2016-12-23 04:05 pm
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Europe Vacation 2016 - Part IV - Frankfurt

On Tuesday, October 18, we boarded a train to Koblenz that traveled roughly along the Mosel River. One interesting thing we noticed about the train is that it didn't have windows built to open in emergencies; instead, there are glass breaking tools attached to the walls at intervals, with nearby windows marked with red spots where people are supposed to crack them open if required. I don't think I've ever seen such a system before.

After arriving at Koblenz, we went on along the Rhein to Frankfurt. We had originally thought about getting off the train to take a short cruise up the river for the scenery, but that would have added a lot of time to the trip, and we could see a lot from the train windows anyway. It was just hard to take pictures due to the speed and the foliage of trees blocking the view. Still, I did get a few shots of the many cathedrals and quaint villages and castles (...and more castles...and more castles...) we passed.

We arrived at Frankfurt Station early in the afternoon and checked into our hotel, which was conveniently close (though the tradeoff for that was that the location is in the red light district). It was gray and rainy, but it was still light enough that we decided to walk around the city a bit. We mainly wandered around wherever the sights took us, without any particular goal in mind. (At one point, a large police-escorted procession passed us, and we thought maybe Angela Merkel was in the convoy, but we later saw on the news that she was in Berlin, so it must have been someone else.) We came across lots of scenic buildings and strolled through another cathedral.

Oh, one more thing. The burning question whenever it comes to trip planning: Does it have MANGA?

Yes. Yes, it does.

After supper, we wended our way back to our hotel, using distinctive skyscrapers as landmarks. (It's definitely quite the modern city, despite all the historical sites we visited.) We repeated the experience the next day, taking different routes to see more of the city. We came across some more fun sights, like an out of the way Lego store, and a decorative restaurant. We did get a tad lost along the way, accidentally walking to the complete opposite side of the city and visiting the zoo gift shop, but at least that was a big enough landmark that we were able to re-orient ourselves and head back.

One sobering part of our exploration was coming across commemorative metal markers embedded in the sidewalk noting the names of Jewish people who had been taken away during the war. There was even one a few yards away from our hotel.

After lunch, as we were on the way to our hotel, I stopped in at the local game shop to browse. I was hoping to find some games that I'd like to buy that are available only in German and were never published in English, but sadly I didn't locate any of the ones on my list. However, I did make a different discovery. When I was preparing for trading games at Essen, one person contacted me and offered to buy one of the games I had available. He also asked if I could order a particular title that he said was sold out in Europe. Sadly, it wasn't available in the US either, so I wasn't able to get a copy for him. As it turns out, though, this shop in Frankfurt had a copy of it on their shelf. When we got back to our hotel that evening, I managed to send a message to this person to let him know it was there, and he contacted the store and ordered it. Happy ending!

We spent the remainder of our evening playing games in our hotel room and listening to the rain outside. It was almost time for the final leg of our journey.
2016-12-11 04:54 pm
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Europe Vacation 2016 - Part III - Taking the Scenic Route

Sunday, October 16, we returned to the main Essen train station for the next leg of our journey. We stood near the platforms for a while as I tried to decipher the route map to find which train on which platform we would need to take. Eventually I gave up on that and left my parents watching the luggage while I searched other areas of the station until I located a master train schedule with the information I needed. I bought our group ticket and we boarded the train to Cologne (Köln).

Our hotel was only about two blocks from the station, so we didn't have much trouble finding the place and checking in. The man at the front desk even came outside and greeted us by name as we approached, then gave us a map of the city and recommendations of things to see and places to eat. We dropped off our luggage in our room and went out to visit the sights.

The main attraction in Cologne is the cathedral, which is a stunning architectural feat. The entire place had been bombed to rubble in the war and was reconstructed afterward, matching the new portions to the recovered pieces of old stone.

We only looked briefly at the cathedral that evening, as we were interested in seeing a museum or two, which were only a few blocks away. We set off in the direction that we thought the museums should be, according to our map...but as we walked and walked and didn't see any sign of them, we knew something was wrong. We kept checking the map and comparing it to the streets around us, but there are no regular street signs, just the occasional one posted on the sides of buildings.

