Games: Hippodice

Yo: If you have a game group and would be willing to playtest a prototype that I am working on for the Hippodice Competition, drop me a line.

(Note: If that didn’t make a whit of sense to you, you were not the target audience for this post anyhow.)

Games: Fresh Fish

I played a prototype of Fresh Fish years ago at a friends house and declared the game to be broken. I was certain the bizarro rules couldn’t possibly work, despite the fact that we had just successfully finished a game. Later, when there was a limited release of the game in Germany, game enthusiasts snapped up all available copies and hailed it as one of the most brilliant and unusual games available, leading me to conclude that the game must work after all.

So when Plenary Games re-released Fresh Fish earlier this year, I knew I would have to get a copy and see if I had misevaluated it. Now, after several more plays, I realize that I had, and Fresh Fish has become one of my current favorites. Unfortunately, it’s also nearly impossible to describe. But here goes.

The 10×10 grid on the game board starts empty, except for four Factory tiles — a Harbor, a Game Store, a Nuclear Power Plant and a Petroleum Depot — which are placed randomly before play begins. Each Factory has corresponding Outlets, with one of each kind of Outlet Tile for each player in the game. In other words, a five-player game will have five Fish Stores (for the Harbor), five Game Stores (for the Game Factory), five Nuclear Waste Dumps (for the Power Plant) and five Gas Stations (for the Depot). These tiles are mixed with a similar amount of Generic Buildings tiles to form the draw pool.

Each player also begins with $15 and six Reservation markers. On a turn, a player does one of two things: places a Reservation Marker on any vacant space on the board or flips over the next tile from the draw pool. In the former case, the player’s turn ends after he has placed his Marker, but what happens next in the latter case depends on whether a Generic Building or an Outlet is revealed. If a Generic Building, the player simply places it in a space when he has a Reservation Marker and concludes his turn. But if an Outlet is turned over, all players who don’t already own that particular Outlet bid forthe right to own it, with the winner placing it in one of his reserved space.

Some spaces will become Roads as the game progresses, and, at the end of the game, you add up the number of Road Tiles you have to traverse from each Factory to arrive at your corresponding Outlet. The lowest score wins — after all, the closer your Fish Store is to the Harbor, the fresher the fish you’ll have for sale.

It’s road placement that makes Fresh Fish so unusual — and so difficult to explain. Players don’t place the Road Tiles, you see — the game places the Road Tiles. There are two overarching metarules which determine where the Road Tiles go. Firstly, at the end of the game there can be only one road, so you can’t place a Generic Building or an Outlet in a square that would prevent two or more road segments from eventually joining. Secondly, all Factories and Outlets must have road access by the end of the game. So if a Game Store in the middle of the board has buildings adjacent to it on three of its sides, the space abutting the fourth side must contain a Road Tile (because if a building were placed there, the store would never gain road access). A corollary to the second metarule is that empty spaces on the board also cannot become isolated, because they could, hypothetically, contain an Outlet on a future turn.

Don’t understand? Don’t worry – no one does at first. Although the two metarules are simple to state (“there’s only one road, and all Factories and Outlets need access to the road”), it’s very difficult to wrap your mind around in practice. After each turn, players must check to see if the placement of a building in any of the remaining empty spaces would violate either of the metarules; if so, the space in question is immediately “expropriated” and a Road Tile is placed therein. After a few games this becomes automatic (although even experienced players will occasionally miss one), but the first few times it will feel like your brain is in a garlic press every time you try and work this out.

So it’s not enough to simply place your Fish Store close to the Harbor; you also have to place other buildings around the Harbor to ensure that the road connecting the Factory to your Outlet is as short as possible. It’s entirely possible to place a Gas Station three squares away from the Petroleum Depot, but to wind up with a 12 Road-Tile route because other players placed buildings in such a way as to make the road leaving the Depot snake all around the board before arriving at your Station.

I enjoy Fresh Fish and am always eager to play it, but I haven’t the foggiest idea why. Even though I can now see at a glance where Road Tiles need to go, I still have no clue how to bend the road to my will. Plus, the game is mentally exhausting – afterwards I typically feel hungover, and on two occasions the play of the game has given me a headache (no joke). But Fish pushes the same, perverse “spatial reasoning” button as jigsaw puzzles, Tetris and Ricochet Robot (another migraine-inducer). It’s like watching a good horror movie: throughout you are miserable, but afterwards you say, “that was fantastic! I can’t wait for a sequel!”

It’s hard to recommend Fresh Fish on the basis of “fun,” because it’s certainly not for everyone. Furthermore, playing the game without someone who can instantly spot where the Road Tiles go can be a chore – often you will realize that you missed an expropriation several turns after the fact, and “rewinding” the game is nigh impossible. On this point, all I can say is that I went from disbeliever to fan after three plays, and many of my friends enjoy it as much as I do. But I can recommend the game without reservation on one point: if you’re in the market for something unlike anything you’ve ever played before, Fresh Fish is unlikely to disappoint.

A Promise Kept

“I’m a uniter, not a divider.” — George W. Bush

* * * * *

Q: What about Arabs coming in from other countries?

