Posts from March 2005.

Games: Doom The Board Game

I’m a board gamer, not a computer gamer. And when I do play video games, they are almost never “First-Person Shooters.” I have nothing against the genre and enjoy playing them from time to time, but I seem largely immune to their more addictive qualities.

So I didn’t buy Doom: The Board Game because I’m a Doom fan; I picked it up because, rather unexpectedly, I’d been hearing good things about it from fellow board game fans. Those in a position to know said it was remarkably faithful to the computer game in atmosphere, but the raves focused more on the fact that it encourages strategic play, provides plenty of opportunities for meaningful decisions, and rewards clever tactical maneuvering. It was this assessment that convinced me to pick up.

But I try to pick it up as rarely as possible, for fear of throwing out my back. The first thing you notice about Doom is the weight of the game, and a peek inside the box reveals the reason: it is packed with components, including scores of small (and some not-so-small) plastic miniatures, dozens of rooms and hallways, and hundreds of counters, as well as dice, cards, reference sheets, and rulebooks. Yes, I said “rulebooks, plural — the game comes with both an instruction booklet (describing how the game is played) and a scenario guide (outlining the five “levels” that players can attempt). But don’t assume that the quantity of rules automatically makes Doom a hideously complicated enterprise. While it’s true that the game features lots of minutia — different stats for different weapons, different ablities for different monsters, etc. — the core system is simple, elegant, and teachable in a matter of minutes.

For those unfamiliar with the video game, here’s the premise. The Marines are conducting Interdimensional Studies in a Martian base, and when something goes kaflooey a portal is opened into the depths of Hell. (I’m not clear if it’s literally Hell or just another plane of existence, but, suffice to say, you wouldn’t want to spend spring break there.) All manner of monstrosities rush through the doorway and overrun the base, killing everyone in their path. As one of the remaining survivors, the goal of the player is to equip himself with the weapons laying around and sprint through the base, shooting (or punching, or chainsawing) everything that crosses his path and striving to find an exit.

In the board game, 1-3 players play as the Marines, and the remaining person serves as the Invader player (thereby controling the monsters). At the start of the game the only “board” on the table is a single room, with the Marines inside and a few doorways on the perimeter. Doom comes with modular rooms and corridors that connect to each other jigsaw-style, allowing the Invader to build the base as the Marines go. In other words, the Marines don’t know what lies behind a door until they open it, at which point the Invader adds the newly revealed area to the existing board and populates it with all sorts of baddies. There is also equipment hidden throughout the levels, allowing Marines to acquire new weapons, ammo, armor, health potions, and more.

Combat in Doom is quite simple. The game comes with a four different types of Combat dice, each with its own characteristics. The blue and the red dice, for instance, do a lot of damage, while the yellow and green dice allow for longer-ranged shots. Each weapon in the game uses a unique subset of the dice: when firing the shotgun the player rolls a blue and a red die, making it a short-range but lethal armament; the pistol, meanwhile, uses a yellow and green die, allowing a Marine to inflict minor wounds on distant enemies. Players possess a number of ammo chips, and must discard one whenever a bullet icon appears during a dice roll. Ammo is therefore a limited and extremely valuable commodity

When a Marine dies — and he will — he is not eliminated. On his next turn he reappears on the board and continues to battle. The Invader player receives a “Frag Point” for each Marine death, however, and wins when he’s accumulated a preset number. The Marines win upon finding the exit and escaping.

Let’s start with the good news: Doom: The Board game is a fun, exciting, and very tense affair. The Invader player is allowed to place one or more monsters onto the board at the start of his turn, so the Marines are never given the opportunity to rest and regroup. They must constantly push forward toward the exit (or toward where they think the exit lies — remember, they don’t know the layout of the level until they’ve opened doors and explored), and must keep a close eye on their remaining ammo lest they run out at a critical moment. The Marines all have distinct special abilities and are able to exchange equipment amongst themselves, and players who make thoughtful, team-oriented decisions will greatly increase their chances of survival.

But those chances of survival for the Marines — even when experienced, even when they work as a team — are bleak. This is the bad news. When played by the full compliment of four players, Doom overwhelmingly favors the Invader player. (When played with three players — two Marines v. the Invader player — the game seems balanced, and when played one-on-one the game apparently favors the sole Marine.) There has been much debate about this issue, and while some dispute that the imbalance exists* and others insist that the imbalance doesn’t matter (because the game is a blast even if the Marines consistently go down in flames), the majority opinion is that the game is virtual unplayable without the adoption of some variants or house rules. One of the more common suggestions is that the Invader play the game not to win, but to ensure that the Marines have a tense, closely-fought match. That works (it’s how I play, in fact), but it means that the Invader has to pull his punches and assume the role of “dungeonmaster” instead of playing to the best of his ability, and that might not be to everyone’s liking.

