Let’s Play Pollyanna

March Gaming – Scots, Trains and the Reformation

Just had a mammoth weekend of gaming. I am not going to give details of everything I played but I will pick out a few highlights. These are three major games which I played for the first time.

I started on Friday with Hammer Of The Scots. This is a block wargame from Columbia Games. Now I am not a big wargame fan, but I had read the rules for this game quite extensively and found them simple enough to internalise (which is one of my big issues with more complex wargames). So I decided to buy the game and give it a go with a friend over the other side of town and have a few beers (I also took along a large bottle of Chimay Blue to help things along) as an alternative to Comic Relief. I am not going to go into the rules here but you can look them up online if you want. I played England and had a number of lucky card draws which saw Edward sailing up the coast into north Scotland on a couple of years. The second time it happened I had the cards and forces to coordinate a pincer movement from the south and the Scottish rebellion crumbled a few years in the the 14th century.

On Saturday we had our monthly games session. This month it was short games so I took along another fairly recent acquisition – Chicago Express. This played extremely well and was so interesting it got another play at the pub on Tuesday. I still think most of the group play too nice and try and drive the lines towards Chicago too much. Both were five player games and I would like to see how it plays with three or four just to see if there is any more skullduggery involved.

And finally on Sunday I played Here I Stand. For those that aren’t aware of the game it is a card driven conflict game for six players. It is set at the time of the Reformation in Europe. It isn’t an out and out wargame to my mind – a lot of the ways to gather up VPs don’t involve wars and battles. It does however have a long rulebook, over 40 pages, which isn’t always organised very well. However each player has different goals and different things they can do. The Ottomans are basically trying to invade Europe and gain territory. The Protestants are trying to translate the Bible and turn various countries Protestant. The Pope is trying to burn the Protestant heretics, building St Peters and prevent them from exerting religious control. The French (who I played) get points for building chateuax. The English get points for producing a heir – although they also got points in our game by invading La Belle France. Finally the Hapsburgs start the game with masses of territory and reasonably mobile forces – but everyone is nibbling away at their territory. The French, English and Hapsburgs can also pay for voyages of exploration and settlement in the New World which also gets rewards. The play is fairly straightforward although there are a lot of cases with special rules. I have owned the game for some time and now that I have played it I have found it a long and absorbing game and can’t wait to play again. Fortunately everyone who was involved also want to give it another go – however some don’t want to play the same power again.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Games | Leave a comment

Springing into Flex

Work has been slow of late so I have decided to investigate the so-called RIA technologies. Firstly my current apps are written using Java and the Spring Framework and do use Ajax (via DWR) however the clients are constantly pushing the limits as to what is sensible in an html only environment. So I spent a good day reading up on the two main alternatives JavaFX and Flex. JavaFX, I discounted, the people involved with the project all seem to be concentrating on completely different problem domains – there is very little on what some would consider boring business applications. The few apps I did find that were using the technology seemed to have quite a heavy startup time. Also there didn’t seem to be a very focused community for JavaFX.

So I decided I would look at Flex with BlazeDS. This was a bit better although the community is still more diffuse than I am used to. Most of the technical info I used was found in the Blaze DS Integration demo by Christophe Coenraets.

I decided not to do things the easy way – I was able to grab a section of db layer and business logic from an existing spring application and used it to create a new project. I copied in the appropriate jar files (for spring-flex and for blazeds) and changed the spring configuration to suit. With a very simple flex UI to display a button and do a query on the Spring back-end when it is clicked (just like Christophe had) I very rapidly had something that actually worked. So that was good.

So now I have to think about the next steps. Quite obviously I would like Spring Security to be well integrated with the flex front-end in a similar way to the way the JSP tag library is. I will also need to think about how the application is architected. I don’t want to put a lot of code into the flex layer – just stuff that is directly concerned with the UI. Fortunately for me time is on my side. I do not have to do this in the project I am currently working on or any which we are discussing at the moment. It is purely a bit of fun looking at possible future directions so by the time I have to write something for real I expect that there would be some best practises documented out there.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Software Development | Leave a comment

Welcome To The Future – Future Noir and FFG’s Android

We played our first game of the Fantasy Flight Games game Android this weekend. By some strange quirk of fate I ended up winning despite not finding the evidence to prove my guilty suspect guilty. Me winning a new game is quite unusual so I will probably have to put up with a month long losing streak to compensate.

On to the game itself, as it was being set up I was amazed at the number of bags of bits and cards that were produced from a rather modestly sized box. We all knew it was likely to be a meaty game and so it proved. The game seemed to take an awfully long time to play – in fact we ended up playing exactly half the game which took about 4 hours. The whole game is supposed to be playable in 3 hours. We never read out the flavour text of the light cards (or most of the few dark cards) that got played – I think that if we had done so it would have improved the atmosphere of the game but would also have made the game take longer.

We are currently talking amongst the group about why it took so long – most people seem to be going with the group playing too nicely (not playing enough dark cards) which also had the result that the conspiracy puzzle was finished very quickly and quite a lot of evidence was amassed for some of the suspects.

I like the game quite a lot, and for me the downtime was just about manageable but would be better if it was about half the time. That would give a run-time of about 4 hours for a full game with 5 players. So I would definitely like to play it again (probably as a four-player game) but it is one of those experience games (a bit like Arkham Horror) which will probably only get played a couple of times a year.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Games | Leave a comment

Suvudu Free Library

Random House have started the Suvudu Free Library in which they are giving away the first book in some of their older series for free. The format is PDF.

This month there is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars which I own in hardcover (well I own all the Mars books in hardcover) but I still grabbed it as it is far nicer to search, Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, Harry Turtledove’s Settling Accounts: Return Engagements, Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon (which was called Temeraire in the UK), and finally T.A. Pratt’s Blood Engines.

Whilst not all these books are to my tastes I think it does bode extremely well for SF & Fantasy fans. Tor launched their tor.com site last year with a similar deal and have since made Emma Bull’s War For The Oaks and Will Shetterly’s Dogland available. Using a first taste is free approach seems very sensible marketing for a series and maybe even for an author. Producing very cheap unencumbered ebook editions of the back-list also seems a simple thing to do (once you have the ebook production line set up) – they are currently earning no money for either publisher or author when they sit out of print, selling them for a quid each online could benefit everyone.

March 5, 2009 Posted by | Books, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Object Oriented CSS

Nicole Sullivan talks about her OO CSS, an attempt to control and eliminate CSS bloat when creating complex web sites. One of the slides says to “Design individual pages only once all the legos have been defined” which is very good advice which many (including me) should take to heart. Of course in the real world we don’t always have the luxury of infinite time and very often we (and the clients) don’t know what they want on the page at the start of the process. Of course in such cases the hoary old chestnut of “plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow” comes in handy as long as you really do turn the ad-hoc or novel components into reusable lego as part of the development process and then throw the nasty hacked CSS away.

I only had one small peeve with Nicole’s work – I hate it when people use Legos as the plural of Lego.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | Software Development | Leave a comment