Chromebook away

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I keep on checking, hopeful it'll be fixed
As I posted previously, my Chromebook (which I use for most of my day-to-day computing) is sick. It's back with Lenovo for a warranty repair to the power button, which no longer works. I think it's a simple mechanical issue, but I think I'll be without it for a bit. As I've been doing most of my writing on it recently, I feel like I've had a part of me cut off. It also meant that I couldn't work on one of the projects I'm trying to finish while I was away with work earlier in the week, as the firewall frowns on a lot of the Google services.

Fortunately, it happened in the last month of the warranty, not a week after.
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Another Place

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Another Place
Close encounter with Another Place
I was away with work for a few days this week, staying in Crosby right beside the beach where Antony Gormley's Another Place is installed. I've seen pictures of it, and looked across to the beach from New Brighton, but it's really impressive. I can see how it freaks people out by making them think someone is drowning. It was nice to get a few minutes on the beach away from work, just watching the world.

Another Place 2
The original picture, lightly filtered.
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Murder with the Family

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Murder at Devil Pines
Murder at Devil Pines: Perhaps the killer's here?
We travelled down to Portishead this weekend to see my parents. The boys had fun catching up with their grandparents and running remote-controlled boats on the lake. We got back after dinner and had some nice cake (a combination of birthdays, Easter coming up and belated Mother's Day) and then the boardgames came out.

We had a number of increasingly cutthroat games of Kartel during which it was a pleasure to see the youngest's mathematical ruthless streak coming out. After that, we tried Murder at Devil Pines, which is a short semi-cooperative memory-game based X-Files style investigation for 3 or 4 players.

The game is played over 6 turns (maximum), where each player gets a go at investigating the mystery. There are shades of Cluedo here. There are a set of clues for the way the missing person has been murdered (you get to find them and the method), a set of clues for who is leading the evil cult, and a set of clues for the evil creature which has been summoned.

There are five of each clue type; four are put in a lead deck for that clue type, and one is randomly selected as a 'mystery card'. On your turn, you get to investigate (by picking up a dice of the relevant investigation skill number and rolling equal-to or over the 'heat' number (the round number). Each successful roll lets you look at a card from the lead deck for that die colour. Thus you eliminate the potential leads. The cards are returned and shuffled so you can't guarantee that you'll not get the same leads again.

If you are certain what the clue chain has got you to in eliminating leads, you can 'call it in'; if you are successful, this will get you benefits (equipment, extra dice) but failure could (in the worst case) take you out of the game.

You can also wait around for a random mail-order delivery of equipment (most of which amends dice rolls or allows a different set of dice to be used).

In certain situations, you may have to do a raid (for example) against the monster of the week when that is revealed. This involves a combination of the different dice pools. Ultimately, to defeat the creature you will need as many successes as there are players so it could take several attempts.

We succeeded through a combination of Aidan's observation and Nathan's writing it all down process!
Overall, I enjoyed it but I don't think that we got the best out of it. We did have a good time.

It was the first playthrough and some boardgame conventions (like rotating the first player) messed with people's heads a bit. The escalating difficulty (which worked well) and the added complexity for raids confused a bit. The fixed-movement (up to 3 spaces) also caused confusion as some of the players expected a die roll. The rules have everything you need, but I think a crib-sheet is needed and a clearer statement of the Raid action. Nathan and I would play it again, Aidan is a maybe and Jill doesn't see the point beyond Cluedo (but she's a great fan of that game).

The board looks lovely and is evocative of the feel for the game. It plays in under 20 minutes. Worth a look if you can find it.

Murder at Devil Pines
Posing with his Grandma with the investigation log!

Earlier on, I said it was semi-cooperative. You all win or lose by defeating the monster-of-the-week. However, the rules as written give all the players a conspiracy card, each of which has a symbol related to the method of death, the cult leader and the monster. If two of these symbols align, you win by stopping the other players winning. We didn't use this as it would just add complexity for the first outing. In most sessions, everyone will be working together.



13 April 2019
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Great Customer Service

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Great experience with Amazon customer service today. My Chromebook has developed a fault with its power button two weeks before it's out of the warranty (phew, at least it was before). The button seems to have failed mechanically (the Chromebook is working otherwise). This wouldn't be an issue except it means that I will struggle with some of the ChromeOS reset commands if it ever hangs (and that's happened maybe twice after updates in the last three years of using these devices).