Finally we crossed a subway line that had maps outside the entrances, and by following those we were able to re-orient ourselves. It turned out that we were basing our reading of the map on the location of the cathedral, but what we had thought was the front of the cathedral was actually the side, so we were off by 90 degrees. That was why we couldn't make sense of any of the locations.

By the time we got back to where we had intended to go, we had been walking for about an hour and were too tired and hungry to spend any time at the museums. We entered a crowded plaza lined with shops and restaurants and looked for a place to eat. Since arriving in Germany, we had eaten Italian (pizza), American (burgers), Japanese (sushi), and Indian (curry), but the only "traditional" German food we had tried was the Berliner jelly doughnut that [livejournal.com profile] megory had bought specifically so that she could quote Eddie Izzard.

We sought out a traditional brewhouse and ordered the potato pancake meal, served with applesauce and thin slices of heavy rye bread. We also tried the local beer, called Kölsch, which is supposed to be famous in the area. (It just tasted like regular beer to me, but I'm not really a beer drinker.) We were glad that the man at the hotel had warned us about the beer-serving custom in this city, which is that the server will refill your cup whenever it is empty...but the refills aren't free. The server keeps track of the refills by making tally marks on the coaster, then bill you for everything at the end of the meal. If you don't want the refills, you have to place the coaster over the top of the glass.

We returned to our hotel after supper for some board gaming and a good night's sleep. In the morning, we were treated to a substantial breakfast buffet, which was included in the room price. It was an impressive service of various cheeses, jams, and pickles, with toast, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, pastries, yogurt, puddings, granola, and cafe-style coffee. We did some more early-morning sightseeing in and around the cathedral, then checked out and carted our luggage back to the train station for our ride to Trier.

I had originally heard about Trier because it's the setting for a board game that came out at Essen in a previous year. (I picked up a copy while I was there, knowing we would be visiting the site.) It's on the Mosel River, which is famous for the vineyards that grow along the slopes that line the river valley. Some of the slopes are so steep, they appear nearly vertical, as perhaps can be seen in this shot I took from the train. Something else we could see from the train was that Germany has lots of solar panels. I knew there was an internet meme going around touting Germany's dedication to solar power, but reading something on the internet isn't the same as seeing all the panels in person.

In Trier, I had opted to reserve a room at a hotel a fair hike from the station. In exchange, our hotel was literally a few doors down from the main tourist attraction, the Porta Nigra, a structure built centuries ago by Romans.

Not only is the imposing Porta Nigra quite photogenic, it fronts on a popular courtyard surrounded on all sides by decorative buildings. We spent some time wandering up and down the streets, gazing at all the carvings and towers and fountains and statues and other artistic structures in the area. (Of perhaps equal import at this point in our trip, we located and made use of a coin laundry, which happened to be down the street from the Karl Marx House.)

The crowds thinned and shops started closing once the sun went down after about 5pm. We selected a restaurant for supper, and the place was practically vacant, which was quite the contrast to the number of people having drinks and desserts at the outdoor tables earlier in the day. After supper we strolled down the block to our hotel and prepared to head to the Big City. Next stop: Frankfurt.
2016-12-05 10:14 am
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Europe Vacation 2016 - Part II - Essen

On October 12, we hauled our luggage through the Underground to the airport and left on a flight for Dusseldorf. The first thing we had to do was figure out how to catch a train to our destination, Essen. I spent several minutes fiddling with the ticket vending machine and managed to get a group ticket, but I wasn't quite sure how to read the route map to find a train to our destination. From what I could tell, the next express train wasn't leaving for another hour. Fortunately for us, a kind stranger asked if he could be of assistance. It turns out he was going the same place, and he knew how to find a train (not an express) that would depart sooner. He was also traveling on a group ticket that was valid for up to five people, so he let us travel with him and share his ticket in exchange for me giving him the one that I had just bought.

The German train system is extensive and relatively convenient, if you know how to buy the proper ticket and read the train schedule. What seemed bizarre to me (in comparison to the train system in Japan) is that there were never any turnstiles at any of the stations for checking the tickets. Instead, the system relies on random spot checks by conductors, with fines for passengers traveling without tickets. Also, there are substantial discounts for traveling in groups; only one person in the group has to be carrying a ticket.