It’s also worth noting that the game takes 150-180 minutes to play and requires a huge amount of table space. Whether those are pros or cons, I’ll leave to the reader to decide.

I like Doom: The Board Game — so much so that I don’t mind the three hour playing time, and that’s saying something. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that the balance issues weren’t ironed out before its release. The designer has since released two “fixes” for the game: a “difficulty mod” that increases the amount of health and ammo the Marines start with, and an easier (and shorter) “Introductory scenario” (both of which you can find on the Doom support page). I appreciate these “patches,” but it seems like after-the-horse-has-left barn-door-closing to me. It’s too bad, because the core system is well designed. If I had to guess, I’d say that Fantasy Flight Games put a lot of time, effort, and playtesting into getting the game itself right, but then skimped when refining the scenarios.

Even so, I’d certainly recommend Doom to anyone who enjoys the video game, and to those board gamers who don’t mind a lopsided contest or have the patience to seek out and adopt enough house rules to get the game to shine.

* Kevin Wilson, designer of Doom: The Board Game, says the game must be balanced because he can win any scenario playing as the Invader player or on the side of the Marines. That may be true, but he’s the designer, fer crissakes. That’s like saying Bobby Fischer vs. me in chess is an even matchup because the Fischer could win regardless of whether he plays black or white.
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What The Doctor Ordered

defective yeti has long been on the forefront of linguistic innovation, bringing you such indispensable neologisms as stuplimity, petable, and misfortunation. And whenever there is a void in the public vernacular, this website shall boldly stride forth to … okay, blah blah blah, you get the picture.

Anyway, you know what I’m sick of saying? “Dr-Pepper-or-Mr-Pibb.”

That’s my drink of choice, but I’m not particular enough to distinguish between the two. So when ordering one, in a restaurant or at the drive-thru, I have to tack the two already overly-long names together with a conjunction and cough them both up at once.

Of course I could just order one or the other. But since I invariably choose the one the eatery doesn’t carry (I just can’t seem to remember which multi-national soft drink corporation owns which multi-national fast food chain) the cashier then has to ask “Is [the other one] okay?” and I have no choice but to give a long, exasperated sigh and say “Yes, [the other one] is okay — duh! Jesus. And you’d better not put any pickles on my Barbarque California Falafel because I said NO pickles and that shit is nasty.”

You don’t have this problem with other drinks, because they all have generic names. Coke and Pepsi are “cola”; Cherry Coke and Wild Cherry Pepsi are “cherry cola”; Barq’s and Hires and A&W and Mug are all “root beer.” Orange drinks are “orange drinks” and iced tea is “iced tea.” I could even get a 7-Up or Sprite by saying “lemon-lime drink,” though I’d sooner drink ink right from the squid than order either one. But at least they have a generic.

I guess it’s up to me to come up with a word that encompasses this distinct subgenre of soft drink. So I asked myself, what characteristic do all these drinks have in common? A vaguely prune / bubble-gumish flavor, sure — but what really sets them apart? Answer: they all have titles. Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb, Dr. Becker, Mr. Ahhh, and all the rest — they have all earned a doctorate, or at least the right to be called by an honorific. They are all, in fact, “titled colas” — or, as we shall be calling them henceforth — “tytolas.”

But this paradigm shift in soft drink nomenclature will only occur if everyone participates. So the next time you’re shouting at a speaker at the Taco Barn’s drive-thru, ask for a tytola. They may not understand what you want right away, but just keep repeating it — they’ll catch on after you’ve said it a dozen or two times. The tytola revolution will take time, yes. But if we all work together, we can build a better place, a world where, god willing, my son will never have to utter the phrase “Dr-Pepper-or-Mr-Pibb.” And isn’t that the most any parent could hope for?

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RIP

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Me And The Queen, At The Movies

Capsule reviews for the last three films we’ve seen on DVD:

Sky Captain And the World Of Tomorrow:

M: As a long-time fan of “1950′s science-fiction,” I was prepared to love this Sky Captain despite its lukewarm critical reception. And the first hour of exposition lived up to my expectations. But as it became increasingly clear that exposition was all the film had to offer — plot clearly having come as an afterthought — my interest waned considerably. Like Chicago, Sky Captain is an interesting attempt at reviving a cinematic style of yesteryear. But unlike Chicago, this one doesn’t succeed.

Q: Pretty boring.

I ♥ Huckabees

M: Though isolated scenes in Huckabees made me laugh out loud, it seemed to lack a consistent narrative to string them together into a cohesive whole. With a shorter run time and a bit more focus (though the former would probably beget the latter) this could have been a favorite of mine; in its current state it was simply too scattershot for my tastes.

Q: Really boring.

