The Dean Meme

Oh man, am I ever sick of the another McGovern meme currently being propagated by Republicans ostensibly thrilled that Dean is going to clinch the Democratic nomination. Dean ain’t my first choice for the nomination, and I honestly don’t know if he can beat Bush in 2004, but the whole “Dean = McGovern” thing drives me nuts.

So do me a favor. The next time someone feeds you this line, reply:

Dean is McGovern? Huh. Well, then by extending your analogy we can conclude that Bush is Nixon: a man so obsessed with power, secrecy and personal vendettas that the second term of his presidency will collapse under the weight of its own corruption.

Knowing what we know now about the two candidates, I think most people would prefer to vote for McGovern.

At this point the person comparing Dean to McGovern will have to (a) concede to your dizzying logic or (b) admit that the analogy is facile. (Or, if you’re on The O’Reilly Factor, (c) tell you to shut up.) In any case, this would help nip this meme in the bud.

Oh Yeah? Well Solaris Was Boring!

In the elevator this morning a man and a woman were talking to one another in Russian. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying until, in the middle of a sentence, the man dropped in the title “Big Fat Greek Wedding.” At this the woman adopted an expression of disgust and began speaking disdainfully. This too was entirely in Russian, except for one part where she rolled her eyes, made air quotes, and said, in English and with utter contempt, “American style.”

The Glow Is Fading

The Queen:

“The last trimester is ridiculous. He’s fully formed, you know — now he’s just sitting around getting fat. There’s no excuse for him to still be in there.”

Two months to go …

Friday Afternoon Scratchpad

Allow Me To Apologize In Advance

Until recently the Seattle Symphony only performed works by a single composer: The Brandenburg Concertos, The Art of Fugue, The Goldberg Variations, etc. But when audiences started complaining about the lack of variety, the conductor decided to think outside of the Bachs.


One of my coworkers is deaf. When we see each other in the hall, I always greet him by silently mouthing the word “hi” instead of just saying it. I’m fully aware of how stupid this is but can’t seem to break the habit.


Whoa, addictive.

My life as a dwarf.

Actual billboard. Not an actual billboard.

Amazing True Fact: Babies Are Adorable!

Our friends have a two year-old daughter named A., who’s at the stage where speech revolves around stock, sing-song phrase like “Da-da!” and “uh-oh!”

A. was watching us adults play Smarty Party, a game similar to Outburst in which players try to come up with the items that fit a given category. We had named eight of “The Top Ten Religions, By Number Of Followers” and were stumped by the remaining two. We finally gave up but suspected that we would kick ourselves for not remembering at least one of the two omitted.

The Reader told us we had missed “Jainism.” Most of us were, like, “oh man, I never would have guessed that.”

“The other one,” the Reader continued, “Was Baha’i.” At his there was much slapping of the forehead, and we all shouted “Baha’i!” in unison.

A. merrily waved and exclaimed “Buh bye!”

Ode To An Obnoxious Guy

If anyone
Is more annoying
Than the guy who thinks
He’s the only person in the world

It’s the guy who thinks
There are only two things in the world:
And a conspiracy against him.

The Bad Review Revue

The Haunted Mansion: “Lamer than Tiny Tim on a damp London day.” — Brian Parks, VILLIAGE VOICE

Bad Santa: “A frozen pile of reindeer droppings, the cinematic equivalent to passing a kidney stone.” — K.J. Doughton, FILM THREAT

Honey: “Amid the endless stream of catch-a-rising-star movie cliches are a few new ones, notably ‘skinny girls always win out in the end’ and ‘hootchie bad, faux hootchie good.’ — Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Gothika: “All the subtlety of a Judas Priest video.” — Desson Thomas, WASHINGTON POST

Timeline: “The trouble with this movie is basically everything.” — Wesley Morris, BOSTON GLOBE

Good Gift Games 2003

Note: If you heard me on The Beat and are are looking for more information on the games described, head on over to SeattleSpiel.

It’s everybody’s favorite holiday tradition:  Matthew Baldwin’s Annual Good Gift Games Guide!

Every year I assemble a list of those games that, in my opinion, make swell presents for the holiday season.  In compiling these guides, I start with the assuption that the gift recipients are not habitual game players, so the games selected (with a few exceptions) are those with few rules and a focus on fun.  I also try and emphasize inexpensive games but, this year, I largely failed in that regard.  Oh well —  the economy’s pickin’ up, right?

A quick word on “complexity”. I’ve included five  levels, here:  “No-brainer,” “Simple,” “Average,” “Moderate” and “Advanced.”  This indicates how easy the game is to learn or teach, but not necessarily how easy it is to play well.    Also, I’m grading on a curve here — “average” does not mean “halfway between Hi-Ho Cherry-O and Dungeons and Dragons,” it means “Average” in terms of a G3. All of the games listed would be suitable gifts for non-gamers (with the possible exception of Amun-Re, the one advanced game).

