my life.

In honesty, I’ve played a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I discovered some time ago that racing games were one of those rare instances where I can truly lose myself and forget, utterly about the outside world. Perhaps it’s something about focussing purely on whether the next apex is and how you can tread the very fine line between optimised speed and loss of control that stops the rest of my brain (the bit that constantly worries, questions and fears) from gaining any sort of traction [pun intended]. It’s not necessarily that I have any racing talent or skill (quite the opposite; I’m woefully – almost tediously – average when placed on a track), but more a mindset: I’m not the best at multi-tasking, so if I’m concentrating solely on getting ‘round the track in the most optimal time whilst attempting to keep pace with my competitors, then I can’t possibly be thinking about whether I’m wasting my life. [The delicious irony being that, if I’m spending my time playing video games, then I probably am wasting it to some extent.]

Still, with the long, cold Winter finally behind us and the Spring properly gaining traction, it’s relieving to know that that the motor racing season is once again underway and roaring through some of the world’s greatest arenas of asphalt and dirt. Formula One kicked off delightfully a couple of weekends ago and continues in Malaysia in the next few days; the World Touring Car Championship got started in Argentina a few weeks back, and the British Touring Car Championship kicks off at Brands Hatch next weekend. Formula One will always be my soulmate, but I’m aiming to do better at keeping up with both the WTCC and BTCC this year after losing track [pun sort of intended] of both at some point during the summer of last year. I’ll definitely be going to the BTCC at Thruxton for birthday-related shenanigans, and hopefully also the Formula E race that’ll be happening in London around Battersea Park. I’m still holding out a vague hope of being able to get to an F1 race abroad sometime during 2015, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely. Never say never, though.

But anyway, I’ve probably talked enough about shiny metallic things with wheels for the time being.

tl;dr: CARS.

[Zinar7]

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friday_010

F010

Of late, I’ve been worryingly addictive Britcom spiral. It’s probably Stewart Lee’s fault; it usually is.

As has been proved empirically, I could watch/listen to Stewart Lee doing stand-up comedy indefinitely until the end of time. Alarmingly, it’s gotten to the stage that just being in the same aura as Stew is enough to send me into the giggles – so in tune, am I, with the essence of the character of Stewart Lee and his many grumbles and gripes, that I can see his ‘take’ on the real world even when he’s not there. It’s observational comedy, but filtered through the kind of bitter, warped mind that engages with my own bitter, warped mind on a primordial level. For me, his material is progressive; it grows with age, like a Pink Floyd record that improves with every listen and reveals more facets of ‘funny’ in a way that – in Chris Morris’ own words in Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle series three – “knowingly operates the levers that make people laugh [by using any means possible apart from actually saying anything funny].”`

Such is his grip on the very essence of what tickles my brain’s funny nerve, I think of it as a Good Thing™ that even passing reference to Stew’s material helps to brighten everyday life immeasurably; breaking me into giggles and making me – at least temporarily – forget the darker clouds in the world. To be fair, this very fact is probably why I deploy comedy/movie reference with a machine-gun frequency, since it helps me to make light of the world’s troubles and to briefly shine some sunlight into the gloomier corners. Just thinking about crisps, or toilet books, or visible otters makes normal life minutely more enjoyable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m incredibly excited about that fact that, in January 2016, I’ll be seeing Stew for the third time; at the South Bank Centre for a special gig where he’ll perform – back to back – all six episodes of the upcoming (or, will be) Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle series four. I still think that his Caffé Nero routine from If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One is one of his best, helped by the genius audience engagement over the forged loyalty card.

Naturally, for every side of the coin there must be a counter-side; for every Stewart Lee, there must be a Richard Herring. For me, Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or as all the cool kids are calling it, Ruh-Heh-Less-Tuh-Puh) has been a bit of a revelation; tapping into my utter comedy geekdom of hearing many of my Brit comedy heroes interviewed about whether they would prefer an armpit that dispensed suncream or a hand made of ham, and whether they’ve ever seen a bigfoot. Part of the attraction, for me, is hearing comedians just talking; not delivering material on purpose or trying too hard to be funny, just talking.