We got off the train at the main station in Essen and located the tourist information office where we bought our tickets for the gaming trade show (Internationale Spieltage, aka Spiel) we were there to attend. Then we took the subway to our hotel, which was around the corner from the convention center. We splurged on this particular hotel, and I think it was worth it for not having to travel the subway every morning to commute to the convention. Tens of thousands of people attend, and though many drive cars, the subway is still packed to the gills every day. The hotel also had good wi-fi service, which would turn out to be uncommon (at least at the more budget hotels where we stayed later).

The morning of October 13, we set out early to find breakfast. We selected a little cafe a couple blocks away. Germany is full of little sandwich and pastry cafes; while that made it easy to find something quick to eat, eventually one gets tired of eating sandwiches. We were partial to this one, however, because it served a brand of tomato juice with a familiar name.

After breakfast, we walked to the convention center, and along the way we first noticed the bike path. Bikes are everywhere in Germany, and while the bike paths are sometimes marked on the streets, often they are part of the sidewalk. The distinguishing feature is that they are paved with a different type of brick from the area intended for pedestrians. (This technique is used for other purposes as well, such as demarcating handicapped parking.) While this is certainly clever, since it eliminates the need for repeatedly touching up painted lines, it means that pedestrians have to be constantly watching the stones at their feet to make sure they aren't wandering into a bicycle zone.

While I'm on the topic of paving techniques, I should mention that Germany seems to have a love affair with cobblestones. Not only do they use bumpy cobblestones for regular sidewalks, they also use them for areas where they KNOW people are going to be rolling wheeled objects, such as the area in front of a hotel, or the handicap-accessible ramp leading to a major train station. Honestly, I can't imagine what they were thinking.

Anyway, we spent the morning browsing the vendors at the convention. While not as gargantuan as Comiket, it's still huge, and the whole thing is packed with people trying and buying board games. I had made up a list in advance of the games I wanted to see and purchase, so I dashed through the halls with my parents in tow to get to the vendors I was afraid might sell out. Once the initial rush was over, we wandered in a more leisurely fashion. We ran into Richard Ham, a popular game reviewer, who remembered us from Gen Con two years ago. We also stopped by the table where his wife was selling her handmade glass crafts, and I bought a set of decorative coasters.

At noon, we attended the math trade, where I exchanged a bunch of games that I didn't need anymore for a bunch of new-to-me games. My parents were a great help in this endeavor, as they could stay in one place with my stack of games to be given away while I could venture into the mass of traders to locate the people with games for me to collect. Once the trading was accomplished for the day, we went out to a pizza place for lunch, then plunged back into the crowds for more exploration of the vendor halls. We stayed until the evening, when my mother and I attended an informal meetup of a bunch of women who chat on the BoardGame Geek forum. It was fascinating to meet everyone in person; they were not only from Germany, but also Poland and other surrounding countries. Everyone spoke English because it was the one language they could all understand.

Once the gathering broke up, we picked up my dad and all went out for supper. I had looked up a list of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the area, so we went to one of the places on the list, which was actually a burger joint. It wasn't something I would have tried on my own if I hadn't seen it on the list, because I would have thought there wouldn't be anything we could eat. As it turns out, despite the prevalence of sausage everywhere, vegetarianism (and veganism) is apparently popular in Germany. Many restaurants have special vegetarian sections of the menu. We never had any trouble finding something to eat. Even when we went to a steak house where the name of the restaurant was literally Meat (well, technically it was "Me[e/a]t"), they would substitute a vegetarian burger for any of the regular burgers on the menu.

Friday, October 14, was mostly a repeat of the previous day. We got breakfast at the cafe, then attended Essen until the midday math trade, where I concluded all my game exchanges. In the afternoon, we walked into town, where I wanted to stop by a bookstore to buy an authentic German cookbook. We had a late lunch of sushi before returning to the convention for a last-minute game purchase. At that point, I measured the weight of my suitcase with all the games in it, and I found that I was at my limit. I could still fit a little more in my handcarry luggage, but as I intended to buy souvenirs later in the trip, I knew that I had to stop buying games or it wouldn't all fit.