Mr. 3000:

M: A very conventional Sports Movie, but with enough tweaks to set it apart from most. Despite starring Bernie Mac and incorporating plenty of humor, Mr. 3000 is not an out-and-out comedy, and instead walks a tightrope between The Natural and Major League with no small amount of skill. And it even manages to integrates its product placements well. Recommended to aficionados of the “Sports Movie” genre, or anyone in the mood for a guaranteed-good-but-by-no-means-great rental.

Q: It wasn’t completely terrible. But it was pretty boring.

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The yeti Lives

Well, you can’t keep a good blog down — or defective yeti either, apparently. Despite my attempts to put the site out to pasture for a week and save on bandwidth costs, the homepage kept lurching from the grave like a villain from an 80′s era slasher film and reinstalling itself at /index.html, repeatedly clobbering the “Gone Fishing” message I had put there.

It took me the weekend to figure out how it was pulling off this Lazarus routine, but now I think it can be attributed to the same force that is responsible for, like, 94% of everything that happens on the Internet: spammers. Comment spammers, specifically.

Comment spammers don’t visit blogs, click on the “comment” link, and then carefully type in their pitch for “Viagra, Cialis, Zyban, Prozac, Xenical, and many many more!” Instead, they have scripts that cycle through a database full of mt-comment.cgi URLs and pass the text of their spam directly to the script as the “text” parameter, thereby bypassing the webpage entirely*. So while I had dy shut down to real users, the comment spammers were still merrily pinging the mt-comment.cgi script on a regular basis — and incidentally rebuilding index.html every time they did. Several times over the weekend I drifted over to defectiveyeti.com and saw that the homepage had once again broken out of the back yard and was running loose in the neighborhood.

Well, hell. I guess I could just disable the mt-comment.cgi script, but, seriously, at this point it’s becoming more work to abandon the site than to maintain it. So I guess I’ll just keep posting for the rest of the month, bandwidth bill be damned.

A big thanks to everyone who offered to chip in funds to cover costs. I really appreciate the offers, although I’m not prepared to go the PayPal route just yet. Taking people’s money means that this blog becomes a job (at least in my mind), and I think we’ll all be happier if I continue to approach it as a hobby. I like knowing that I can take a week off or blather on about my my personal obsessions without feeling like I’m letting down my stockholders. Besides, what if you kicked in $10 to keep dy up for the rest of March and then the next seven days worth of entries were lame? (Which, judging from my “yeti to-do” list, is going to be the case. Just you watch.)

Some good things came out of the shutdown, by the way. I found a slew of bandwidth thieves who had been hotlinking to jpgs in my images directory and shut them all down, so that should cut by throughput by a quarter right there. And I’ve arranged to have the site hosted elsewhere starting in April, so we shouldn’t see this again.

For the remainder of this week I plan to keep my bandwidth overrun costs to a minimum by keeping the images shut off, limiting the homepage posts to five, and only writing dull and uninspired entires to ensure that no one links to them.

* It occurs to me that there may be an easy way to foil automated comment spammers, based on the fact that they don’t actually go through an individual page to post. You could put a hidden field in you Movable Type template — <input type=”hidden” name=”commentspammerssuck” value=”1″ />, say — and then put a line in mt-comments.cgi that tells it to exit immediately if that parameter isn’t present. Shit, that might actually work. I’ll try it and report my findings.
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Sticks And Stones

I held up two wooden animals. “Which one is the cow?” I asked The Squirrelly. “Point to the cow.”

The Squirrelly pointed to the cow.

“Good job!” I said. I took all the animals, shuffled them, and held out two more. “Point to the pig. Point to the pig, baby.”

The Squirrelly pointed to the pig.

“Very good! Let’s do one more.” I put all the animals behind my back and withdrew two. “Ready? Point to the chicken.”

The Squirrelly pointed to me.

okay … feelings … kind of hurt …

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It’s Just Arsenic, Walk It Off

When you call my doctor’s office, you are greeted by a recorded message that begins:

Thank you for calling. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, or if you have splashed poison in your eye, please press 9 to speak with a nurse.

Note to self: splashing poison in your eye and having a medical emergency are distinct events. Good to know.

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Of Recent Note

The other Morning News writers and I tell you what we’re currently grooving on in a piece called Of Recent Note. Wow, was that ever an awkwardly worded sentence!

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Full RSS Feed

Okay, I received two requests in 24 hours to provide full RSS feed, so I finally set up the site to do so. I just cut ‘n’ pasted the template from here, so if anyone has any problems with it, lemmie know.

Update: I’ve also linked to the xml feed in the source header.

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Too Ill To Drink Coffee: A Drama In Real Life

The Squirrelly got a bunch of cool toys for his birthday, but his favorite is the Busy Ball Popper. It’s this long, snaking tube, and when you put something into one end an invisible force accelerates it until it is ejected from the other end with explosive velocity.