I bought it through Amazon from a third party. Anyway, I decided to try Amazon's customer service, who got all the details, contacted the third party, put me through to them. They then said it would have to be the manufacturer's warranty and gave me the details to address it. The Amazon rep, Mauro, was on the chat system in parallel and called and connected to Lenovo, who have now arranged an uplift for repair. It was a very smooth experience and Mauro definitely was a great example of customer service (and I rated his assessment as such).

I know Amazon has a bad reputation for parts of how it addresses its workforce, but from a customer perspective, the experience was really impressive and helpful. And now I need to plan the powerwash of the Chromebook...
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Thoughts on the Maus

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Maus (World of Tanks Blitz)
Panzer VIII Maus in Legionary Camouflage

One of my guilty pleasures is playing World of Tanks Blitz on the iPad to chill out. Nathan and I started an account back at Christmas 2014, and we've played far too many games since. I don't do many video games, but this one has stuck. I find that it's got a great combination of being a game you can play for fun and also a bit more seriously. You have teams of 7 players facing themselves off across a variety of different maps. You can platoon with one other person if you want to work as a sub-team. All the tanks are pretty unique with different play styles. The game has vehicles from the start of armoured warfare to the 1960s. The tanks range from actual vehicles to prototypes (either built or blueprinted) to pure fantasy tanks (we hates those, my precious). I'll never be a great player (I don't have the reflexes), but I know from game stats that I'm an above-average player.

I've recently been grinding crew experience on the Maus. The Maus was a super-heavy panzer designed in 1944 which got as far as part-built prototype hulls and a turret. In some ways, the Nazis were lucky that it never reached production as it would have been an absolute resource hog and easily flanked by more mobile forces. However, on a 500m x 500m battlefield it does quite well.

I've learned a few things playing it. I'm not great at this tank, but some things become obvious.

1. Wait and see where your team goes at the start before you move. At 20 km/h you can't afford to go the wrong way.

2. Never look an enemy in the face until you mean to shoot them (because your armour is stronger when angled).

3. The damage you block, and as a result stop your team taking, is more important than the damage you do. You can block a lot as you are one of the most heavily armoured tanks in the game.

4. You can easily pin a flank as the enemy don't like approaching you (albeit cheeky medium tanks will try and circle you).

5. If you're going to die, position yourself so your wreck gives your team hardcover, not the enemy.

6. Don't get stressed; like the American T95 tank destroyer (the 'doom turtle') you're slow to get to position and half the time the rest of the team forgets that or screws things up by splitting up so you are alone. You can only do what you can do.

7. Consider the terrain and run on roads if you can as you are faster and can turn better.

8. The gun is good enough for snapshots as it aims quickly. This helps you when you look away to improve the armour and then flick it in to take a shot.

I ended up putting the Legionary camouflage on the tank (named after the European winners of the Blitz Twister Cup in 2017) as it looks great.

8 April 2019
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Kartel - breaking the Crime Ring

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Kartel
Kartel - it's very long and thin...
I picked up a copy of Kartel from Games Crusade in Harrogate, and we've played it a few times this week. I think it's going to be one that stays around for a bit. Written by Reiner Knizia, it's a simple game that takes about 15 minutes and is suitable for all the family.

You are all playing detectives investigating the seven criminal gangs in the city. There is a single large detective meeple (with a sticker) used by all the players. The game board comprises a ring (the 'crime ring') of randomly spread out crime lords (each with a unique colour), criminals (groups of 1-3, each coloured for the crime lord they have allegiance to) and potential bribes (sorry, donations to the police widows and orphans fund).

Each turn, you roll a d6 which generates a result between 2 and 4. You advance the detective as far as you want up to the number rolled around the crime ring, and then pick up what you have landed on. If it is a bribe or a criminal group, you place it in front of you as a potential arrest or payoff. If it is a crime lord, they go to jail. From that point, all the criminals that are in the same gang (same colour) are flipped to the scoring side when you pick them up. Any you have in front of you already, also get flipped as you've now got the evidence to arrest them. Any bribes from an arrested crime lord become worthless rather than scoring three points.

There's a catch; there are only five cells in the jail, and the moment that the last one is filled, the game ends (with any criminals from that crime lord now scoring). You get a point for every criminal arrested and 3 points for each bribe from a crime lord who hasn't been arrested at the end of the game.

It's a good game, with a degree of scheming and planning, and it works well as a filler. It certainly landed well with us across the family. Recommended.