Due to that, we decided not to go back to the convention, even though our tickets were good for two more days. Instead, we spent Saturday morning at the shopping mall near the main train station. It was interesting to see all the shops there, and we had a nice Indian curry lunch. We also encountered our first public restrooms, which are pay-to-use. The one at the mall had an attendant standing in front of a table with a little tray of coins. When a person finishes using the restroom, the requirement is to toss a 50 Euro-cent coin into the tray. Because of the necessity of paying coins to use restrooms, I had to make sure to keep an abundance of small coins at all times.

The system at the mall at least made sense. Later, we would encounter the system used at the train stations, which is rather bizarre. The restrooms are blocked by automated gates. There is a machine on the wall that accepts coins to open the gate. Your choices are either to pay 1 Euro coin, in which case you get back a coupon good for 50 cents at any of the station shops, or to pay a 50 cent coin plus a 50 cent restroom coupon (from a previous visit), in which case you get nothing back. So you're actually being charged double if you use the coupon. One might think this system is intended to save the cost of hiring an attendent, as at the mall, but in fact there was an attendent present (I presume to help people who didn't know how to operate the machine and to make sure there were no gate-jumpers). I didn't really understand the point of the strange coupon system, but I guess it works for them.

We walked back to our hotel and packed for the rest of our trip.
2016-11-27 09:31 am
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Europe Vacation 2016 - Part I - London

My trip started on October 9, when I hopped on an outbound plane at SFO. My first stop was LAX, where I had to make a transfer. If you've never been through LAX, let me just say that they have a serious signage deficiency. I had to stop and ask staff several times where I was supposed to go for my connection, because there weren't any signs showing the way. For example, my domestic flight landed in a tiny outbuilding, and I had to board a bus to drive across the tarmac to a different terminal. There were two available buses, one bound for Terminal 4 and one bound for Terminal 6. I checked the flight departure board for information about the location of my next flight, and all it said was "TBIT."

Nowhere did it explain what TBIT meant, nor did it say which of the two buses would get me there.

That was just my first experience with frustration at this airport. It's a good thing I allowed plenty of time for my connection when I booked my ticket, because such situations kept happening. Either there were no signs, or the sign was facing the opposite direction so that I was approaching from the rear where I couldn't read it, or the sign pointed me toward an area marked "authorized personnel only," or there was an intersection and the sign was at the end of the hallway so you would have to be lucky enough to pick the right path first before seeing it.

In any case, I made my flight, and I landed safely at Heathrow the morning of October 10. My parents, who had arrived there several days earlier, picked me up and helped me get my luggage to the hotel. I was bringing a checked suitcase packed full of games, which I would be trading for different games when I reached Germany. In the meantime, I had to maneuver it through the city's Underground, which was exceedingly inconvenient because half the stations don't have elevators or escalators, only stairs. I guess they expect people with wheelchairs or strollers just won't use half the stations?

Another problem I encountered was that I hadn't packed the right outerwear. The temperature was in the 80s when I left San Francisco. I figured it would be colder, but I estimated it would be in the 60s, so I packed mainly T-shirts and a couple sweatshirts. As it turns out, the weather was in the 40s and 50s for most of my trip; it even got down into the 30s for a while when I was in Munich. If I had known, I would have brought my winter coat. I ended up borrowing a windbreaker from my parents, which helped cut the chill a bit.

After settling my things at the hotel, we went out for lunch at a nearby bookstore called Foyle's, which had free wi-fi (our hotel didn't) and a cafe on the top floor. I had my first meal of tea and scones. It was quite good, and it came with enough tea that all three of us could share one. After eating, we walked over to the British Museum, which was only a few blocks away. There were lots of buses traveling the streets, and my parents had ridden them to see the city a bit before I arrived, but I preferred to walk.

The biggest annoyance when walking anywhere was that the city is full of smokers, and everyone apparently lights up the moment they step outside a building. No matter where we went, we were always surrounded by clouds of cigarette smoke. Heck, even Tokyo has outlawed smoking on the sidewalks, and they smoke like fiends there. If they can do it, why not London? To be fair, Germany had the same issue. There were people smoking not only on the sidewalks, but also waiting on train platforms, sitting at outdoor tables at cafes, and standing in doorways. The main difference was that the population density in Germany was generally less, so we would occasionally encounter patches of breathable air. London was so packed, the smoke was inescapable most of the day. Really, London, WHY SO MUCH SMOKE?!