Speaking of which: I have the flu.

It all started innocently enough on Friday evening, when The Squirrelly refused his dinner. Unfortunately, this refusal came 30 minutes after he had injected it. While sitting in my lap. Right at the best part of The Very Busy Spider, where I get to make the goat noises. He had been making this funny little coughing sound for about 10 minutes, and I interrupted my reading to say “Oh, stop: you’re not fooling me with your fakey-cough sympathy ploy.” And then, hoo boy, he showed me.

So I panicked and insisted we drive him directly directly to the emergency room because, my god, when has a baby ever thrown up before? The Queen pretended to play along, but basically stalled and waited for me to come to my senses. “I’ll get ready to go,” she said, and then went into the bathroom and slowly bushed her teeth. Meanwhile, I did a Google search for “baby +vomiting” and got around 40 quintillion hits, and every site said things like “You should take your child to the urgent care unit if (a) he is throwing up every five minutes (b) for 350 hours continuously. Otherwise: welcome to parenthood! Hope you enjoy doing laundry, chump!” That calmed me down (or maybe I had just become apathetic and uncaring about everything, as I always do after surfing the web) and I went into the bedroom, where The Queen was still clad and her pajamas, and announced that I didn’t think a trip to the emergency room was required after all.

We put The Squirrelly to bed and the next morning he ate a modest breakfast. His appetite was diminished for the remainder of the day, but we cycled so much electrolyte solution through his system that he was as hydrated as a sea sponge. Also, he took a two-hour nap in the morning and another in the afternoon — vomit more often, kiddo! By the time he ate a smallish dinner and went to sleep Saturday evening, we thought the worst was behind us.

And then came Sunday — Palm Sunday, according to the calendar, but that we in the Baldwin household shall forever remember as “That One Day When We Were Totally Sick, Holy Shit Were We Ever Sick That Day.”

I kicked of the festivities around 5:00 in the morning. “Wow, I feel totally nauseated*,” I announced, and then went into the bathroom and proved it. “Are you pregnant?” The Queen asked when I returned. “Oh just you wait, wife o’ mine,” I retorted. “You’ll get yours.”

Well, I didn’t really retort that. But I would have had the world’s best “I told you so!” about five hours later if I had.

Since our bodies were hosting clearance sales (“Everything must go!!“) from 10 o’clock onwards, The Queen and I had about one joule of energy between the two of us, while The Squirrelly, full of vim after recovering from his bout, was a lil’ dynamo, and the whole day played out like a children’s book about cheetah kitten adopted my a family of sloths. Basically, we did the entire day in two hour shifts: one of us would lay in bed and moan, and the other would “take care of the baby,” which consisted of watching him play while they lay on the couch and moaned.

Which brings me back to the Busy Ball Popper. When The Squirrelly first received it, I was skeptical — it’s hyperkenetic and too colorful and not interactive, a TV without a volume control knob, essentially. But that was before it parented our child for an entire day. Between it and the Laugh and Learn Learning Home he was pretty much occupied for the entire day, and all we had to do was occasionally carry him to his high chair and hurl handfuls of Cheerios in his general direction. And he even had Baby Tad to give him appropriate, confidence-building affirmations (“I love you!!”), whereas the best I could muster was to crawl up to him at one point and croak “Despite the fact that you picked up this hideous disease at daycare and brought it home to your loving parents, we don’t want you to consider our suffering ‘your fault,’ although we certainly do.”

(Oh, I never mentioned that The Squirrelly began daycare? He started last Wednesday. And he got sick on Friday. And the incubation period for this illness is two days. You do the math. The only other child at the daycare Wednesday was an adorable little girl named Avery, so we have of course fingered her as the culprit, and have even been jokingly referring to the bug as the “Avery Influenza” or, when we don’t have the strength to articulate that many syllables, the “bird flu.” That’s right: we have named the disease that has made us want to die after another disease that actually kills people. This is what has passed for jocularity around here recently.)

Anyway, today we woke up feeling well enough to drink coffee, which, around here, is pretty much the continental divide between life-threatening and benign illnesses. I even ate a bowl of corn flakes, an act that was unthinkable 24 hours ago. (The only thing I ate yesterday was a single rice cake, and that took two hours of dedicated effort.) And judging from The Squirrelly, who today seems fit as fiddle, I should be tip-top again by Wednesday.

Although I’m not sure the trajectory of my recovery will mirror that of the kid’s, since the disease has affected us in profoundly different ways. We had the same symptoms, sure. But The Squirrelly took the illness in stride, weathering it like a man; whereas I weathered it like a helpless, mewling baby.

* Yeah, so I actually said “nauseous.” Sue me.

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