A: Well, it seems to me — and the weight of evidence indicates — that Arab Islamists have fully joined the Iraqi resistance in Iraq … Iraqi is gradually but steadily replacing Afghanistan and Bosnia as a magnet for many Jihadi recruits to confront the forces of the so-called “unbelief”. And it seems to me that anti-American forces must now feel that US forces are very vulnerable in Iraq and could be bogged down in a prolonged guerilla war. If this particular resistance continues I feel you’re going to have many more Jihadi fighters joining the Jihad in Iraq against the American forces.

Q: So the US occupation is, in a negative way, uniting the forces that normally wouldn’t have anything to do with one another.

A: Absolutely.

NPR Interview with Fawaz Gerges,
a Middle East and international affairs professor
at Sarah Lawrence College

VIRUS ALERT!

To: all@paragonindustries.com
From: Matthew Baldwin <matthew@paragonindustries.com>
Subject: VIRUS ALERT!

Hey everybody. I guess I got a virus, because last night my computer emailed this companywide mailing list without my knowledge. So if you find an message in your Inbox this morning with the Subjectline "YOU ALL CAN GO TO HELL!!!!!!!" you should DELETE IT IMMEDIATELY! Do not open or read the email, as that will immediately give your computer the virus.

If you've already read it, you may have noticed that it contained a whole bunch of complete gibberish, like calling Carmen a "screechy kiss-ass" and Peter a "moronic alcoholic gibbon". Apparently the virus picked random names from my address book and included them in the text or something, I certainly wouldn't know. That's why this virus is so dangerous, and why you should delete that message (and this one) as soon as you can.

I got some new anti-virus software that scans my attachments for the phrases that appeared most often in that email ("I quit," "very drunk," "you bastards," etc.) so the problem should be taken care of. And I heard on NPR this morning that the worst of the virus is over, so you probably won't get it from anyone else, and there's no reason to think that only getting it from me was strange. Anyhow, sorry to put you all through that -- as you well know, I really, really love working here and think you guys are the greatest!

Matthew

P.s. Does anyone have any aspirin?

The defective yeti Coworker Lunch Theorem

If spontaneously organizing a coworker lunch outing without a predetermined destination, the number of minutes that will elapse between the first suggestion of the event and the group actually leaving the office will be equal to

n2 + 5
Where n = the number of persons involved.

Operation Squirrelly

Well, I promised you some news, so here you go. Operation Squirrelly — previously alluded to here — is a success.

We’ve known for a while. In fact, we knew almost immediately. But it wasn’t until The Queen came home from her first Nurse / Midwife appointment with sonogram in hand that the truth really sunk in: I was now the proud father of what appeared to be a packing peanut. Wow,” I said upon looking at the image. “You get 50 more in there and that uterus is ready to ship!” (Note: do not say this to your wife.)

I don’t know what I expected to happen next — maybe we’d get a few more of these ultrasound pictures, like postcards from the womb, and then nine months later The Squirrelly would just show up in a taxi or something. Little did I imagine that the next step would be for us to start eating like hippies. The Queen purchased a book called Every Woman’s Guide to Eating During Pregnancy (A.K.A. How To Make Your Husband As Unhappy As You Are During Pregnancy) and began whipping up the sort of dishes that make vegans giddy. Seriously, the first meal she made involved red chard. Do you know what chard is? Do you know why you never eat chard? Well, I’m here to tell you that once you eat chard, the reasons why you never eat chard become abundantly clear.

(I was recently talking to someone at work about Operation Squirrelly and mentioned that The Queen had just entered the second trimester. “Ah,” said my coworker, “She’s entering the salad days.” I was immediately seized by fear, thinking she meant that, during the next three months, we’d be eating salad more often than we already do! Thankfully, the opposite has been true: now The Queen eats seven meals a day, two of which usually involve The Outback Steakhouse, so I can pick and choose which ones to join.)

Either because of or in addition to the chard, the first trimester was rough on The Queen. Apparently placentasmithing is hard work, and she was pretty much exhausted all the time. I told her she should write down her daily caloric intake, estimate how many calories she was getting out of the deal, and write the difference in a ledger. Then, when The Squirrelly gets older, we can make it pay us back in chores. “You’re not going anywhere this weekend,” we’ll say. “You’ve got 23,800 calories worth of lawn to mow.”

But The Queen’s been feeling much better now that she’s entered her fourth month. Now I feel sorry for the cats. Since the addition of Edgar to the household it’s been a monkeys-vs-kitties stalemate, with each team having equal members. Team Monkey really only holds power by virtue of the fact that we can open doors and cans. But throughout the first trimester, I think the cats thought they had a defector. After all, The Queen has begun to exhibit some distinctly feline qualities, namely (a) sleeping 19 hours a day, (b) becoming exceptionally finicky about food, and (c) occasionally throwing up without warning or provocation. I’m sure they were thinking “Once we convince her to start pushing beer coasters off the coffee table, she’ll be our!” Little do they know of the monumental act of treachery The Queen has in store for them, when, in six months, she not only rejoins Team Monkey but brings on the reinforcements.

Anyhow, that’s the news. The due date is February 21st. But I need everyone in the Internet Community to spend three minutes a day hoping for February 29th. It would be totally fun to torture The Squirrelly three out of every four years by saying “Sorry, no birthday presents again this year. I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.” That’s gonna be awesome.