Anyway, we spent a few hours viewing the museum, by which point I was ready to crash. We made arrangements to meet early the next morning and then turned in for the night.

On the morning of October 11, we set out in search of breakfast. We ended up going to McDonald's, where we knew we could get something hot and fast. They had an interesting system, where they had installed giant touch-screen panels on the wall for people to place their orders. Once the order is placed, people just wait around for their numbers to be called on a display screen, then pick up the order and go. No need to interact with a staff person at all. I haven't been to a McDonald's in years, so I don't know if we do the same thing here, but I had never seen that before.

After eating, we walked down through the theater district. We passed by the place where they were performing the Harry Potter show, which was decorated so that you couldn't miss it. Patrick Stewart was performing at another place nearby. If I had been staying longer, it would have been nice to have seen some kind of performance, but I just didn't have time. We wandered through Chinatown, which was practically vacant at that hour, and continued on toward Trafalgar Square.

By the time we got there, pedestrian traffic was starting to pick up. That's when I also started to notice that about 70% of the pedestrians completely ignore the traffic signals. (I suspect the other 30% are the tourists.) As I was contemplating this observation, I noticed that the pedestrian traffic signals in this particular area did not have the standard images for "walk" as in other parts of the city. Instead, they had been modified to represent various lifestyles. (I pointed this out to my parents, who hadn't realized what the symbols meant.)

We continued on down the road toward Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, we were there on an off day, so we wouldn't be able to watch the changing of the guard. We could at least see the shiny gates, though.

From there, we turned and headed toward more landmarks, such as Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. We crossed Westminster Bridge, from which we had a panoramic view of the city. I thought there were a lot of bridges here in San Francisco for traversing the bay, but London definitely has us beat in the bridge department. As we moseyed along the Queen's Walk, we kept track of our progress by how many bridges we passed. After seeing the outside of the Globe Theater, we went back via the Millenium Bridge, from which we could see still other bridges farther down the way.

We walked back toward Trafalgar Square and stopped in at the National Gallery to view some art. We followed that up with some shopping at Harrod's. The store was certainly large; it was easy to become disoriented. We asked for directions to the escalator, and the staff person advised that we should take the "Egyptian" escalator, because it was the best one. We were perplexed by that description...until we followed her directions and found it. The escalator was located in its own little connecting hall, and the entire chamber from top to bottom had been sculpted to look like something out of a pyramid. There were carvings and statues on every surface. I thought about taking a picture, but there was just no way to capture it in a single shot.

By the time we finished shopping, it was starting to get dark. We returned to Foyle's for supper (and more wi-fi), then went back to our hotel for the night. In the morning we would be leaving on a plane to Germany.
2016-11-10 03:35 am

Playing along

It is taking me substantially longer than I expected to get my European vacation trip report finished. This is mainly due to the large quantity of pictures that I need to sort through and edit.

In the meantime, I have been enjoying visiting with friends, playing board games, and getting caught up on all the TV I missed while I was away. [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo came over a couple weeks ago and joined me in walking the dogs along the ocean, which they love to do. Jenn visited this past Saturday, and we managed to squeeze in a few games around bouts of cooking.

There is a group of people on BGG who are into playing solitaire games, and every year they participate in nominating their favorites into a Top 100 list. I'm working on playing through a lot of the new games I have acquired lately so I can see whether I should submit them for the list. The trick is to get the games played without the dogs knocking all the pieces off the coffee table with an errant swipe of the tail...I had to fish some dice out from under the couch yesterday. (I'm really looking forward to the arrival of my dedicated gaming table.)
2016-10-31 06:19 pm
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2016 Kickstarter Update, Week 19

Game I Backed:
Valeria: Card Kingdoms Flames and Frost Expansion
Status: Funded

Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a fantasy game inspired by Machi Koro that has been a hit both with my parents and a meetup game group, so it was a no-brainer to back the expansion.


Game I Viewed:
Tiny Epic Quest
Status: Funded

This latest in the Tiny Epic line of games is based on the Legend of Zelda games. Its gimmick is that it uses meeples that can hold items. I was interested in it due to the theme and appearance, but I have my doubts about all the dice rolling that it involves, so I haven't fully decided whether to back it.
2016-10-25 04:56 am

Bouncing back

I returned home from my European vacation late Saturday night, and I'm currently working on getting settled back in. I spent pretty much all day Sunday vegging in front of the TV, and now I'm readjusting to the time zone. Thankfully, I don't have any problems with my early morning work shift (since it's mid-afternoon in Germany and I'm wide awake), but trying to stay up to get anything done after my shift ends is a challenge.