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just those that came to mind as I was writing this.  If there’s another game you want an opinion on, drop me a line at — my knowledge in these matters is frighteningly encyclopedic.  And don’t confine yourself to this year’s games alone: be sure to check out the G3s 2000, the G3s 2001,  and last year’s guide, which also includes the Canonical List of G3games.

Enough jibba-jabba!

Coloretto (Complexity: No-brainer; Number of Players: 3-5; Playing Time: 20 minutes; Cost: $10):  You want to hear all the rules for Coloretto?  Here you go:  On your turn you can either (a) draw a card and add it to a row, or (b) take all the cards in a row.  That’s it. Well, okay, maybe there’s one or two other rules, but, honestly, I’ve hit the highlights.  And yet, it somehow manages to be terrific fun.  Go figure.

Clans (Complexity: Simple; Number of Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $20):  I typically don’t like abstract games, but there are two game designers who have a knack for creating abstract games that are simple, clever, brief, and contain just enough theme to win me over.  Leo Colovini is the first, and I find his Clans —   a souped-up version of Nim ostensibly about the formation of prehistoric villages — to be unaccountably addicting.

Paris Paris (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 45 minutes; Cost: $20):  Michael Schacht is the other designer who manages to create abstract games I like– in fact, his Web of Power is one of my all-time favorites.  Web of Power is now out of print, alas, but Paris Paris fills much the same niche:  it is easy to learn, it plays in under an hour, and it will leave you saying “let’s try that  again.”

Pirate’s Cove (Complexity: Moderate;  Number of Players: 3-5; Playing Time: 90 minutes; Cost: $40):  Enough with the abstracts; on to the themes!  I recently bought Pirates Cove as my annual “Holiday Game,” and it has been filling the role admirably.   Captain a pirate ship, send it to the four corners of the globe in search of booty, 
and greet rival corsairs with blast of cannonfire. Puts the “Arr!” into “replayable.”

Mystery Rummy: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $10):  This is the fourth in the “Mystery Rummy” series, and many folks think it’s the best.  I harbor a slight preference for Wyatt Earp, but I like that Capone (unlike Earp) can be played as a four-person partnership game.

Queens’s Necklace (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 3-4; Playing Time: 40 minutes; Cost: $20):  Queen’s Necklace is one of those rare games that’s superb with three.  Set on the eve of the French Revolution, players become Royal Jewelers, vying to purchase valuable gems and trying to curry favor with the court.  And check out the well-done online tutorial.

Smarty Party (Complexity: No-brainer; Number of Players: 3-8; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $20):  Remember Outburst, that game where someone reads a category (“Parts of the body that come in pairs”) and then everyone shouts out answers for 60 seconds or so?  Okay, Smarty Party = Outburst – the time limit + clever scoring system + rubber pants.  The cards contain some errors (which drives me nuts), but overall this is a very fun party game.  And I’m not kidding about the pants.

New England (Complexity: Moderate; Number of Players: 3-4; Playing Time: 90 minutes; Cost: $35):  The sleeper hit of the year.  When New England was released in German it received little acclaim, but the new English version has been garnering raves and just bagged the GAMES Magazine “Game Of The Year” award.  The heart of the game is an innovate auction system in which the amount you agree to pay for items also dictates whether you’ll have the pick of the litter or have to pick through the dregs.  It’s also quite nice to look at.

I’m The Boss (Complexity: Moderate; Number of Players: 4-6; Playing Time: 60 minutes; Cost: $30): I’ve owned the German version of this game for years, but it’s been so long out of print that my friends who enjoy it (and many do) have been unable to get their own copy.  Thankfully, the game has been reissued, this time in English.  I’m The Boss is pure negotiation, as you  wheedle, beg, and coerce your opponents into collaboration on a series of business deals.

Amun-Re (Complexity: Advanced; Number of Players: 3-5; Playing Time: 90 minutes; Cost: $30):  Amun-Re has a pretty steep learning curve, but it’s a game worth the effort.  Players strive to build pyramids, farm the Nile, and placate a fickle Sun God.  How Amun-Re rewards players (as a group) depends on how much they sacrifice (as a group), and it’s this delicate balance between cooperation and competition that makes the game hum.

Balloon Cup & Odin’s Ravens (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 2; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $15):  Two different games with lots of similarities:  both are card games, both are for two players, both are short ‘n’ simple (Balloon Cup a little more so), and both are quite fun.  Most prefer Balloon Cup slightly (me, I like Odin’s Ravens a smidgen more), but both are perfect for a game-playing twosome.

The Bucket King (Complexity: Simple; Number of Players: 3-6; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $20):  Why wasn’t this on last year’s list?  I have no idea, but it certainly should have been.   Protect your pyramid of buckets while sending farm animals out to knock over the pyramids of others.  So, yeah, the theme is stupid. But that won’t prevent you from totally stressin’ out when a sheep is maurading towards your bucket cache.

Other Great Games

A couple of games I’d hesitate to give as gifts but are worthy of mention.