I’ve been genuinely charmed by the ongoing drama of the “who broke the cupboards in the Edinburgh Fringe 2002 flat?”; the story of how Stew once wanked off Richard with a 100-year old ventriloquist’s dummy; or Rich’s continuing descent into insanity through the medium of playing snooker against himself in his basement and recording it for the internet (Me1 vs. Me2 Snooker). Also, I PAID A POUND:

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Part of this Lee and Herring adventure was inspired by the discovery of magic of Fist of Fun; Rich and Stew’s first TV show from 1995. The characters of Richard Herring (“…and I am called Richard Herring”) and Stewart Lee (“No, not ‘ahh’ “) work so well, and so many more of my favourite Britcom heroes [Rebecca Front, Kevin Eldon, Al Murray, Peter Baynham, Alistair MacGowan] that it can hardly fail to impress. After having watched the entireity of Series One at a friends’ house over the course of a single evening, I found an almost mechanical response to order myself the box-set of both series before my brain had even registered that anything had happened. I’m yet to even plunder the delights of S2 given that I’ve been 100% absorbed in going back through S1, trying to catch all the background jokes and going through all of the “slow-mo” bits to harvest the comedy gold held within.

[ And while we’re on the topic of classic Britcom shows that I’m only just getting round to catching up with, I also watched recently – for the first time ever – Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge. I’m not sure how I’ve really escaped watching it until now, given how much I’m in love with everything AGP has done since I’m Alan Partridge, but it’s reassuring to know that I’ve finally corrected this heinous error. ]

Thinking about it, despite my proclamation in the opening paragraph that everything is Stewart Lee’s fault, upon reflection I think that it’s probably Armando Iannucci that is to blame for most of my Britcom geekdom. With an absolutely flawless record, I adore everything that he’s worked on and everyone he’s worked with: Steve Coogan, Chris Morris, Lee & Herring, Jesse Armstrong, Graham Linehan; I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Time Trumpet, yada yada yada. He’s just an incredibly perceptive, switched-on satirist that seems to just be able to tap into pure comedy and write exceptionally funny situations and characters and surround himself with talented writers, actors and producers with a similar sense for funny. I’m still yet to catch up on his most recent project (Veep; weaving a The Thick of It-kind of comedy across the Atlantic into the Vice-President’s office of The White House), which extrapolates away from very British comedy and into the deep, dark wilds of the US, but I’m led to believe that it’s easily up to his dazzlingly high standards.

So yeah, you can blame Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Armando Iannucci for my recent habit of breaking out into giggles at the slightest drop of a hat. But if comedy is an addiction, then you can keep your cold turkey; I’m sticking to the hard stuff.

[Zinar7]

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Boardcrafting +1

Boardcrafting

There’s going to be a bit of a change to the regular Friday Blog cycle, as I feel that I deserve a break from the routine; at least for a week. So, instead of a thousand or so words talking about something opinion-worthy, I’m going to catalogue one of my most recent creative endeavours – my homemade Munchkin Level Playing Field game board – and how one might make one, were one into creative print ‘n’ play board game projects or that sort of thing.

Munchkin has always sort of disturbed me because the essence of the game is to advance your procedurally-generated dungeon-raiding character from Level One to Level Ten (with the winner being the first player to reach Level 10 first), but no materials are supplied with the base game with which to count levels and players must instead use some random tokens, coins, or pen and paper to keep score. Steve Jackson Games does, however, manufacture playing boards and playing pieces that can be bought separately (or as a bundle in the ‘Munchkin Deluxe’ sets), but I thought that – instead of simply ordering them online – it’d be more fun to try and make my own. This post catalogues the process of trying to put them together.