I've taken notes and lots of pictures over the past couple weeks, so I should be able to post a detailed trip report, but it will have to wait a bit until I can devote some time to typing it all out.
2016-09-29 10:55 am

Use it or lose it

Nothing much has been happening around here this past week. I'm still working to keep up with the tomato harvest. This time I'm making pizza sauce and running a bunch of cherry tomatoes through my dehydrator. With as much as I'm putting up this year, I should be able to grow something else instead of tomatoes next year and have plenty to tide me over. The figs are reaching the end of their season, but the persimmons are starting to show more color, so they should be ready to start harvesting in another month or so.

As is common at the end of the fiscal year, the scheduling department is trying to burn through all the money left in the overtime budget. I've been drafted for quite a few hours of overtime. Conveniently, the extra money should help pay off the expenses of my upcoming trip to Germany for Essen Spiel, the largest board game convention in Europe.

If I thought my luggage was stuffed full coming back from Gen Con, I can't imagine how I'm going to fit everything in my suitcase this time...
2016-09-21 06:17 am

The queen is dead

I managed to squeeze in about an hour after work to visit my main library's annual book sale. Fortunately (for me), the cookbooks were separated into their own room, so I could just avoid that room and save myself a ton of money. I did pick up a few things from the hobby and language sections.

I devoted my days off this weekend to canning, and I processed a total of 11 pints of tomatoes and 7 cups of fig jam. I will probably spend next weekend putting up more fencing and planting my fall peas.

On Tuesday, I made a sad discovery when I went to refill the water tank I set up by my beehive. I noticed that there wasn't any activity around the hive entrance, unusual for a warm sunny day, so I opened the hive to check. All I found were dozens of dead bees. ;_; I speculate the hive was attacked by wild bees or wasps, which then stole all the honey. I had suspected for several weeks that the queen wasn't laying as many eggs as she should be; I guess the hive population dropped to the point that they didn't have the numbers to defend themselves any more. Oh, well, I can try again next year. Hopefully I can get a stronger queen. At least I still have all the equipment ready to go.
2016-09-18 07:18 am
Entry tags:

2016 Kickstarter Update, Week 18

Game I Backed:
Sagrada
Status: Funded

In this game, players draft multicolored dice and place them in a grid, sudoku-style, to create the effect of a stained glass window. The objective of the game is similar to Roll Player, which I backed last year (and just received), but I think the pretty appearance and different theme of this one is enough to make it worth owning both.


Honorable Mention:
Boards and Bits Traveler
Status: 27% funded

This is a padded case intended to allow carrying multiple games at once by taking them out of their boxes and separating the boards from the other components. While I like the idea, I am not likely to carry games around without their boxes very much, and I already pledged for the Game Canopy. This is more useful for someone who has a regular game group, like lunch time gaming with co-workers.
2016-09-10 05:54 am
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Rahdo Runs Through

Popular video board game reviewer Richard Ham runs through the game I designed.

The Dragon and the Emperor Gameplay Runthrough

Extended Gameplay

Final Thoughts
2016-09-10 05:51 am
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2016 Kickstarter Update, Week 17

Game I Viewed:
Bethel Woods
Status: Funded

This cooperative game from the designer of the North Sea trilogy uses a mancala mechanism for moving workers around the board to repair various gates before monsters can get through. At first I had intended to buy this, but I'm trying to save up for all the new games at Essen, so now I'll probably let it go.
2016-09-07 07:23 pm

Behind cupboard doors

I was fortunate this weekend that I happened to get Sunday and Monday off. I invited my neighbors to go to the nearby Millbrae Art & Wine festival, and they thought it sounded interesting, so we all went together on Sunday afternoon. I even got all dressed up for the event, wearing a Hawaiian dress that I bought years ago. It was fun browsing at all the vendor stalls, and I picked up a couple things for myself.

On Monday, I took advantage of the fact that I had a holiday off to go to the mall and shop some of the Labor Day sales.

