Tuesday, November 01, 2005

BGG.con: Tuesday, Nov 01

1. Outside, in the cold.

I know when the truth is being hidden from me. I know they're out to get me. Somehow, somewhere, I will find out the secret of the Dallas public transportation system. Public officials deny all knowledge of it. Bus drivers claim that no one can know it all. Various bus maps contain fragments of the system, but the pieces don't all add up. I set out to uncover the truth.

I asked at the West End bus station for a map of the system. "Uh, they were all sold out yesterday," one official claimed. "We don't have any. Dog ate the last one," said another, with a meaningful look at his coworker. A heavyset man wiping sweat from his brow pulled me over. "What do you want a map for, sir? Best leave it be. You're better off not asking such questions." He glanced from side to side, and then whispered "Try one block north at our 'offices'." I went one block north. No offices. Another brick wall. Someone is on to me. Someone got that heavyset guy. I have a feeling that that is why they stole my jacket yesterday (luckily, I left no identification in it).

But I know the truth is out there.

How else do you explain my getting onto a NW Expressway bus this morning that "accidentally" took me halfway across town the wrong direction? What, like I got on on the wrong side of the street? Please. I was trying to get back to Half Price Books. Nothing doing. "They" were not going to have any of that. I ended up in some dumpy area on the west of the city and had to backtrack. Luckily for me, I got off again at a Payless Shoes and got two pairs of shoes (sneakers and boots) for $33 .

I got on a different bus going south. I wanted to get off at West End, but I noticed that we had passed Pearl street so I jumped off. I think that may have thrown them off the trail. I walked into the Westin City Center and managed to find my way to the fifth floor of the south tower. Something wasn't right. This was too easy. Nothing was locked. I walked around the entire area with two large shoeboxes. No security. Noone asking me what I'm doing here. No one checking my bags. For the first time I realized intensely that was I not in Israel. How else do you explain this email from Aldie later in the day:

"There is a crack security team that will treat you as an intruder/trespasser if you are found on another floor of the office building (besides ours)."

Yeah, crack team. Maybe now there is. Where was it when I was there? Someone wanted me to see that fifth floor, I bet. "Crack security team" mysteriously absent. They were dragging pipes all around and doing some sort of rewiring. Bugs and spy cameras, no doubt.

I left the building and encountered one of the natives.

"Guhmorneen Sirruah. Annower yalldooweenaday?"

I took out my phrase book. The native was trying to greet me in some sort of native language.

I tried to explain that I was being followed by public transport agents, and that we couldn't talk here.

"Ehwazzat? Wazzatchursayeen?"

I began to get suspicious. I couldn't follow what he was saying. Maybe he was one of them.

"How do I get to the Kennedy museum?" I nonchalantly asked. I thought he might take me for a regular tourist.

"Oh yougetsona rehlinegoween boutthreestops, wawkinadirecshunofatrain, annibee onyoleft."

I consulted my phrase book. I was convinced that he was trying to give me directions. If his directions were accurate, maybe he was one of us. Suddenly he reached into his pocket. I tensed up. What was coming? Had I made a mistake in my disguise? Was I a goner? He pulled out a small stick of paper. A coded message? A bomb? He unwrapped it and slid out a small silvery substance. Microfilm? Flash memory? He unwrapped the substance and removed a tan stick like object. Then he brought it to his mouth and began to chew. Ah, obviously getting rid of some evidence. I recognized it as a silent code for my eyes only: he wasn't allowed to talk any more. Got it.

"Thanks," I mumbled, heading off in the direction that he indicated.

"Noprahlem. Yallhaffaniceday nowyuhear?"

Back to native speak. Obviously some sort of code I would have to work out later.

I got on the train indicated and followed the directions but I couldn't find the Kennedy center. They must have moved the building when they found out I was coming. Quick and professional. Instead, I ran into the Holocaust Museum. The only Holocaust museum I've ever been to is the one in Jerusalem: Yad Vashem. I decided to see how this one measured up.

The entire display is in four rooms: an entry with a lot of pictures and info, a room with some more pictures and part of a train (cattle car used for transporting Jews to death camps and concentration camps), a room with a memorial stone, and a room with a video loop running witness testimonial stories.

The display is small, so they picked one day to focus on. The whole display is about that date, and every subject and lecture was about it. I must have heard them mention that date about thirty times. I forget what date it was. Anyway, it was the date of a) part of the Warsaw uprising, b) the deportation from Belgium, and c) a conference in Bermuda by rich countries that accomplished nothing.

The theme of the display was to give us a sense of how Democracy failed, and how racism is used to destroy people. It was ok for a very small space, but it really needs to be much larger. They are building a much larger facility which should deal more extensively with these issues.

I decided to go back home. I didn't encounter any further problems with the public transport, so obviously they are laying low now that they know I am on to them. Another day of false leads and coverups and I am no closer to finding out the truth. Dallas, a small town without a history of any sort of controversy is mired deep in what can only be described as a "conspiracy". It's a tough life.

