Friday, September 30, 2005

Merchants of Amsterdam and Power Grid

I finally got to play these two games.

Merchants of Amsterdam is one of the more overlooked Knizia designs. People seem to think it's just okay, and there's considerable debate about the damage-prone timer. We decided to each put a finger around the timer as the auction was going on. There was still tension, but the timer wasn't banged nearly as hard as it could have been.
I enjoyed the game. There are many arenas to remain balanced in, and the scoring rounds always seem to come around just before you get that ruling market in Africa (or wherever). I like the decisions about where to lay cards. It's a gamble, and it doesn't always pay off. Finally, the maligned timer is actually a great addition. The tension is just ratcheted up by not having the luxury to sit back and debate whether you'll increase the last person's bid. I'm not very good at auction games, and I'm always suspicious that a good strategy is to not buy anything (same goes for Modern Art), but what kind of lame game does that make for? Why would I want to spend 90 minutes playing a bidding game and not bidding? I'm still debating whether to purchase it before it's gone forever, but I'd definitely play it any time.

Power Grid is an enigma. I can think of few games that received more gushing praise over the last year, so I was really anxious to finally play it. As an aside, I think the map art is magnificent. Some complain that it's too busy but I just love it.
Three of the four players had never played before...and that was good because I think this is one of those games where someone who's played before has a huge advantage over a novice. First, the game is really fiddly--I don't particularly enjoy having to check off a bunch of little housekeeping things every round. The auctions are interesting. You see that great plant in the Futures Market, but do you wait and hope it comes up this round, or just buy something else? The commodities market is great. I love how certain commoditites get more scarce and thus more expensive, while others slowly beome cheaper and cheaper. I'm surprised I liked this game at all, simply based on the amount of math involved...but I did. It one of those games that after one playing I feel like there's a lot bubbling just under the surface--I felt this with Liberte, and Euphrat & Tigris too.
I definitely want to play again. And since the map is two-sided and you only play with limited sections, the replayability is through the roof.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

TV Wasteland--Part 1

It's that time of year...where I make an effort to watch every single new show that sounds even mildly interesting to see if anything sticks. In the last few years (or seasons, or whatever) the new shows have been just terrible, but this year I still have high hopes as the networks are trying to cash in on the Lost phenomenon and create interesting, mysterious shows. In my opinion, Lost and The Office are the only good shows to come out of last year--with Lost being the most gripping show I think I've ever seen.

I've taped a few of the newbies to be watched when I have time, but I did manage to see Supernatural and How I Met Your Mother.

Supernatural is on the WB, and was genuinely interesting and creepy. It reminded me of The X-Files: Weird happenings in small-town USA, complete with crazy local characters and some mild humor thrown in to diffuse the creepiness. Unfortunately, this probably won't get watched much by me, as it's on Tuesdays (my regular gaming night), and is on at the same time as My Name is Earl and The Office, which will be the recipients of my precious VCR time.

How I Met Your Mother...I have to read the USA Today for my job (looking for interesting articles to write my own articles about), and they gave this show 3 1/2 out of 4 stars--whoa! How could I not watch it?
This was beyond bad. The show is "cleverly" staged as a father telling his kids about how he met their mother (hence the title). But the believability issues start with the first of many sex references that are unlikely to be included in even the most liberal parent's love story told to the kiddos. The writing is lame, the dialogue unbelievable and unfunny, and it's delivered by actors who are clearly not used to doing a traditional sitcom. They deliver these stiff lines, and there's a hesitation, or maybe expectant pause, at the end as if they're leaving room for the laugh track. It's TERRIBLE. I want that half-hour of my life back...and I'll never trust the USA Today again. What witless simian is reviewing TV over there?

The good news is that so far Mondays are wide open TV-wise. If the MNF game is good, I'll watch. Otherwise I have an extra night. To be continued...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I finally saw Constantine this weekend. It's a movie I wanted to see when it first came out, but it wasn't the sort of thing I'd go to a theater to see. Plus, since my son was born, we've seen a grand total of one movie in a that's precious real estate that I have to save for something worthy (like Batman Begins).

This is a fantastic movie that is just ripe with theological discussion starters. I don't know how anyone could leave this movie and not wonder if there's actually a hell...and if they could end up there. Aside from Gabriel's unbalanced ending, his (her?) plain and simple explanation of grace to Constantine was just brilliant.

And the line from Angela that she doesn't believe in the devil, and Constantine says, "You should. He believes in you." Fantastic.

Midnight is an intersting character. He runs a bar that is "neutral ground" for angels and demons to play in. But by the end of the movie he realizes that by remaining neutral, he's actually chosen the side of the devil.

Much of the theology was absolutely screwy, but there is a ton to think about, ponder, and discuss from this movie. Don't dismiss it as a religious Resident Evil. It's much more.