Aside from that, not much has been going on here. I'm continuing to battle the squirrels for my figs. Now my beagle has joined in the fight...the tree grows right next to my front porch, so every time I take him out for a walk, he tries to dive under the tree to pick up anything the squirrels have dropped, or even chomp the figs directly from the branches. Tomato season is also in full swing. The winter squash vines are starting to die down, so those will be ready to harvest before too long.

I have an overflowing bowl of kabocha on my dining table, just waiting for me to think of something to do with them. Last week, I had my neighbor over for a day of cooking, and we made kabocha croquettes (using a Japanese deep-frying pan that has been sitting in my cupboard for years, waiting for the right opportunity). I dropped by the Japanese grocery store downtown and picked up a few things for making tempura, so I'm hoping to try that next.

This is why I have such a hard time de-cluttering. Even if I might not use something for years, I never know when the right time to pull it out of storage will arrive.
2016-08-28 05:54 am
Entry tags:

2016 Kickstarter Update, Week 16

Games I Viewed:
Herbaceous
Status: Funded

In this filler by the designer of Biblios, players are planting herbs in either their own or a communal garden, then using a press-your-luck mechanism to decide when to transplant those herbs into pots for the kitchen. While I love the theme (despite the fact that it's backward...generally herbs start in pots indoors and then get transplanted out into the garden), and the art is fantastic, the game is just too light for my taste.


Underlings of Underwing
Status: 54% funded

In this worker placement game, players use all the colors of the rainbow to hatch baby dragons. While the theme appears to be custom made for my taste (RAINBOWS and BABY DRAGONS!), I just wish the game itself looked more interesting.
2016-08-24 06:21 am

Post-vacation recovery

I had three days off this past weekend, which was nice, because I really needed the extra time to get caught up after my two week Gen Con trip.

I spent Saturday working in the backyard, harvesting beans and tomatoes and potatoes. I also checked on my beehive, which isn't advancing as well as I had hoped. I suspect the queen isn't laying as many eggs as she could be. I rearranged some of the frames, because the bees were all crowding on the right half of the hive; hopefully when they don't feel as crowded they will be prompted into greater activity. They don't seem to be in any kind of distress (no sign that they're trying to raise a different queen, for example), and they're still making honey (so they don't appear to be suffering a nectar drought). There's still a couple months of summer left for them to kick into high gear, if they're going to improve.

I also took the dogs for a walk out to the nearby dog park. On the way, I passed a group of volunteers from the shelter where I got Rei. They were having a photo shoot with a bunch of their dogs. As I walked by, one of them recognized both me and Rei, which I think is pretty amazing, considering he was only there for about a day a whole year ago.

On Sunday I worked in the front yard. I cleared out a 4' x 4' space near the sidewalk, put in a low garden fence, and planted it with potatoes and carrots. I figure that will accomplish two things: Benny won't be able to dig up my root crops before I do, and it won't matter if any passing neighborhood dogs pee on the plants because the edible portion is underground. I plan to put another vegetable patch in the front yard in about a month, a bit farther back from the sidewalk, for growing chickpeas over the winter.

Monday I worked on household tasks, all the cleaning and cooking that needed to get done before the start of the work week. That pretty much ate up my whole day. It would have been nice to have even more days off to make progress on some backlogged projects, but I suppose I can't have everything.
2016-08-20 07:21 am
Entry tags:

2016 Kickstarter Game Update, Week 15

Game I Viewed:
Fields of Green
Status: Funded

This card game is a re-themed version of Among the Stars that introduces a bit of resource management as the players each strive to put together a functioning farm. Although I like the theme, I already own Among the Stars, and I don't think it's different enough to justify having both.


Honorable Mention:
Character Meeples 2.0
Status: Funded

This campaign is for custom meeples--some specific sets for games, but mostly generic characters. I think some of them are cute, but I'm trying to cut down on expenses right now in preparation for my Essen trip.
2016-08-15 08:19 am
Entry tags:

Gen Con 2016 Game Log

For posterity, here is the list of the games that I played on my trip this year. The #1 game was Valley of the Kings, with 4 plays of the base game, 3 plays of the Last Rites expansion, 1 play of the Afterlife expansion, and 1 play of all three combined (though only 1 card was used from Last Rites in that game).