So, what does this thing look like? Well, the finished article looks like this:

P1050304

To put it together, I started with a plain hardback (A5) notebook from PoundLand (The Theatre of Dreams™) , and removed the pages and the metal spine so that I had just the front and back covers; which I (temporarily) taped together with book-binding tape to hold it together. I then sketched out a series of boxes, one to ten, along which the playing pieces would move in order to track levels.

I took the idea of replicating the Munchkin Deluxe board because I liked the idea of the board representing the dungeon that the adventurers are questing through, observed as a top-down view of a winding castle, or something. This way, it’s easier to figure out who’s in the lead and hence whether you want to either hinder them or lend a hand in return for bonus loot.

The next process was to paint up the background areas (green for grass outside the keep), and grey for the castle’s rooms. I used acrylic paints and a regular brush, and I quite wanted it to look ‘rough’ and weathered somewhat so I used quite a lot of dry-brush techniques to “scrape” paint onto the board. When I was done, I outlined the walls with a black Sharpie and then a silver-finish Sharpie for the inner section of the walls.

Munchkin_8

I wanted to add some definition to the inner walls, so I added a stone brick pattern to the outside faces of the walls with a very fine marker, just for funsies. I painted up the starting box (1) and ending box (10) up in more bright colours to reflect “Victory”, and designated each room with the relevant level number.

Because I wanted the notebook to represent a fictional dungeon-quester’s notebook (perhaps akin to a character notebook from Dungeons and Dragons), I wanted to give it a fantasy/role-playing feel so I removed the book-binding tape and replaced it with old, worn yarn that I found in the shed. I cut lots of thin strips of it (about 10-15 cm in length) and then tied them in loops through the holes of the original notebook’s spine. As a final flourish, I decorated the front of the board with the words ‘Munchkin Adventurer’s Notebook’, comme ça:

 

Right, so that’s the board finished, but what do we use to count? Well, instead of buying a Bag O’ Munchkins, I turned instead to shrink plastic to make some ~7 cm pieces to insert into plastic stands to represent each player.

I scoured through a bunch of cards from the base Munchkin deck to find some interesting characters, scanned the cards in and blew them up before printing them to a scale that the character was around 12 cm in size. I used Shrinkies clear shrink plastic, traced the outline with a black Sharpie and then coloured in the relevant area with other Sharpie pens. I needed 6 (because Munchkin plays three to six players), so to be sure of not screwing up, I made nine pieces and cut them out; making sure not to leave too many ‘thin’ bits because I found that these tended to warp very badly when fired in the oven.

I set the oven to “grill” (PUNS.) and lined a baking tray with tin foil. Then, one by one, placed each sheet into the oven for a few minutes (until it goes all curly, shrinks down and flattens out again) before removing it and immediately pressing it under a heavy book in order to flatten out the piece. After touching them up a little bit with the markers where the ink slightly melted and smudged, they were placed in their plastic stands. Because one or two went badly wrong in the oven, and a couple ended up noticeably out of scale with the other playing pieces, I was left with six complete pieces: two male, two female and two monster-ish; which I put in stands, ready to play with 🙂

Munchkin_7

I’m pretty pleased! I think they look rad, even if no-one else agrees with me. Plus, everything still fits in my base Munchkin box, et voila:

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So yeah, GO GO GADGET CREATIVITY.

[Zinar7]

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friday_009

F009

In my entry from last Friday, I qualified my thoughts on video games and gaming by explaining that I find the process of play to be fascinating.

It’s true, I do find the act of playing to be something that’s always an interesting process – partly due to some of the more obvious excursions that play allows (role-playing as some far-flung hero; making decisions or play-acting in a way that doesn’t affect anything meaningful in real life; etc.), but also because I really enjoy engaging with other people in a ‘play’ scenario. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy socialising with people in a normal setting or just offhand – I mean that I find it very interesting to see what other people do when they’re engaged in something that doesn’t have proper consequences in real life; to see what choices they make and what strategies they employ in winning the game or tackling the problem at hand.