  • Age of Steam:  Age of Steam meets none of the criteria for a Good Gift Game:  it’s long (3 hours), it is expensive (40 bucks), and it’s way too complex for casual gamers.  But it was my favorite of 2003, so I’d be remiss to omit it.
  • Alhambra:  Only absent from the above list because most would probably prefer to wait for the English version to be released late next year.
  • Fresh Fish: Me, I love this game, but it’s certainly not for everybody.  Suitable for those who enjoy puzzles, spatial reasoning, or headaches.
  • Settlers of the Stone AgeSettlers of the Stone Age is as fine a game as any of the above, but, honestly, if you’re giving gifts (or even purchasing for yourself), the original Settlers of Catan is still the way to go.   That said, Stone Age is a great substitute for Catan if you’ve played the latter to the point of indifference.
  • Edel, Stein & Reich:  A wonderful game but, at the moment, only available in German.

Second Opinions

Don’t trust the yeti? Here’s some other “best of” lists for your consideration.

  • The 2004 GAMES Magazine Games 100:
    • Game of the Year: New England
    • Best Advanced Strategy Game:  Wildlife (this is by my favorite designer and on a theme that fascinates me, but I have somehow managed to never play it. Buy it and invite me over.)
    • Best Family Game:  ZooSim
    • Best Family Strategy Game:  I’m The Boss
    • Best Card Game:  Queen’s Necklace
    • Best Two-player Game:  Balloon Cup
    • Best Party Game:  Dibs (very similar to Smarty Party, listed above)

One last note. All the links in this guide point to, which used to be my retailer of choice (and continues to have the best website of any vendor, bar none). But I’ve recently begun using Game Surplus for all of my ordering, as their prices are lower and their customer service is exemplary. FYI.

Texas Trip: The Final Frontier

The Queen and I flew to Texas on Frontier Airlines. Never heard of it? Neither had I, and I found this vaguely disconcerting. I don’t like flying under any circumstances, and I wasn’t exactly psyched to be on an airline less well-known than your average brand of salad dressing. But I ordered our tickets on one of them Internet Ticket WWW sites, and my insistence that we receive the lowest possible fare resulted in Frontier.

Frontier, it turns out, is one of those bargain basement outfits like “Southwest.” We figured this out even before we got to the gate. Standing in line to hand over our luggage, we saw that three different airlines inhabited this section of check-in counter. On the wall behind them, Delta had a fancy, digital readerboard that displayed up-to-the minute information about the arrival and departure times of its jets; Horizon’s had a plastic-and-magnets affair that clerks had to manually change to show ETAs and ETDs; Frontier had a four dollar Wal*mart whiteboard and a couple of dry-erase markers.

Frontier’s slogan is “A Different Animal,” another element of the airline that was apparently designed to make me feel ill at ease. When it comes to, say, video games or fruit juices, I find the prospect of something completely new intriguing. But when it comes to large, heavy machines improbably traveling through the ether, I’m not really in the market for an innovation. If the architecture of regular airplanes is modeled on birds, what “different animal” am I to assume Frontier is emulating? Bats? Bees? Golden — god forbid — Retrievers?

It turns out that the “Different Animal” tagline is just part of a marketing strategy targeting the lucrative “six year-old girl” demographic. Each Frontier jet, we discovered when we arrived at the gate, has a picture of some Lil’ Baby Critter on its tail wing, each looking like it had been ripped from the pages of the “Adworable Widdle Animals 2004 Wall Calendar.” The Queen and I jokingly wondered if you could special-request a particular mammal, like asking for an aisle seat. “My wife is pregnant,” you’d say to the check-in clerk, “so it’s imperative we receive an ocelot.”

“We have some great news!” someone gushed over the PA system at our gate, moments before we were to board. “We are very please to announce that we will be featuring DirectTV on this flight!” (They said this like MacGyver had just been on board, rigging up the system with paperclips and gumballs, but I’ve since discovered that Frontier always has DirectTV on their flights.) Basically all this meant that every seat had a small television set embedded in its back to ensure that, even on a cross-continental flight, no one will have to forego the sweat, sweet nectar of televised soma for even a moment.

But the TV cost money, as with everything on Frontier. They didn’t even have meals on the flights — you had to buy your own $9 ham sandwich at the airport commissary and bring it on board with you. During the preflight instructions I expected the stewardess to say that, in the event of a sudden depressurization of the cabin, an air mask would drop from the overhead compartment, and all you would need to do is swipe a major credit card through the reader in your armrest to purchase 3 minutes of oxygen for only $10.

Some folks, including the man sitting next to me, ponied up the $5 for the DirectTV headsets. The Queen was mesmerized by the guy two rows ahead of us on the opposite side of the aisle; she kept elbowing me and saying, in a tone of sheer wonderment, “That guy’s been watching Animal Planet the entire trip! He paid five bucks to watch Animal Planet!”

About halfway through the flight I glanced at the TV belonging to the man to my left. On screen were two sock puppets, conversing. The man, sensing my gaze, frantically jabbed at the channel changer until he found a basketball game.