2. Game night at Border Books.

Eran picked me up and took me to Border Books where the Dallas game club holds their regular games on Tuesday nights. First of all, they get lots of people, more then twenty on regular nights. Some of the people brought boxes and boxes of games with them.

Strangely, many of the games being played were being played with fresh new game boxes, as in: games purchased recently but not yet played. Either they broke it out in celebration of their amazing public transportation system, or people buy a lot of games regularly.

Just to give you an idea of the activity, while I was playing there other people played at least the following games: Tikal, Manilla, Wallenstein, San Juan, Settlers of Catan, Princes of Florence, Settlers of the Stone Age, Mahjong, Partehnon, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Balloon Cup, Settlers of Nurenberg, and Louis XIV.


I sat down with Mark, Tony, and Eran to play my game prototype. During the game, Jeff of Lumbersmiths came in and watched us. It was a good game, although I took a beating. Mark won. I left them a copy on condition that they playtest it and send me comments, and a few people said they would play it again or would like to try it out. Yippee!

Next up, Mark, Tony, Eran, Jeff, Kevin, and I played Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix, a racing game by Wolfgang Kramer. The object of the game is to make the most money, which you get by conserving it during auctions when choosing a car and by having your car win the race (payout is by the order you finish the race: 200, 150, 100, 60, 30, 10). Each player gets a bunch of cards before deciding what cars to bid on. The cards are played one at a time during the game to advance either one or multiple cars around the track, and all cars on a card have to be advanced when the card is played, unless they are blocked by other card blocking their path.

The game is light, with simple but sufficiently interesting choices for its length. The only thing lacking is a sense of progression, as there are three races run during a game. The track changes once, but the only real thing that changes is that people know who won the previous races and try to hurt that player. I think it might be slightly improved by having slightly better payoffs for each race. However, I've only played it once.

In the first round, I got a nice hand (lots of cards that progressed one particular colored car). I bid 40 for that car, and everyone else took their cars at the minimum bid of 10. Unfortunately, we accidentally left a card in the deck that gave a huge advantage to the player that picked it, and that was Tony. The race finish was: Tony, me, Eran, Kevin, Mark, Jeff.

In the second round, I had another nice hand, and I only had to bid the minimum to get my car. Jeff bid 40, Tony and Kevin each bid 30, and the rest of us bid 10. I managed to win this one without much trouble, followed by Eran, Jeff, Mark, Tony, and Kevin.

At this point I was in the lead, and would have to come in last or next-to-last place in the final race to lose the game. That is what I did, as they all ganged up on me. Fair enough. Several times they played cards that got me stuck just behind another car, and then all of the movements that would have applied to my car were wasted, until I could move the car in front of me. The last round was Jeff, Tony, Mark, Eran, Kevin, me.

Final scores: Tony 530, Jon 500, Eran 480, Jeff 420, Mark 350, Kevin 240

For the next game, Chris joined us, and Tony left. Eran tried to introduce us to The Great Dalmuti, a game that I can describe as very like the kids game of President played in Israel. Basically, there are numbered cards. The cards are dealt out, and one person starts by playing one or more cards of a kind, and each other player must play a set of cards all the same number and of a lower rank. In the special deck, the higher the rank, the more cards there are of that number. If no one can play, you start again. First person to play all of their cards wins.

The game has some chrome and theme, which intentionally unbalances the game giving advantages to the "High Dalmuti" and disadvantages to the peasants. This is supposed to make you feel good when you actually win as a peasant. It's one of those games that requires roleplaying to enjoy beyond the basics of the mechanics, which I thought were not very interesting. I excused myself after one hand.

Lastly, we split into two groups, and I looked around for other games on my To Buy list, so that I could check out whether I really wanted to buy them. I found a copy of San Marco, by Moon and Weisbaum, and people agreed to play. Some say the game is better with three, and some say with four. In any case, we played with four.

I liked the game, and couldn't find any obvious problems with it like I did with Web of Power, which it resembles aside from the card division mechanic. So, better than Web of Power, less than El Grande. A nice balance. The game is an area control game with scoring like El Grande. Each turn, two players divide a set of cards into two piles, and the other two pick one of the piles offered to them. Everyone plays their cards, which allow you to place markers in regions, evict people from regions, score regions, etc... Other cards also included in the division are count cards, and when you hit ten, you are no longer eligible to play further in that round. The round is over when only one player hasn't reached ten (or no players). The game is played over three rounds. Final scoring at the end of the game.

I wasn't sure how deep the game went, but the constant tactical choices were nice. If a copy shows up at the con, I may pick it up, unless something better comes along.

In our game, I took an early lead, and held it despite both Kevin and Chris alternately nipping at my heels. Scoring after rounds 1/2/3:

Kevin: 5/11/51
Chris: 21/32/67
Jeff: 13/36/74
Jon: 19/35/80

Game night ended early, about 9:45, when the guy who makes the coffee at Borders turned out the lights. All in all, the people were nice to play with. I enjoyed meeting them and the experience of playing there.

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