For me, his fascination has, most prominently, been propagated through my expanding passion for board- and tabletop gaming; the social aspect of which still properly brings me a whole fuckton of joy. I miss the good times of the PlayStation/PS2 and Nintendo 64/GameCube console generation(s) where, routinely, four people would come together to hammer out a few rounds of GoldenEye 007, Micro Machines V3 or Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule but multiplayer video games now overwhelmingly force players to be separated by a connection barrier rather than just a simply sharing a multitap and a beanbag in front of the TV. Part of this feeling is borne of nostalgia, but it’s mainly a frustration at how good things used to be and how the community of gaming friends crouched around a tiny CRT monitor looking at a tinier quadrant of screen felt far more connected and social than the gargantuan, exhaustive ‘community’ that online play now elevates.

Part of the reason that I’ve grown so attached to tabletop gaming, I think, is that it helps propagate a worthwhile social aspect of play that has (rather disappointingly) all but vanished from digital gaming. Sure, text and voice chat still exists in PC and console gaming and it’s easy to arrange your friends to be connected to you in a virtual space, but it’s not the same as being able to gloat theatrically and extensively in the face of a friend – sitting right next to you – who’s just been blown up by a Blue Shell right before they cross the finish line and pipping them to the post.

In short: Sharing the same, physical, social space with a bunch of close friends while engaging in the process of play is infinitely more entertaining than getting 360noscoped and being called a homosexual by a fourteen year-old you’ve never met on the other side of the world.

The rise of German-style “designer” board games can, partly, be interpreted as a reaction to the ebbing sense of ‘social’ play in modern video games. As consoles have gained online capabilities in the last 10/12 years, (online) gaming has transitioned video gaming away from the “family” environment (with a small group of people in your own living room) to engaging with vast servers of unknown, random nodes across a gargantuan network. While board games have always been a popular activity – before and after the invention of video games –  I have definitely noticed a trend in how designer board games have swelled in number over the last six or seven years and even begun to infiltrate shelf-space in more mainstream shops (i.e. those that aren’t specialist gaming stores) on the High Street. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these trends tally up quite so well.

Naturally, there are likely a whole lot of other reasons why these trends exist and it’s unlikely to be so simple a correlation that one can say, without question, that the shift towards online multiplayer video gaming has stoked the fires of Euro-style board gaming. But I think that there’s definitely a pattern involved, and perhaps it’s one that’s associated with gamers becoming a little disillusioned with the state of modern, AAA video games and aching to rediscover a sense of community play that seems to be growing more absent with each console generation.

In parallel, I’ve noticed a growth in the establishment of more, local tabletop gaming groups, and the population of existing ones swelling in number as more people discover the hobby. From personal experience, the genetic make-up of most of these groups tends to be formed, predominantly, of blokes in their thirties and onwards; at least, among those that aren’t based at, or very near, University campuses and the like. I might be painting with some fairly broad brush-strokes here, but I often feel like quite a proportion serious board game hobbyists are, perhaps, the kind of people that used to play video games but, perhaps, have fallen out of favour with them in the last few years; turning to tabletop gaming as more of an alternative. Of course, I haven’t canvassed the opinions of many of the board gaming community as to whether this is a 100% accurate deduction, but I’d be willing to place some stake behind being at least partially on the money.

The fact of the matter is, I still get a major kick out of engaging with people while we’re playing together; be it in digital world, or in a physical space. That passion is something that is hard-wired into me; like breathing and walking. But, the biggest buzz still comes when I collect together people into the same geographic location to play, and any method of making that happen anywhere and everywhere  is all good in my book.

[Zinar7]

 

If you’re into board gaming and attractive ladies – or, more specifically, attractive ladies playing board games and writing about them in an amusing and intelligent way – then you should check out The Misery Farm: How to Win Games and Alienate Meeple [themiseryfarm.com] because it has all of that and more, and blogs about board game-type stuff way better than I ever could.

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