Second was Dominion, with 3 plays of last year's Adventures expansion and 3 plays of this year's Empires expansion.

Third place was Bird of Happiness, a quick-playing deckbuilding game that I picked up at the Tokyo Game Market back in May.

The most-played non-deckbuilder was Codenames, with 2 competitive team plays of the base game and 3 cooperative plays of the Pictures expansion.

Gen Con 2016Game Log )
2016-08-14 06:21 am

Gen Con and Game Week 2016 Quote List

Let me run over for one minute and handle the nuclear explosion.

Thinking is more fun when you're drunk.

I was really interested in reading about zip codes!

If I'm like, "What's under this rock? Ooh, it's the dragon!" ...then we're all screwed.

I've got the bladder of whatever.

If you roll a 1, you might pee your pants.

I was thinking about having a root beer float...but then alcohol happened.

No matter how much I'm lying down, I want to be lying down more.

...According to the stove. The stove is wise.

Five points in hand is worth...nine in the bush?

Embrace the carrot!

...If I say "shmupiter," does that count?

I should be doing more touching.

If it was Jupiter, she would have said "shmupiter."
--But if it were Saturn, she would have said "apple"...

Welcome to the Card Poor house!

I'm waiting to see how long it is until I eat my game piece.

Faces were meant to be covered with cat hair!

If you have two Brain Hooks, can you make a sweater? A brain sweater?

Get in touch with your Inner Sarcophagus.

I'm looking at chips. Chips are more important than ghosts.

It's the cutest murder weapon.

I know I killed someone with suspenders!

Are we going to run out of sleeves? Is that a game ending condition?
2016-07-16 06:21 pm

How sweet it is

Thankfully, there have been no major mishaps this week. Most of my focus has been on the garden, where I'm finally getting to harvest the first beans from my variety trial. They're maturing at a rate of a few pods per day right now, but I will be inundated with them before long. Last year I sorted them on my coffee table, but that won't work with mischievous dogs that like to steal things off my tables when I'm not looking. I'm thinking I may have to do all my bean sorting in the guest bedroom instead.

The squash and tomatoes are coming along splendidly. I managed to get fencing up around the tomatoes, so hopefully the dogs won't be able to munch on them the way they've been eating all the blackberries. None of the tomatoes are ready to pick yet, but it won't be long.

I harvested several pints of rhubarb from my main plant. The baby rhubarb that I split from the parent and planted last winter is doing quite well, so I should get even more next year.

My summer potato crop is beginning to die back, so it should be ready to harvest in a few weeks. Of course, I'll be too busy with Gen Con by then, so the potatoes will have to wait until mid-August before I can get around to them.

Most exciting of all, I peeked inside my hive to check on how the bees are doing, and I found them hard at work on capping a frame of honey. This one is in the brood box, so I'll be leaving it alone for their own consumption, but if all goes well I'll have a lot more in the honey supers by the end of the season.
2016-07-15 06:40 pm
Entry tags:

2016 Kickstarter Game Update, Week 14

Game I Viewed:
Martians: A Story of Civilization
Status: Funded

This worker placement game about living on Mars can be played either competitively, semi-cooperatively (all players must help each other occasionally to survive, but there is only one winner), cooperatively, or solitaire. While I like the flexibility of play style, and the theme of Mars is hot right now, the actual game seems to lack anything novel. When I want a worker placement game, I already have several on my shelves.


Honorable Mention:
Watch It Played Season 6 (Indiegogo)
Status: 64% funded (note - money is collected on Indiegogo regardless of reaching the funding goal)

This campaign is for more board game video tutorials by Rodney Smith. It's thanks to him that I bought such games as Eminent Domain and Tokaido. He does a good job of showing how games work. Also, there are a few exclusive promo items being offered to backers (though none in particular that interest me).


On a tangential note, print-on-demand board game publisher Victory Point Games is ceasing their print-on-demand service when their current lease expires and will be converting to a more traditional publishing method (i.e. printing a fixed number of games, and when they're sold out, they're gone until the next printing--if it ever comes). I mention this because they're currently (until July 20) having a 10% off sale on all their merchandise, so if you want to grab one of their games before they stop printing, now is a good time. Notably, they are the publisher of Frontier Stations (aka "cooperative Machi Koro in space").