6 April 2019

Board game breakfast
Boardgame breakfast - Kartel went down well with the whole family
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A Brightness Long Ago

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'A Brightness Long Ago''s cover

I'm pretty excited to see that one of my favourite fantasy authors Guy Gavriel Kay, has a new book coming out in March. A Brightness Long Ago is set in the same alternative history universe as Children of Earth and Sky. I really enjoyed the former book and probably have a review of it somewhere here or on the old blog. The setting is a riff on Renaissance Italy and the Balkans.

I love GGK's books as they are set, in the main, in alternative histories; parallel worlds that draw on our history for inspiration. I've pre-ordered this sight-unseen as I have never seen a bad book from him.

2 April 2018


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Chromebooks and Hangouts and Gaming

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Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook in all its modes
Most of my gaming these days is either done at conventions or over Google Hangouts (where I'm playing in two extended campaigns[1] with friends I met at conventions).

We had a lot of shenanigans with this week's Esoterrorists session, with a period where people couldn't hear each other. We eventually resolved it (or rather it may have resolved itself at Hangouts end) but before we reached that point at least two of us changed machines.

I tried my Chromebook (a Lenovo Yoga N23 which runs on a quad-core ARM processor) with some trepidation. My old Chromebook (a Lenovo N22) had really struggled, but it seems that the beefier processor and jump of system RAM to 4GB does the trick. It was probably better than my MacBook (although that has an excuse being over 10 years old).

The Chromebook is definitely hitting 80% of what I do on a computer. I'd have a Mac in preference, but I'm not rocking Apple money at the moment, especially after the pound/dollar depreciation following the Brexit vote. I definitely recommend this machine if you'd like a convertible with a decent screen, good battery life and a great keyboard.

29 March 2019

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[1] The Esoterrorists (Worldbreaker) and The One Ring (Darkening of Mirkwood)
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Deep Sea Adventure

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Deep Sea Adventure Box
Deep Sea Adventure, a small boxed game
A fortnight ago, I went into Harrogate with Nathan to get him some new trainers for fencing, and once we'd finished that errand, we popped into Games Crusade, a local boardgame shop near the theatre at the centre of town.

Nathan picked two games - Cat Crimes and Deep Sea Adventure. We tried both out while we were away.

Deep Sea Adventure contains a submarine template, an air tracking counter, meeples for divers and a selection of ruins (potential treasure) and blanks. The players share an air supply which starts to deteriorate once ruins (treasure) is picked up. Each item of treasure costs a point of air each turn, and you only have 25 total.

The game is simple and played in three rounds.

Each player takes a turn as follows; decide direction of travel, decrease air by number of treasures carried, roll 2d3, move that far, chose to pick up a treasure up to the maximum, or drop one down. Each treasure also reduces your dice roll by one, so six would mean you can't move.

The treasure counters are set in long path, getting deeper (further from the sub) each time. More valuable treasures are lower down.

Players take turns until they run out of air (in which case all carried treasures are dropped) or they're all back on the sub, at which point the round ends. Treasures brought back are scored, and the player with the highest amount is the winner at the end of all three rounds.

It was quite good fun - I realised that a Traveller GM at last years Travcon had used a riff on this in an asteroid adventure. I think we'll be playing it again as it landed well with the whole family.

Oh, you should visit Games Crusade if you get a chance, they're knowledgeable friendly people.

25 March 2019
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Catching up with old friends

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I managed to get some more of the Lyonesse writing done on Friday, in the gap between work and leaving to head down the M1 (with fingers crossed that Yorkshire Truckers for Brexit weren’t going to be in the way).

Dancing with the Stars
Dancing with the Stars
We travelled down to Stourbridge to catch up with some old friends, Jon and Becks. I’ve known Jon since we shared a house at the University of Southampton; we’ve kept in touch ever since but it’s been more sporadic since they moved to Germany when he took up a role in the aerospace industry. They’re some of the people who have been hard done by with the referendum - no say in something that fundamentally affects their lives because Cameron pitched it as an advisory vote.

The service was in an old, grade 1 listed church, St Thomas’. The connection to Stourbridge was that the vicar was a friend of theirs from Germany who used to preside at the Anglican Church there. 

We had a lovely day, also catching up with Ceri (my former lab partner in the first year of university), Nick and their daughter. As all these days go, you find yourself wishing you had more time to just chat with old friends, like you did back in the day. We played a few board games back at the Premier Inn, but it wasn’t a late night.


Untitled
Family Group


We’ll work our way home today, probably stopping off at Cadbury World to give the kids a bit of fun.



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